I see dead marketers

I see dead marketers. Walking around like regular people. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead.

Marketers who behave as if customers care about channels.

Marketers who continue to push average products for average people.

Marketers who value efficiency over effectiveness.

Marketers who think they can price cut their way to prosperity.

Marketers who don’t get that today’s battle is for share of attention.

Marketers who believe that the same irrelevant and unremarkable promotions will work if they just shout them louder and more often.

Marketers who relentlessly flog one-size-fits-all programs instead of embracing a treat different customers differently strategy.

Marketers who believe they are ultimately in control.

Mass marketing is dying, as are its stubborn adherents.

It’s the end of mass and the beginning of us.


n = 1

I see dead marketing.

Strategies deeply rooted in average products for average people. Campaigns that haven’t answered the fundamental question: “who’s this for?” Promotions desperately (and pointlessly) trying to out-Amazon Amazon. Programs that reek of me-too-ness.

It’s never been a good idea to promulgate the undifferentiated, the uninteresting, the irrelevant. But today that nonsense will get you killed.

When the power has shifted to the consumer, when there is little scarcity of product, information and access, when top-line growth must increasingly come from stealing market share, tried and true, one-size-fits all approaches are dying.

“N = everybody marketing”–i.e. the mass marketing that is the centerpiece of most marketers plans and the overwhelming consumer of their budgets–has the advantage of being efficient and comparatively easy to execute. It also has the pesky little problem of not working very well, if at all.

If you have not embraced a treat different customers differently philosophy, the odds are pretty good that you are falling behind. And every day that you procrastinate it only gets worse.

“But investing in mass-customization and personalization is really hard” you say. Perhaps. But what’s hardest of all–what’s really going to suck–is getting fired or having your company go out of business completely because you fail to change.

True “n = 1 marketing” may be unachievable any time soon for many brands, in every circumstance. But in a world where mass is ending and the power of the individual and the tribe is rising, where being intensely relevant and remarkable is the ONLY thing that creates a signal amidst the noise, for me, it’s pretty clear in which direction you should be heading.

Oh, and I’d hurry if I were you.

Confusing necessary with sufficient

We’re told we have to embrace all things omni-channel, yet Macy’s and Nordstrom, two of the acknowledged leaders in this arena, have yet to move the dial much on market share and profitability.

We’re told we have to digitally enable most dimensions of our business, yet Sears, which has been a pioneer in many aspects of e-commerce and digital innovation for more than a decade, looks to be in the midst of the world’s slowest liquidation sale.

The excellent and provocative work by L2 on companies “digital IQ” frequently ranks brands on the top end of the scale that are laggards on many key performance metrics.

Some will tell you that this proves that embracing a digital first strategy is over-rated or that investing heavily in omni-channel is a mistake.  They are mostly wrong.

The error comes in confusing necessary with sufficient.

There are few brands, especially in retail, that can ignore an aggressive move into frictionless commerce. The customer experience must become more unified.

More and more, mass marketing strategies are dying and it’s becoming extraordinarily difficult to break through the clutter. Letting go of one-size-fits-all strategies in favor of creating more personalized programs is becoming increasingly important.

And we can’t keep interrupting customers with largely irrelevant messages at the wrong time and out of context. Deeper customer insight, coupled with an understanding that smartphones and tablets allow the customer to be untethered and addressable at the moment of need, puts a premium on marketing that is localized.

We are entering an era where a high level of competence in the above three principles is necessary just to stay in the game, to be even marginally relevant, to have a crack at the customer’s consideration.

You can be leading edge on all of these dimensions and it’s still not enough.

What we offer the customer needs to be amplified–that is, it must be truly unique, intensely relevant and remarkable in the purest sense of the word. This is where Sears falls incredibly short and where Macy’s struggles to break out from the sea of sameness that characterizes much of the department store world.

Unfortunately too many companies vaguely embrace all things digital and start gulping down the omni-channel Kool-Aid while ignoring this last critical piece.

At the end of the day, if the dust ever settles, they’ll have spent a ton of time and money on merely keeping pace and not enough on the things that ultimately matter.


A dim signal amidst the noise

We’ve all been taught that successful brands need a unique value proposition and that we must craft a distinctive positioning. And certainly most organizations spend a lot of time honing their business models and churning out sales programs and marketing campaigns designed to one-up the competition and compel the customer to choose us.

But what if hardly anyone is listening? What if only a fraction of our efforts command any sort of attention? What if despite all our strategizing, designing, testing and refining most of what we put out there evaporates in the ether like so much steam from our morning coffee?

Unfortunately, for most of us, there is no what if? There is only what is.

