Welcome to the Relationship Era. Say goodbye to positioning,
preemption and unique selling position. This is about turning
everything you understood about marketing upside down so that you
can land right side up. This is about tapping into the Human
Begin with a simple experiment. Type "I love Apple " into your Google search bar.
You will get 3.27 million hits. If you type "I love Starbucks," 2.7
million hits. Zappos: 1.19 million.
"I love Citibank" gets you 21,100. AT&T Wireless: 7,890. Exxon: 4,730. Dow
Chemical: 3. Out of 7 billion human beings, three! Just to put that
into context, type "I love Satan" and you get 293,000 hits. Now
consider that in the past 12 months, Citibank, AT&T Wireless,
Exxon Mobil and Dow have spent $2 billion on advertising. How's
that working out for them?
The methodology here may not be especially rigorous, but the
results dramatize two immutable facts of contemporary marketing
1. Millions of people will, of their own volition, announce to
the world their affection for a brand. Not for a person, an artwork
or a dessert but for a product or service. Congratulations. People
care deeply about you.
2. Whether you like it or not, your brand is inextricably
entwined in such relationships. If you were to type in "I hate
Exxon," you'd get 2.16 million hits--not counting the "I hate Exxon
Mobil" Facebook page. Though people are listening less to your
messages, it doesn't stop them from thinking and talking about you.
And each of those expressions of like, dislike, ardor or disgust
has an exponent that reflects the outward ripples of social
In short, as you have realized but most likely not come to grips
with, you are being evaluated 24 /7 in countless conversations that
have zero to do with your ad slogan. On the contrary, they are
about your brand's essential self--which behooves you to think very
hard about your essential self.
This has ceased to be an option. History has made that decision
End of the Consumer Era
Mass advertising sustained marketers and media for more than 300
years. The last stage of that epoch -- from roughly 1965 to about
five minutes ago -- was the Consumer Era. It was characterized by a
shift from advertising and marketing focused on the product
(Brylcreem: "A little dab'll do ya!" Lucky Strike cigarettes: "It's
toasted!") to getting into the heads and hearts of consumers
(MasterCard "Priceless." Nike : "Just do it.").
It was a four-step process. 1) Ascertain through research what
the public desired. 2) Offer it. 3) Create advertising designed to
seduce, impress, entertain, frighten or flatter the target
audience. 4) Place that advertising in media favored by the target
Why not? Where's the flaw in selling people what they wish to
have by reaching them with messages they relate to in the places
they like to be? Thinking of others ... isn't that what Mommy and
Daddy told us to do?
Yet, for three fundamental reasons, those universal marketing
practices must be discarded.
For starters -- briefly, because this is no longer controversial
-- there is the ongoing chaos scenario: the inexorable collapse of
mass media and mass marketing, and the hyper-fragmentation of their
online successors. Meanwhile, DVR fast-forwarding, spam filters and
opt-outs have essentially reduced audience measurement to a
It's a paradox: a revolution that in one critical aspect moves
us backward. While digital tools have taken the power of the
heavily capitalized Few and distributed it to the Many, they have
also nearly obliterated anybody's capacity to reach the Many in one
fell swoop. The Industrial Revolution was revolutionary because it
created efficiency through scale. The Digital Revolution, by
contrast, has decimated scale.
So, yes, upheaval is violently altering the landscape.
The second reason is ecology. Think of the marketing environment
like the planetary environment. In the Consumer Era, business won
customers by burning fuel. That fuel was advertising. Drill, drill,
drill. Burn, burn, burn. Sell, sell, sell.
Colossal reach made advertising and promotion seem efficient,
yet their effects were maddeningly transitory, a vast expense
yielding little equity. Buy advertising and sales went up. Stop
advertising and sales went down. Marketing's effects, in ecological
terms, were unsustainable.
Now, amid the collapse of Mass, the fuel itself is too expensive
to produce. The future requires a sustainable alternative. Resource
management and the disintegration of Mass argue against the status
There is a third -- nearly blasphemous reason -- that the sun is
setting on the Consumer Era. We'll get to that shortly. First,
let's meditate on the new currency of commerce: trust.
According to the 2006 Edelman Trust Barometer, "quality products
and services" was the top response in identifying the standard of
trust. By 2010, mere "quality" had dropped to No. 3. "Transparent
and honest practices" was No. 1 (with 83% of respondents citing
Core values, that stuff of essential self. Scan the signage at
the Occupy Wall Street encampments. Goldman Sachs takes a drubbing.
Apple , very much in the 1%, gets a pass.
Of course, how people represent themselves in surveys and at
rallies doesn't necessarily reflect how they really behave. In
political polling, for instance, nobody ever declares himself a
racist. Surveys of media diets reflect zero use of porn.
So how to demonstrate that the public's stated preference for
honesty and transparency squares with their actual choices in the
marketplace? The answer is the Brand Sustainability Map.
Researchers at Imc2 commissioned survey data on trust and
plotted it against market share for leading consumer marketers. The
results are striking:
Charting customer "trust" as the Y axis and transactions as the
X axis creates four quadrants. The lower-left quadrant, "Limited,"
is the province of losers: struggling brands with flat or declining
sales and little respect from consumers. American Airlines lurks in
the lowest left-hand position.
To its right is the "Reluctant" quadrant, brands that command
little respect and generate little emotion, but whose price or
competitive advantage trumps a customer's misgivings.
In the upper-left, "Emotional" is the home of companies that
maintain respect in spite of quality issues, limited distribution,
high price or other competitive disadvantages.
Finally, there is the Valhalla of the upper-right-hand quadrant,
"Sustainable." This is where you find the likes of Apple , Costco,
Southwest Airlines and, in the upper-most-right-hand corner,
In the Relationship Era, the big winners will be in Sustainable,
whose habitues typically spend little on advertising -- because
they don't need it. By contrast, indifference is expensive and
Notice that three retailers in Sustainable -- Amazon, Costco and
Target -- spend an
average 0.52% of sales on measured media. Sears, in the
Limited space, spends 1.62% of sales and loses market share doing
The power of brand identification verges on the perverse. A 2011
study in the "Journal of Consumer Psychology" by Shirley
Y.Y.�Cheng, Tiffany Barnett White and Lan Nguyen Chaplin
concluded that consumers tend to take criticism of their
most-admired brands personally, and circle their emotional wagons
around the brand under attack.
Snickers enjoy the same reflexive defensiveness from their devotees
as the president of the United States, the Dallas Cowboys and the
state of Israel enjoy from theirs.
Clearly, those whom we trust and adore, we trust and adore a
lot. It's human nature. Luckily, while the digital revolution was
undermining Mass it was also supercharging human nature.
Social media have taken the stolid, dependable old tortoise --
word-of -mouth -- and transformed it into countless hares,
multiplying like, well, hares. And they're zipping around not just
the beauty parlor and the saloon but Facebook, Twitter and Yelp at
the speed of "send."