Digitization has not only fundamentally changed almost every industry, but also the way people think and act. Marketing, however, continues to address this completely new type of consumer with yesterday’s recipes and tools.
There was once an unwritten contract between industry and consumers: one side produced as much as possible and shipped the goods worldwide, and the other side consumed what was on the shelves. And marketing, as an intermediary, said what the customer should buy, when, and where.
Those times are over. In highly developed economies like Germany, customers have unilaterally canceled this deal: They no longer want to be told what they are spending their money on or when. And emancipate themselves from the paternalistic rule of marketing.
Yesterday Insta, today Twitch – and tomorrow?
The Great Disconnect: Consumers have immunized themselves from traditional marketing mechanisms. The company no longer has a brand, it is the brand. As a result, the number of brand contact points has increased many times over. Traditional analogue communication channels are being superimposed by more and more digital media, which are becoming ever more differentiated. Yesterday Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, today Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch, and BeReal – and tomorrow? The megaphones currently in vogue in the virtual world are changing faster than marketing can stock its toolbox.
A single transmitter for countless recipients: Church representatives were once able to reach almost the entire population with their Sunday message from the pulpit. A commercial after the Mainzelmännchen and before the 8 p.m. news was noticed by half of Germany not too long ago. And today? Meet countless senders online and offline as many recipients. The “one fits all” strategy no longer works.
Every community is defined by its codes
To say that the markets have differentiated is a grotesque understatement. In truth, the market as we knew it has become atomized. Every buyer now wants to be addressed individually and have a say in what is relevant for him or her. The niches in which people are getting smaller and smaller, each community maintains its own individual mainstream, is defined by its respective codes. Placing PR so precisely is not possible with the previous means of marketers. But that is exactly what the consumer expects.
The consumer becomes the most influential PR manager
At the same time, customer 2.0 no longer waits passively until the information is served to him, but instead searches for it himself. The Internet enables him to research, question, and critically comment on anything, anytime, anywhere. No PR campaign can do anything against the tsunami triggered by 400 negative reviews on an online platform such as Amazon or Tripadvisor. Positive user reviews, on the other hand, as the digital version of word of mouth, have the power to set global trends. The consumer himself becomes a PR manager who provides his peer group with consumption information much more precisely and credibly than professional marketing could ever have managed.
Luxury with “Real Life Relevance”
Another new conundrum in the advertising landscape is that Gen Z views the big brands with distrust and then seemingly uncritically celebrates brand-new private labels. Often mislabeled with the buzzword authenticity, it is more about the fact that a product today no longer just satisfies a need, but has to fit seamlessly into the everyday reality of the consumer and thus enables him to differentiate himself from other worlds of values. The Italian luxury brand Gucci brilliantly demonstrated how this works. Over the past ten years, the fashion label’s sales have more than tripled, with rapid growth in the young segment. Gucci gave brand new relevance to Millennials and Gen Z by creating a whimsical fairytale world that broke with luxury clichés and standards.
Epic is the new normal
The Great Disconnect has plunged marketing into an unprecedented crisis. The first step towards the future is to accept that not only the media usage behavior and the mindset of the consumers have changed (and continue to change), but also their formal aesthetic expectations: A generation that is familiar with Netflix and PC Games grows up, whose eye has been trained with series like “Game of Thrones” or “Peaky Blinders”, expects advertising that is no less epic and state of the art.
Marketing in the third millennium must be more than just the intermediary between industry and customers. The product is no longer the focus, but the big question of what “Real Life Relevance” it has for which target group and to what extent it reflects the consumer’s self-image and lifestyle and can enhance it. If marketing is able to convincingly answer this question in innovative ways, ideally a new bridge will be created between people and brands: The Great Re-Connect.