Consumer choices are expanding, sometimes literally exponentially. Competition is only getting greater. The information available to the average person is overwhelming. The distracted, multi-tasking consumer is the norm. We all face a tsunami of stuff.

And, more and more, much of what we do is only a dim signal amidst the noise.


Many companies confronted with this emerging reality respond by throwing more and more out there to see what sticks. Batch, blast and hope email strategies. Greater promotions and discounts. New or revamped–but still largely undifferentiated–loyalty programs. Vague investments in “building the brand.”

Prepare to be disappointed.

If you want to boost your signal you’ll need to do a better job of customer selection. You’ll have to deploy a unified “one brand, many channels” customer experience. You’ll need to learn how to treat different customers differently.

And everything you do must be amplified by being more relevant and more remarkable than whatever commands your customer’s attention.

In the meantime I hope you enjoy your coffee.

Everyone, anyone and the cluster of someones

It seems perfectly okay to hope that everyone and anyone would agree that compassion and fairness are essential values to espouse.

Just about everyone and anyone might even be a sensible target market for Amazon or Walmart.

For the rest of us, that way of thinking is certain to drive us into a ditch.

As the mass era gives way to a new era where brands must be more relevant and intensely personal–where share of attention is at a premium–there is no everyone anymore. When we’re grateful for anyone who buys our product or service that merely demonstrates desperation. not clarity of strategy and purpose.

It’s always been a good idea to identify and differentiate the key customer segments we intend to focus upon and to understand the uniqueness of our value proposition. Today, it’s not just sensible, it’s essential.

Clearly articulating “the cluster of someones” for whom we will be powerfully relevant and distinctly remarkable is the new table stakes.

Treating different customers differently must become our mantra.

Why go to the store?

There are some who think that most brick & mortar stores are eventually going away and that e-commerce can have a compound annual growth rate of 15% until the end of time. To which I answer, “don’t be silly” and “of course not.”

There are many powerful reasons for physical retail locations to exist. In fact, we are already witnessing the limits of pure-play models as online only players are opening more traditional store-fronts (Warby Parker, Bonobos, Amazon and many others). Well established direct-to-consumer brands like LL Bean are doubling down on a commitment to retail store expansion. And even with the explosion of online shopping, close to 95% of transactions still take place in a traditional store.

When you take out products that can be delivered digitally (books, movies, games and the like) in most cases, for most consumers, there is value in being able to go see, try on, or touch the actual product. Having a live conversation with a well-trained sales associate can be extremely helpful. Physical stores offer a social experience that can’t be readily duplicated via the web or smart phone. And, typically, you can take the product with you, rather than having to wait.

Having said this, digitally enabled business models ARE disrupting every category and chipping away at many historical advantages of bricks & mortar. Websites often have better information than in-store sales people. Assortments can be much wider and prices are often sharper. Next day delivery may be either good enough or simply more convenient than having to drive to a mall and deal with the crowds. And we can be certain that future innovation will further eat away at traditional store advantages.

The fact is, in most instances, the future winners will be retailers that blend digital and physical offerings. They will deeply understand customers wants and desires and build a tightly integrated, highly flexible hybrid model rooted in treating different customers differently. That means a transformation, but not the elimination, of physical stores.

By contrast, the losers will be those that blindly adopt all things omni-channel.

The losers will be those traditional retailers that continue to run a bolted on and siloed e-commerce channel.

The losers will be those who fail to see the interplay between digital and physical stores and close too many doors–and turn the remaining ones into boring museums of best-sellers and “me too” products.

The losers will be those who hold on to one-size-fits-all customer and marketing strategies.

Consumers will continue going to stores for many, many years to come. Whether they will come to your store is a different question.

Some customers

One of the more amusing moments of my time at Sears was when our newish CEO insisted that we stop referring to our customers as “him” and instead say “her.” This was meant to underscore the need to reinvigorate our apparel business and identify women as the most frequent decision-makers for our softline categories.

While there was merit to this strategy–and Sears testosterone-driven, male dominated culture absolutely deserved a swift kick in the, uh, pants–it ignored the complexity of Sears myriad businesses and the attendant diverse consumer segments we needed to attract, grow and retain.

Of course, Sears wasn’t alone. It’s common for business leaders and analysts to make global pronouncements about what “she wants” or how “our customer” is responding. While these statements may have an air of profundity, they’re just glib soundbites.

Today there is no everyone. There is no monolithic him or her or them.

Today the idea of being a little bit of everything to everybody is irrelevant. The era of mass is giving way to the era of us.

Today one-size-fits all strategies are running out of gas. We must treat different customers differently.

Today it’s not about “the customer” or any notion of all customers.

It’s about some customers; the right customers, carefully selected, deeply understood and served in unique and remarkable ways.