Is marketing dead? Two trends turning marketing thinking up side down.

The traditional marketing “segmentation-targeting-positioning” approach requires you to try and find a homogenous customer segment with specific needs, and serve it with a product that answers that need. Some people advocate that this approach is dead, stupid and outdated. I don’t think so: it is just that it has slowly been robbed from its utility.

The reasons for this are twofold: product overload & technology dominance

“With markets overloaded with products, opportunities to truly create disruptive innovation and new products are scarcer”

The reality is that most marketers in their daily jobs are dealing with existing products, not truly inventing new ones. Let’s admit it, consumers are overloaded with products as they are.


Truly engaging in new product creation is more and more rare, and the best marketers can usually do now, is bring them tiny incremental innovations, to try and sell more of them to increasingly bored consumers.

Think you are going to go and work at Unilever and revolutionize the global ice cream industry? (dear students, I am talking to you) Think twice. The segmentation-targeting positioning framework is obsolete because we don’t truly innovate anymore.

Another reason why we don’t innovate so much in marketing anymore is because more and more product innovations are concentrated in the technology/digital areas. And believe it or not, technology products are not so much ideated by marketers, as they are by IT guys or engineers. Technology specialists gain more and more marketing skills and use their own product development tools.

“Tech specialists are taking marketers’ jobs

Yes, IT guys like them. Source: The IT Crowd.
Yes, IT guys like them. Source: The IT Crowd.

As a result: a) adjust your expectations if you are going into marketing and want to do product development and b) if you don’t want to adjust your expectations, get into technology…or social marketing. With the world turning its head upside down an markets as well as economic and political climates being more and more uncertain, there is dire need to design solutions with social and societal impact (but even then, you will probably need an IT guy on board!)


Market ethics gone nuts

I love my marketing. Branding, products, advertising..Love it. However, it is also important to keep a critical look at it, and more generally, at market mechanisms. Market ethics are a big issue and it is every manager’s duty to keep in mind the ethical considerations of their actions. Sometimes, they seem to completely loose track of it. So get ready for a very left-wing, philosophical, one the verge of “naïve idealistic” post, which hopefully won’t be perceived as such, but rather as critical and reflexive.

A few days ago, I got really excited as I unpacked a book I had pre-ordered a few months ago (thank you Amazon!). The book is called “What money can’t buy”, by Michael J. Sandel. In a mix of light and serious tone, Sandel explains how our market economy has progressively become a market society. This means that money and market logics are infiltrating spheres of life where they do not originally belong. The book gives a few appalling examples. Schools paying kids to read books ($2). Lobbyists paying line-standing companies to hold a place for a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill ($15-20/hour).  Doctors selling their mobile number to be available around the clock for wealthy customers (from $1,500/year). Charities paying drug-addict women to get sterilized ($300) – sense the irony. These are just a few examples.

Can everything be commodified? It would be too easy to provide a one-fits-all answer. Things are not black or white, and such examples can lead to very long and heated arguments, depending on each stakeholder’s point of view and moral standpoint. My point is that, although creative revenue generation models and business initiative should definitely be supported, not everything can fall under a market logic; not everything can be up for sale, and it should be decided on a case by case basis.

Consider the schools paying pupils to read books. What mindset does that put kids in with regard to learning? And what value does it give to literature? Will these children consider that they must be paid to read course material when they go to college later on? (that certainly sounds appealing)! Are they ever going to support the book industry once they grow older, if instead they got used to think that they should get paid to read?

Here is a another example of the expansion of market logic. Product placement in movies. This is nothing new: James Bond movies are the perfect example, with a plethora of brands such BMW, Pan Am, Rolex, Omega, Heineken, …you name it.

More recently, The Great Gatsby was seen partnering with luxury brands such as Prada, Miu Miu, Moët & Chandon or Tiffany’s. The product placement industry is up to $8.3 billion in 2013 (11% increase from 2011) and brands are now even investing in movies, sometimes financing up to 25% of attractive movie projects with a luxury angle. Surely this benefits a lot to the movie makers and luxury companies alike, while making the final film production extremely aesthetically  pleasing…so what’s the problem? Isn’t art commoditized anyway? Who cares about having to see a bottle of Coke, Martini or pieces of jewelry if the end product is nice?

I leave this thinking up to you… hoping to have stirred a bit your consumer’s critical point of view on what you want and how you want to buy things.


Enjoy your day (and your book, movie, doctor appointment; whatever you are buying today!)