Segal reflects on how B2B marketing has changed

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Rick Segal, president worldwide-chief practice officer at b-to-b agency gyro, New York, will leave his post at the end of the year to become VP-advancement and distinguished lecturer of commerce and vocation at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis. In 1981, Segal founded the Cincinnati-based agency that eventually became HSR Business to Business and merged it with gyro International, London, in 2009. In the following interview with BtoB, Segal discusses the changes and challenges facing the b-to-b marketing industry. BtoB: Three years ago, you declared that b-to-b is dead. Do you still believe this is the case? Segal: I declared that it was dead back in 2010, and I think the evidence has borne out that it is the case. And there really is no hope for resuscitation. What it comes down to is the way that work is just part of life. Individual people are so extraordinarily empowered by technology and by newly democratized models of management that people make little distinction between their personal and professional exertions and diversions. As I plan to leave the arena, I can say with great confidence—having watched it every day of my professional life for 32 years—in these last few years we have seen more than just a sea change. We have seen an evaporation of what was and the emergence of a whole new way of how we go about the task of marketing to people as they go about their lives, which includes work. BtoB: What is the new model for marketing? Segal: Most simply expressed, humanity is the new model. Individual men and women are actors in the task of business decision-making, which is one part of people's work lives. B-to-b, as I have lived it and known it, has always been arithmetic and rational, but humanity is geometric and emotional. I don't think we've begun to scrape the surface of the strategic, creative and tactical transformations required for the new model. I don't think an entirely new model has emerged yet, responsive to the dramatic changes that we're seeing. BtoB: What are the greatest challenges facing the industry? Segal: I'm going to go back to the world of physics and a term I would call “atomization,” and that is the degree to which everything has become smaller and more dispersed. The easy, almost instantaneous replication of value is a principal challenge all marketers face, whether they are in what we'd call b-to-b or b-to-c. It is very, very difficult to command positions of longstanding market or segment domination as was once the case. Marketing used to be about seeding and planting innovations that would grow into mighty oaks of market domination. Today's world has no such patience for that kind of processed growth. The challenge of marketing is more difficult than it's ever been. We have all of these technologies and all of these tools that allow us to be more precise and measured and to reach more people. The fact of the matter is, all these things have made the task of marketing more difficult than ever. The good news is, there is more work to be done in more places, both in time and in geography. The opportunity for smart marketers to figure these things out—I approach that with optimism. BtoB: You are leaving gyro at the end of the year. Why does this move make sense for you now? Segal: I believe I've been called by God to a different work. Frankly, I always believed I have been called by God to the work I have done here with this agency and it was my calling. In the spring of this past year, a new work was kind of laid upon my heart, and very unexpectedly I was asked to consider this administration and teaching role at Bethlehem College and Seminary. After much prayer, I concluded it's something I am supposed to do. I will spend this next chapter of my career preparing young minds for both work in ministry and work as faithful people in secular jobs. BtoB: What will your involvement be with gyro? Segal: I love gyro. It is a great and venerated idea shop, and it has been an incredible run for me. I definitely think gyro's best days are ahead of it. I will still be available to counsel clients and to be of counsel to management at the agency. Staying involved with gyro will make me a better teacher, and teaching at Bethlehem will make me a better resource and adviser to gyro.
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