Adapted from our new report: Transition. If you’re interested in the technology trends that are transforming the enterprise and the world, let’s get together.

“Market share is gained and lost at times of transition.” – Andy Grove

Right now is one of those times. We’re in transition: to mobile, to global, to software.

The enterprise is feeling the heat. If you look at the Fortune 500 in cohorts by decade you can see just how much harder it is for companies to maintain their position at the top of the market.


There are a number of reasons for this.

  • Structure: The structure you built 20 yeas ago is failing you.
  • Competitors: The competitors you had 10 years ago have changed.
  • Technology: The technology you procured 5 years ago isn’t getting the job done.
  • Innovation: The industry you are in doesn’t respect tradition — it only respects innovation.

Bottom line: The enterprise is in transition.

Marketing is in transition. But what happened? How did it happen?

Phase 1: 1989 – 2004

The shift started 25 years ago with Tim Berners-Lee and the founding of the World Wide Web. For the first time people and organizations were able to connect directly with each other. Marketers went out and built websites, email marketing lists, and (in)famously, banner ads to reach these customers.

A bevy of new companies emerged to help marketers deal with the various needs that surfaced in this period: Omniture for analytics; DoubleClick for serving banners; and, of course, Google for organizing the web and helping marketers reach the people searching it.

While the total number of Internet users grew by more than 30x during this period, 2004’s mark of 910 million users still only accounted for 14% of the world’s population.

Phase 2: 2004 – 2014

Ten years ago social built a layer on top of the web. Led most famously by Facebook, this layer provided a graph of relationships and interests that started to map the planet. Social presented a different set of challenges to marketers. Instead of just thinking about pushing messages, social created a participation architecture on the web that caused the enterprise to think about moving their service infrastructure into a digital environment.

As smartphone sales began to accelerate a few years ago, usage and engagement numbers in social skyrocketed. The growth of those companies followed suit. Facebook became only the second platform in history to pass 1 billion active users, joining the Fortune 500 in 2013. Today, across the Internet, there are nearly 3 billion total users, covering roughly 40% of the world’s population.

Phase 3: 2014 – 2019

That leaves us at today: The third phase. What started just over five years ago, with the introduction of the iPhone, has become a revolution that changed nearly every facet of communication for both individuals and enterprises. While it took us over 20 years to reach 3 billion Internet users, it’s predicted we’ll double that number in just the next five.

In the 1960s Marshall McLuhan theorized on the effects of the “global village,” a place where “everybody gets the message all the time.” In just five years that world will be a reality. For all the questions people may have about valuations of these new-media companies, what we do know is that for every additional 10 mobile phones per 100 people in a developing country, GDP rises by 0.5%. It’s hard to overstate the realities and excitement of nearly 100% of the planet being connected on the same network.

internet-growth-chart 2014-06-02 16-49-53

So what does this mean if you’re a marketer?

To start with it means every element of marketing needs to be rethought. As McLuhan put it, “it is the framework itself that changes with new technology, and not just the picture within the frame.” For marketers this means rethinking:

  • The channels
  • The content
  • The audience
  • The processes
  • The organizations

The Channels

This one’s easy and the transition is already in place. Where attention goes, marketers follow. But these channels are a new beast: They’re fast, they’re nearly infinitely segmentable, and, of course, they’re global. That last one is especially important. For the first time marketers must begin to constantly think about their work in a global context, as opposed to just during global events like the World Cup and the Olympics.

The Content

This is slightly more challenging. Because these channels are made up of endless streams, brands need to shift from strictly stock content to a mix of stock and flow, a few big things and many small hits.

The Audience

It’s not just the content that changes with the move to social/mobile streams. It’s also the very framework of marketing. This began to unravel with Google. Search presented marketers with an efficient way to reach potential customers without regards to the time of year or a specific message cycle. In this world of social/mobile, brands can reach ever more granular target groups at a moment’s notice. If a marketer knows they’re reaching the right person, the only question becomes the value of that customer, not whether you’re in-campaign or not.

