The One-to-One Future Is Now

Twenty-one years ago, in the aftermath of an unexpected snowstorm, I arrived at the Harvard Club in New York—one of only a handful of attendees who were able to make their way through the frozen drifts to attend a local launch event for The One-to-One Future. It wasn’t the big event coauthors Don Peppers and Martha Rogers had planned, but it was fabulous nonetheless. Peppers and Rogers had the dozen or so of us intrepid souls who braved the weather set our chairs in a circle as if we were setting up for a cozy chat around a campfire. For the next 90 minutes we talked marketing in general and one-to-one marketing in particular.

It wasn’t just a seminal moment for the industry—Businessweek called the book “one of the bibles of new marketing”—it was a turning point for me, as well. I had the privilege of spending, well, one-to-one time with two of the savviest minds in the business. I learned a great deal in that one discussion about the core principles of customer-centric marketing (and I still obsess over it today); and was lucky to stay in touch with the two and continue to learn from them, as our paths frequently crossed.

Over the ensuing years, whenever the book or Peppers and Rogers came up in conversation, so did a declaration from whoever I was speaking with at the time: “The book changed the course of my career” or “That book made me rethink everything I know about marketing.”

The Once And Future King

Well, it’s still happening, but now the comments are coming at me like a tsunami. I have conversations nearly every day with brand marketers, industry vendor executives, and other marketing insiders, and almost every one of the conversations over the past several months has included a reference to one-to-one marketing and how it’s finally a reality; that marketers can now truly deliver on the promise of a deeply relevant and personalized customer experience because technology has advanced enough to bring scale to the intimacy of the mom-and-pop shop.

For example, in a recent conversation with Jon Miller, Marketo’s cofounder and VP of product marketing, he said, “The one-to-one phrase suffered a backlash for some time, with many marketers considering it almost an archaic term because it’s been around so long without being real. But we in marketing are a helluva lot closer than ever to delivering on that. I’m excited about it.”

Miller’s not alone in his enthusiasm. “Today marketers are taking personalization one step further to deliver one-to-one communications to customers based on real-time behavior, interests, preferences, and customer data,” Eric Tobias, VP of Web products at ExactTarget, said in “The Next Evolution of Personalization,” a recent article on “The technology that supports one-to-one marketing is not only here, it’s pervasive.”

Even the book itself is still a hot read. As recently as last year, a review on Amazon by entrepreneur Lori Grant, cofounder of Erosion Media, cited The One-to-One Future as a “should-read book on direct marketing.”

Clearly, Peppers’ influence—which has stayed steady throughout the past 21 years—is again swelling. That subtle, yet powerful impact is why he and the other 17 influencers we discuss in this month’s cover story (see “Leading Marketing Influencers”) are people who marketers should pay attention to. Like Peppers’ watershed in 1993, these folks are sure to shake up marketing in the coming months and years.

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