Is Your Marketing Ready for the Customer of the Future?

A short history of marketing will show you one undeniable fact: You have to be ready for what’s coming. Are you?

The past 15 years have been a whirlwind for marketers. Many of the channels central to reaching consumers today–email, social, websites–either didn’t exist or played a small role back then. The most successful marketers evolved and adapted, and they learned to make the most of new tools.

To be successful in the future, marketers are going to have to evolve again. And the best way to know where we’re headed is to take a look at where we’ve been and where we are today.

The Past

Think back 15 years. Imagine a customer in the market to buy, for example, car. Where does he start? Chances are, first thing he would do is drive through the dealership after-hours to look around without being approached by someone in sales. Once he gets more serious though, he’s going to have to go back to the dealership and talk with sales. After all, they have the answers. When was this model last updated? What’s its safety rating? Can you get it in blue?

In that story, the car could be substituted for nearly everything else consumers bought 15 years ago. How many tracks are on Radiohead’s OK Computer CD? Go to Sam Goody and look. When is Microsoft Office 2000 going to be released, and how much is a business license? Call a sales rep and find out.

If all of that seems anachronistic to you, that’s because it is.

The Present

We’ve seen the rise of the self-directed buyer. When they are in the market for a car, they know exactly what they want, from transmission and engine size, to color and the level of shine on the wheels. They know how much they should pay for it, and which lot has it in stock. You can see how many tracks are on a Radiohead album with a few taps on your mobile device, and chances are you’re not buying software with a license anymore. Today, you can buy a subscription to Office.

Now, marketers have to figure out how to communicate with the information-saturated consumer. Some take the route of frequently shouting impersonal messages into inboxes, but that’s the wrong way.

The Future

The huge shift in power from sales to consumers necessitates quick evolution from marketers, and that’s a good thing. This is our chance to shine. People used to think of the marketing department as the arts and crafts department, but today we can be partners in growth if we make the most of the opportunity.

So your customers are reading about products online before talking to your sales team? Great. Make sure your content is the best and most informative. Instead of calling sales, they’re preferring to download content and watch videos on your website? That’s good data, keep sending them helpful, informative information to nurture that relationship.

Today marketing departments are surrounded by data. Who is registering for events or stopping by your booth at a trade show? What is that person’s purchase history? If you have this information, you have to use it. Sure you could blast out an email to your entire list that says, “Here’s something new. Buy it.” But don’t you think it would be better to send a personalized email that takes into account what the prospect is looking at on your website and what she has said on social networks about your product? Of course it is.

Every day, customers are shouted at by marketers, and overcoming the multi-channel noise requires building individual relationships with your prospects and customers. Once you have those relationships, you can deliver the best leads to sales, and you can continue to give your customers the same kind of personal attention that made them your customer in the first place.

There’s never been a better time to be a marketer. Brand perceptions are formed and purchase decisions made before a customer ever talks with sales or sees a product in a retail setting. That’s a tremendous opportunity to get there first and forge long-lasting relationships at the onset. Is your marketing ready for this?