The Process

With a change in framework naturally comes a change in process. The marketer/agency relationship was typically built around 22-week television production cycles with rounds of revision and testing. This, clearly, doesn’t work in a world where pull-to-refresh is one of the most known and used gestures in the world. Some of this is obvious (no one is out there doing intercept testing on their Tweets), but that’s just one small step in rethinking a process that was invented for a different time and place.

The Organization

Here we get into the heart of the enterprise. Most marketing departments were built to support a very different pace. How would a CMO design a department in the age we’ve described so far (stock and flow, sustained communication, social/mobile, global)? Probably not how it exists now.

That’s just how you survive.

How does marketing thrive in this new world?

After all, it’s not just the marketing department that’s under attack, it’s every part of the enterprise. And, while in one sense that’s scary, if we go back to Grove’s quote about points of transition, we also see that it’s a massive opportunity.

As a core function of the business and owner of the message, this explosion in communications technology falls squarely in their wheelhouse and gives them new opportunities to prove their value to the organization.

Think about it. Every employee is on social and every employee is mobile. HR has already shifted to be a function focused on social, as platforms like LinkedIn move to be the most important resource for recruiting new employees inside the Fortune 500.

What’s more, if your organization is anything like ours, social is now the most important tool at a sales professional’s disposal as they go about researching and prospecting potential clients and consumers.

But beyond that, there is an opportunity for marketing, as a department, to win market share inside the organization. To achieve this will require a rethinking of the people, processes, and products that make up marketing.

This is an amazing moment. Never before, in the history of the enterprise, was there a more advantageous time for a department to expand its reach. Marketing’s transition time is now.

How, then, do we make it happen?

A discipline only gets so many chances in its life to completely rethink the way it operates. When television commercials were introduced in the 1940s, they reshaped marketing departments and processes in their image. Since that time you can make a decent argument that most, if not all, of the innovation in advertising has been linear improvement: You can map the industry from that first television commercial 75 years ago, to the cable revolution of the 1980s, to the first banner ad on HotWired in 1994. Each of these channels, while slightly different, offered what was effectively the same opportunity for marketers to reach a moderately targeted audience with the hope that they were paying attention at the moment your message was displayed.

Think about it like this: For the entire history of advertising, brands were left to choose between reach (network TV or national print), targeting (cable or targeted print), or intent (outdoor or in-store). Then, basically within the last 15 years, they’re suddenly able to choose two- or even three-out-of-three. Where there may have been three total “revolutions” in marketing prior to 2000, we’re on our third since then.

Yet with all that concentrated change, as an industry we still operate in a way that closely resembles our 75-year-old selves. In some ways that’s a good thing; the core components of what makes a great brand (consistency, relevance, clarity) are timeless. However, the scale, pace, and pattern of both the audience and the content have shifted dramatically since Bulova first superimposed a watch face on an illustration of America in 1941.

Every major transition opens up new opportunities. In this case, and for this department, those opportunities are massive. To capitalize on them CMOs and marketing departments must think differently about how technology is changing their world.

  1. Marketers must move from a campaign-based mindset of stock content (a few big hits) to a model of sustained stock & flow content (a few informed big hits and many small hits).
  2. Marketers must become literate, not in talking to millions, but in talking to billions of potential customers.
  3. Marketers must move from buying and creating media to building systems.

The point of all this isn’t to predict the future, but rather to recognize the shifts happening all around us and put together a framework for facing them. While we don’t know precisely what will change, we know that everything will. Some companies will skyrocket while others fall aside. The very underpinnings of our economy will evolve as an ever-more connected and urban population changes our definitions of cities, countries, and communication.

Marketers, of course, are just one small piece of this monumental shift, but if you look around your organizations we believe you’ll see that no one has more to gain in this moment of transition.

Adapted from our new report: Transition. If you’re interested in the technology trends that are transforming the enterprise and the world, let’s get together.