The Evolution of Marketing


There are thousands of new products and services entering the market every year. Modern technology has changed the way we market and has provided new products and services with endless opportunities for advertising. These new opportunities for advertising are no longer restricted to our tv, radios, and billboards. Ads have now infiltrated all aspects of our lives, resulting in a constant barrage of advertising in everything from the games we play, the music we listen to, the movies we watch and even when communicating with friends and family. 

As the number of advertising opportunities has increased, the cost of advertising has decreased in many areas. A decrease in the costs has brought an increase in the number of competing companies. The need to be effective at branding, marketing and advertising to match the competitive environment of the modern day market has never been more apparent. For our products and services to succeed we must utilise strong marketing principles and understand how the marketing environment has, and in what direction it will continue, to change.

Over the last hundred years we have seen an increase in branding, marketing and advertising complexity. Growing competition creates an environment that rewards a company that specialises and differentiates itself. Brands that find whitespace are able to be first in the mind of the customer and set themselves up for success early before the competition arrives. 

This is reflected in how companies have been marketing themselves, and how the emphasis continues to adapt from a product focused analytical approach to a customer focused empathetic approach. How we position ourselves externally has evolved from “what it has”, to “what it does”, to “what you’ll feel”, to “who you are”. [Marty Neumeier – The Brand Gap]

In the early 1900s describing the “what it has” or features of your product or service was enough. This simple method is still the primary tactic used by un-trained advertisers today. If we take the example from the movie ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ and you get a rookie salesman to sell a pen they will start talking about its features. “It’s a red pen”, “A good, strong pen that won’t break” etc… 

Growing competition brought about more sophisticated branding, marketing and advertising. We started to focus a little less on the product and a little more on the customers by communicating benefits or “what it does”. As a company you had to better understand why this product or service would be worth purchasing. Benefits are easy to understand, they are just why the product’s features matter to your customer. For example “A good, strong pen that won’t break [FEATURE], so you can trust it will work for you in any situation [BENEFIT].”

By the 1950s communicating benefits and features was not consumer focused enough to get real traction. The emphasis changed, and once again it placed a little less on the product and a little more on the customer. We began to communicate “what you’ll feel” or the experiences that our products and services delivered. If our product and service was on the higher-end then the better the experience should be. Buying a high-end Mont Blanc pen provided with it an experience that was different. Buying a convenient BiC also had experience, but an experience that was comparable to the cost.

The evolution of branding, Marketing and Advertising didn’t stop there, the trend continued. Again there was a little less emphasis on the product and a little more on the customer. These small but continuous incremental adjustments had really changed the way good branding, marketing and advertising was achieved. The continued increase in competition forced companies to be more focused in their targeting, and of their understanding of the consumers’ reasons for buying. 

The findings were, generally speaking, that consumers today largely make purchases for two reasons. They are either looking to be included into a group or they are looking to increase their status within a group they are a part of. Purchases are more about indicating “who you are” or what group we are a part of. Purchasing a Mont Blanc pen for $500, rather than a Bic for $2, is a statement. It says this is who I am, this is my status, and these are the people I associate with. 

Neumeier summerasis this perfectly when he says “We want to be unique, but we want to be unique in groups. We want to stand out, but we want to stand out together. In the age of easy group-forming, the basic unit of measurement is not the segment but the tribe.”

EVOLUTION OF MARKETING from features to benefits to experiences and to identification

A continued increase in advertising opportunities, combined with the need to become more focused in what we offer, to counter the growing competition, means that we must be hyper aware of the tribe we are serving. The continual trend is that we must be less focused on the products and services we produce and more focused on the unserved consumer that we are bringing value to. 

How well do you know your customer? Wait, don’t answer that I have a better question, how well did you understand your customer before you ever designed your products or services? Was it designed with their problems in mind?

If you are in the majority you will have thought about your product in immense detail and took that product to market before any in-depth consumer research and testing occurred. In reality if this is you then you have created a product first and then tried to find a customer willing to purchase it second. 

Some companies will have prioritised the product development process before giving the customers needs some thought. Prioritising your product or service before a customer probably meant that you didn’t quite hit your target market or took several more interactions or iterations before you got market fit.

Finally, the small minority are those who have thought deeply about the audience they wish to serve and created a product specifically to fit that audience’s needs. These are businesses that get uncommon success, these are the brands that understand and leverage the idea of crafting a tribe.

Too often we start by trying to target large groups of people that are a part of already large and competitive markets. We are broad and uncourageous with our targeting which keeps us fighting against other brands relying on advertising that showcases features and benefits of products and services. An approach which can be followed today if you enjoy fighting a never ending uphill battle. A courageous company is one that prioritises a specific customer and is focused on providing genuine value. As Seth Godin writes in his book TRIBES “Too many organisations care about numbers, not fans…what they’re missing is the depth of commitment and interconnection that true fans deliver.”

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