2014: The Year of Transition for Marketers

Every aspect of marketing needs to be rethought. That’s the strong—perhaps jarring—sentiment from James Gross, cofounder of marketing technology company Percolate. Gross says marketers are in a time of major transition; and to rise to and then exceed customer expectations and company demands, modern marketers must innovate, reshape, and transform their approach to strategies and execution.

I recently chatted with Gross about how marketers can not only survive, but thrive in a neo-age of ubiquitous technology, ongoing interaction, and deep personalization. Gross challenges marketers to embrace an industry-wide evolution—from the content that marketers create and the audiences they target to the various channels they use and methods they deploy. In this candid interview, Gross explains how an epoch of impactful campaigns is emerging right before our eyes.

Q: Why do you consider 2014 a year of transition for marketers?
James Gross: Well, at some point in 2014 we’re actually going to [reach] more than 3 billion Internet users [or roughly 40% of the world’s population]. That’s an amazing feat. There’s no other technology or service that enables [that many users] other than the Internet. And what’s interesting is that the network only gets stronger with the more people that [use] it.

Why is this so important for marketers? Well, [analysts] predict that from 2014 to 2019 Internet users will reach about 6 billion people—basically the amount of people will double over the next five years. So that [growth] will enable and allow marketers to do things that they’ve never thought of before with vast sharing and culling of stories, info, and content.

Q: So, how should marketers rethink channels?
Gross: Well, channels are a really interesting concept.  We’re moving [away] from a world of what used to be very finite channels—you know: network television, radio, billboards. The channel model is moving from what was a limited amount of channels to a world of infinite channels. So, essentially, strategy has to change from only reaching mass audiences at very specific times to reaching anyone in the world at anytime. [Marketers’] channel strategy needs to be totally be rethought [to reflect the change] in this new world.

Q: What about changes in content?
Gross: Marketers are going to have to move from just thinking about stock content. And what I mean by that is content that’s built to have a very long shelf life; [for example], a commercial is meant to be in market for about nine months. They’re going to have to move from that content to what we call flow content. These are quick hits of content—smaller, bite-size pieces of content that are often relevant in the moment but not relevant outside of the moment. So, the brand has to [make a] move to create more of this flow content in order to be relevant all the time. Of course it’s not just about flow content. [Brand marketers] need move from just stock to [a combination of] stock and flow content.


Q: And what new approach should marketers take when defining their target audiences?
Gross: I think the thing marketers need to remember is that audience [size] is just getting bigger. I mentioned the number of Internet users reaching 6 billion. The other thing [to think about] is there’s a growing world middle class; it’s a sort of metric built out by the World Bank. It includes anyone who makes between $10 and $100 a day. It’s a different middle class than what you would think about in the United States, but it’s the global middle class.

What’s amazing about that stat is that the World Bank predicts that the number of people in the middle class will swell to 5 billion; so, we’re going from the current 1.8 billion to 5 billion. For most [brand marketers] who sell most of their products or services [to the middle class] this means your [potential] audience size is nearly tripling in the amount of people you could possibly reach. And, again, with a vehicle like the Internet [that allows marketers to] reach [potential customers] your audience is just going to grow.

Your ability to ascertain—and win that market share over—basically comes down your ability to now reach these new audiences and communicate why they might want to buy your products and services. It’s exciting. It means marketing as a discipline is growing. Marketers need to think bigger about their reach.

Q: How should a modern marketer reconsider processes—or the way they’re getting to an end result?
Gross: It just goes back to this idea of how marketers traditionally worked. Marketers made their buying decisions months in advance, then built campaigns around those [times and channels].

We’re moving from that model—which still works—to a much bigger opportunity. The process of marketing—sort of, what’s been a small, internal marketing team, and possibly an agency of record—needs to be rethought. Those changes stem from the natural [evolution] that technology has brought. Modern marketers and the marketing department have to expand their impact through systems technology.

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