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Bending The Knee
To The Future of Customer-Led Markets
I’m no sports fan. As a United States immigrant, the NFL and its Super Bowl are like Dorothy and her Wizard of Oz, something one appreciates only through generations of cultural inheritance. It’s Greek to me. But after 32-years of American living, I’ve finally picked up some swear words.
As I grew up, my family tried their best to assimilate. As we learned of football and the cultural pastime that compels taxpayers to watch football’s seasonal conclusion, we participated in Super Bowl Sunday the way you might learn a new dance move that everyone else already knows.
As a kid, I couldn’t tell you which team was winning. In spite of that, the Super Bowl entertained me every February. I may not have understood the game, but I understood why many people watched it. For me, the commercials were the stars of the show. Now, they are dying.
Death of The Monoculture
Adele Revella, author of Buyer Personas, takes me back to 1995. I imagine myself as an adult in the 90s: I rely almost exclusively on marketers to provide product information. Commercials introduce a product, salesmen bring products around to my house, pamphlets arrive at my house, and billboards whiz past me on the freeway. All the information I learn about a toaster comes from the manufacturer and the saleswoman showcasing its quad-bagel mode. Then, Adele fast-forwards me to now.
Today, mistrust is the default. The world of information is both asynchronous and obfuscated. I can learn about a Samsung television at a time and place of my choosing, leaving Samsung none the wiser. I can ask a friend, watch a review, read an article, see an ad, interact with the television in someone’s home, or any combination of these actions. And by putting myself in the driver’s seat, as a consumer I now control the means and media through which I gather data.
In comparison to the information I gather myself, brand-provided information looks and smells like ‘marketing.’ My friend may tell me what he loves and hates about his quad-bagel toaster, meanwhile Toaster Co. makes a lot of ‘promises’ regarding its alleged perfectly-toasted bagels. And unfortunately, a lot of pre-2000 marketing beliefs prosper today.
Cue the Super Bowl.
The Big Game
The Super Bowl event is the marketer’s crown jewel. During the Super Bowl, the television captivates millions of people who represent a cornucopia of demographics: male, female, single, married, black, white, rich, poor, and ages five through a hundred-and-five—the Super Bowl is at the pinnacle of monoculture eyeball magnetism. It belongs to an era when the majority of people did a minority of things.
Monoculture is an entire generation watching one of four television channels, listening to American Bandstand, and getting their news from Walter Cronkite. Monoculture is the idea that I consume the same media as everyone else and therefore, I remain in congruence with other people—our beliefs, our shared realities, and our exposure to products and services.
The Super Bowl is the event of all monocultural events because it attracts such tremendous attention. At its peak in 2015, the Super Bowl saw 115-million viewers, approximately 1 of every 3 Americans tuned in. However, in six-years viewership fell by over 20-million viewers, a trend likely to continue into the future as we divide into ever-shrinking subcultures.
Where Did My Ads Go?
Marketers spend millions of dollars to compete for my attention during the Super Bowl. But as the game loses its draw, it will go the way of The Oscars. The Super Bowl will shrink to a niche hobby as generations of children grow up with only a fraction of the exposure to the Super Bowl their parents experienced.
And as a marketer, that’s a bittersweet pill. Dying are the advertisements which target swathes of people and receive massive exposure. The ads which brought my family together and featured enough ‘wuzzaaaaaahhs’ to inspire me to become a marketer, are going extinct. That’s a good thing.
The future is the individual. The future is tens of thousands of affinity groups with members who can discuss my product across countless channels. The era of the Super Bowl (at the risk of parroting my generation) represents inequity. The balance of power between brand and customer skewed heavily toward the former.
Unfortunately, many brands refuse to bend the knee; they now scramble to recover their former strength. Like irate homeowners trying to stomp out every single cockroach, brands can’t keep up with the customer’s distributed free flow of information—they can’t be everywhere. They’re so busy trying to find the next Super Bowl, be it in the metaverse or elsewhere, that they divert resources from what will actually work in the future: great products who meet customers where they are.
What About Me?
What I take away from this thought exercise is that the work that inspired me as a child is not the work I will do as an adult, nor do I want to do that work. I don’t want to produce a five-star award-winning mass-market advertisement because like bringing a tank to a cyberwar, it won’t do much good.
Instead, marketing is going to be about keeping my brand’s promises, offering plenty of information, and encouraging my best customers to refer me to others.
What’s magical about the information revolution is that no matter where I operate or how big I get, I will still feel like a small-town business. I may not have a brick-and-mortar location, but I operate on a global network that can attract like-minded people who want what I have, regardless of where they live.
And that opportunity is available to you, too. Get to it.