The Post One-to-One Era of Marketing?

Over the past few years, several people have said to me, “Wow, with all this technology, you can finally put the right marketing message in front of the right person at the right time. That’s truly one-to-one. That’s living the dream!” … But is that still the dream in 2017?

Over the past few years, several people have said to me, “Wow, with all this technology, you can finally put the right marketing message in front of the right person at the right time. That’s truly one-to-one. That’s living the dream!” … But is that still the dream in 2017?

Last week I was at the Engagement Marketing Executive Symposium hosted by Ricoh, and I got to hear Carla Johnson talking about the book she’s  written with Robert Rose: “Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing.” In the presentation, she laid out the whole history of marketing in the six “eras” we’ve been through so far:

  1. The Trade Era: 1850s to 1900s focused on where you can buy the product, because distribution was very limited.
  2. The Production Era: 1900s to 1920s focused on quality of the product and dangers of other products.
  3. The Sales Era: 1920s-1940s focused on making a sales argument and price, highly influenced by “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
  4. The Marketing Department Era: 1940s to 1950s, focused on promotion of product benefits.
  5. The Marketing Company Era: 1960s to 1990s was the high “Mad Men” era, focused on brand. Think the Pepsi Challenge and Apple’s iconic ads.
  6. The Relationship Era: 1990s to 2015, one-to-one marketing highly influenced by the books “The One to One Future” and “The Cluetrain Manifesto.”

Out of these eras, Johnson said the first four represent the classic four Ps of marketing: Place, Price, Product and Promotion. Then we see the development of the commercial mass-media era, followed by the rise of modern direct marketing.

Looked at this way, I can certainly see a progression. The question is, are we now past the one-to-one era? It feels like we just recently found the technologies to actualize the ideas Peppers and Rogers wrote about, but have those techs already missed the boat?

Well, if all this personalized digital marketing was loved by the masses, would we be seeing both Apple and Google add built-in ad blockers to their web browsers? Or laws like CASL and GDPR threatening access to data and channels we use to reach one-to-one?

Clearly, consumers are having a bad experience with these kinds of marketing. In theory, very good one-to-one marketing should always be relevant and a pleasure for the audience to receive. In practice,  lot of marketing that’s meant to one-to-one is actually one-to-none, and nobody wants to engage with it.

The only way to fix a bad experience is to start offering a good one, and that’s where the seventh era comes in:

7. The Experience Era: 2015 to the future, experiences “transform” business through customer-centricity.

Where the one-to-one era was built around direct, personalized communication, the experience era is built on providing an experience around your brand that your target audiences will choose to engage with. It’s the art of marketing without interrupting; the art of opt-in engagement.

Is that the era you feel like we’re in?

One thing’s for sure: We can’t keep frustrating the audience and expecting them to be happy to see us.