Marketing's Next Phase: Your Product Is Your Marketing

Marketing and the customer experience are becoming synonymous with products and brands themselves.


As mobile and the Internet of Things further alter the digital marketing landscape, marketing itself is experiencing profound changes. In fact, marketing and the customer experience are becoming increasingly synonymous with products and brands themselves.

For marketers, this means never-ending opportunities to create compelling experiences and then retain consumer data to inform and personalize future experiences for returning consumers. Looking forward, experts say they expect marketing responsibilities to saturate every department of any given brand in order to truly deliver what consumers want.

Speaking at Adobe Summit, Brad Rencher, senior vice president and general manager of digital marketing at Adobe, said the digital marketing industry is pushing the boundaries of where it can go in the “amazing journey of the reinvention of marketing.”

Further, virtually any digital experience – from depositing checks and paying taxes to filling out March Madness brackets – has changed the way consumers interact with brands in what Rencher describes as a “profound way.”

Why Marketing Must Become A Product

To continue to deliver compelling experiences, marketing can no longer remain a single department within an organization, but must rather be at the epicenter, Rencher said.

Marketing must also move beyond marketing – to the point where marketing becomes a product itself – as brands reimagine how they portray themselves across the customer journey.

That’s because the contract between brand and customer is constantly being re-evaluated, Rencher said. And that means brands and marketers must always be thinking about how to re-engage their targets.

“We’re in an era now where your product is your marketing,” said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen. “Traditionally as marketers, companies gave you a product and it was your job to market it with questions like, ‘How do I position my brand?,’ ‘What’s my messaging?’ and ‘How do I allocate my media spend?’ Now it’s broadly enough about what the product is and ‘How can I bring together the power of digital marketing to dramatically improve the product experience?’”

In other words, companies in industries like retail and travel have long known that the services they deliver are synonymous with their brands, Narayen said. The same is true for digital-only services like Uber: The website or app is the brand’s business. And this is becoming true on a broader scale.

Rebecca Lieb, industry analyst at research and strategy consulting firm Altimeter Group, agrees. Marketing is becoming more of a product, inspiring consumers to “engage with a company because its marketing is so wonderful,” she said.

Rencher agreed.

“The customer experience has become the brand for organizations and the best gauge for success,” he said. “Now, more than ever, the experience is the brand.”

Continuous Customer Experiences

Consumers have many more touchpoints to interact with brands and, as a result, their expectations are increasing. Rencher said this means brands must create consistent customer experiences in which they remember salient details about each consumer so that the customer doesn’t have to start all over from the beginning upon each new interaction.

Brands must also strive to create continuous customer experiences that, for example, allow consumers to do their own at-home research and pick up where they left off when they arrive in-store rather than starting over again upon arrival.

The underlying piece that ties this all together is mobility via devices like screens and wearables, Rencher said. Mobile is the bridge that gets customers into a branch or venue and is where marketers have an opportunity to augment each experience.

“As brands, we have more opportunities than ever to delight customers, but also more opportunities to dissatisfy and disappoint,” Rencher said. “Getting invited to be on someone’s wrist is a sign of intimacy and respect.”

Coca-Cola: Liquid And Linked

Forward-thinking brands like Coca-Cola create experiences that not only delight, but go beyond traditional marketing channels, Rencher said.

In fact, Lorie Buckingham, chief development officer at Coca-Cola, said the brand is “trying to continuously create happiness experiences.”

Said experiences include a flag composed of customer selfies that was unfurled at the World Cup, giving fans a virtual presence in Brazil, and enabling each person who submitted a selfie to drill down online to see exactly where their faces were.

“For us, it’s about how to create the next new experience,” Buckingham said. “We can’t rest on our laurels. It’s ‘What’s the next new thing to bring everybody together?’”

She calls this “liquid and linked,” which means it “flows like water” because the brand doesn’t control the content, but rather honors it and works with fans to guide it.

“We want everything to be unique and special, but we want some common things – the liquid and linked experience. It’s Coke all the way through,” she said. “That’s how we create true happiness experiences.”

Happiness experiences also include elements of surprise like Coke’s Hug Me vending machines, which it put on college campuses during finals week to distribute Cokes in exchange for hugs, Buckingham said. In addition, Coke’s Small World Machine connected consumers in Pakistan and India, by asking them to relate to each other in some way in order to retrieve a Coke.

In addition, Coke’s Freestyle machines, which allow consumers to customize beverages, also allow the brand to create known consumers by remembering a favorite drink mix, which, in turn, means Coke can provide the same experience to that customer no matter where in the world they access another Freestyle machine. Reusing and reapplying data in that fashion is what Buckingham calls the “red thread,” which means Coke can deliver a common experience throughout.

“Brands ultimately need to make every consumer a known consumer, or it’s like you’re at a party where everyone has paper bags on their heads,” adds Loni Stark, senior director of strategy and product marketing at Adobe.

Starwood Hotels: 360-Degree Experiences

For its part, Starwood Hotels and Resorts also uses customer data to provide personalized experiences based on preferences for floors and check-in and check-out times at any of its locations.

In addition to innovations like keyless access, Chris Norton, vice president of CRM applications and channel intelligence at Starwood, said the brand recently announced partnerships with Uber and Delta in order to provide “360-degree experiences from the flight to the car to the hotel.”

Further, iBeacons can help the brand create known consumers as those users with the SPG app who opt in can be recognized as they approach the front desk, which means they can be greeted by name, Norton said. The brand has also been working on an Apple Watch app, which means users will also be able to open their rooms without keys.

Connecting Customers, Experiences, Screens

Only about 10 percent of actual transactions happen in pure digital, which means many transactions still happen in person, according to Stark. Nevertheless, the customer that comes into a store is much smarter than customers were 10 or 20 years ago because they’re doing research online first. So brands must not only think about how to connect with these smarter customers, but also about how to connect experiences and screens, she said.

Further, Stark cites figures that show 27 percent of customers are considering a wearable.

What’s more, Lieb notes the difference between channels, screens, and devices is eroding for consumers to the point that it’s “all just media.”

Content: The Unifying Element

Content ties all of these disparate touchpoints together.

“Content is the atomic particle of all marketing,” Lieb said. “I believe content will be part of every job description in the near future.”

As such, Lieb said brands must foster a culture of content in which one single department is not responsible for creating and distributing content but rather the entire organization inspires and processes content.

The same is true of mobile, Norton said.

“Mobile isn’t something the guy down the hall does,” he said. “Every job needs to be a mobile job.”

In other words, there’s sort of a convergence of departments happening in which more teamwork is required to create seamless, contextual experiences.

But, Lieb said, content must be the unifying element in these contextually relevant experiences. Brands must use context to help cut through the noise and provide actual meaning based on data.

She points to Home Depot, which ties its online shopping cart to the in-store shopping experience with savable shopping lists that also help consumers navigate stores, as well as Diageo, which enabled consumers to send personalized Father’s Day messages via QR codes on bottles, as well as MGM Resorts, which can send notifications and/or offers to customers walking through a venue based on their preferences, as good examples of contextually relevant experiences.

How do you see digital marketing evolving?