“I found something so stunning that it made me question what it even means to be a marketer today.”

When Mark Schaefer starts writing a book, it’s because he’s come across something unusual. A question without a clear answer, or a marketing puzzle that needs solving. As he shared on the stage of Content Jam in downtown Chicago, the process starts with him going into a room and reading everything he can get his hands on.

The process seems to work – he’s written 6 best-selling marketing books that are used as textbooks in more than 50 universities, found in 750+ libraries, and translated into 12 languages.

When he started writing his most recent book, Marketing Rebellion, it was because of statements like this one.

“We just feel stuck. We feel overwhelmed. Our marketing isn’t working like it used to.”

At first, Mark thought the answer was technology. Technology moved fast, and keeping up with the pace of change can be overwhelming.

When he started to dig in, he found something else. Something that led him to startling conclusions:

  • The sales funnel is a lie
  • Advertising is dying
  • Loyalty is a myth
  • Engagement doesn’t exist

Two-thirds of marketing happens without input from the brand:

  • Through social media
  • User generated content
  • Word-of-mouth
  • Online reviews

On stage, Mark shared McKinsey research that changed how he thought about marketing. McKinsey studied 200,000 customer journeys across 90 different verticals. They found that:

  • 13% of customers are loyal
  • 90% of verticals show no evidence of loyalty at all

They argued that emotion was the missing factor.

The 1st Consumer Rebellion: The end of lies

“You can’t lie to us like this!”

The term “marketing” was used for the first time in the 1880s. By the 1920s, advertising was a major business. Agencies made big money, and were the primary way for businesses to get the word out about their products.

The most popular advertisements made promises about the results of using the products they advertised. But as it became more difficult to grab attention, claims became more and more sensational – until many ads outright lied in their claims.

false advertisingA classic example of the outrageous claims advertisements once published. 

Thus came the first consumer rebellion – consumers protesting against lies.

The 2nd Consumer Rebellion: No more secrets

Customers know more about the product than we do.”

Regulation limited the claims advertisers were allowed to make and the evidence they needed to supply. Marketing reached a new equilibrium, at least until the spread of the internet in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Even with regulations in place, the key power of advertisers was unchanged: advertisers owned the narrative they fed consumers.

Before the internet, the budget required to reach large groups of people was prohibitive. Which also meant that it was difficult for consumers to talk to each other.

AOL dial in screenThe AOL dial-up sound didn’t just signal you were now online; it also meant you had a say in how you were advertised to.

With the rise of the internet, advertiser’s reach became less important. Consumers could reach each other and publish their own views, which meant that advertisers lost the ability to control the narrative of their own businesses.

As Mark said, “a brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is. It is what the consumers tell each other it is.”

This was the second rebellion – the end of secrets.

The 3rd Consumer Rebellion: The end of control

“I can’t remember the last time I saw an ad.”

Mark shared a story about a visit to a friend, and how he came to a shocked standstill when he visited her bathroom — and saw her soap.

“It was this cucumber grit soap, made by a small business,” he recalled. What stopped him in his tracks was this thought: Ivory soap once was found in nearly every American bathroom. Today, Proctor and Gamble spends millions on advertising…even though they now own a single-digit percentage of the market share.

And yet, he now was looking at a bar of soap that cost 10 times more than Ivory.

He asked his friend, “Why this soap? Why do you love it?”

“I don’t love this soap,” she responded. “I love the hands that made it.”

Ivory Soap

Her emotional connection was to a human, not a product. And what’s more —the customer is the marketer now, too. Customers now decide if they will carry a product’s story forward.

Marketers have lost the ability to pay for access to an audience. As Mark said about his friend, “she was unreachable by anything we think of as marketing or advertising today. And proud of it.”

What does that mean for the state of marketing? What are the practical effects of the third consumer rebellion?

  1. “Great marketing is about building an emotional connection” to a human, not a product
  2. People are unreachable by what is typically considered advertising
  3. No traditional marketing or advertising
  4. The customer is the marketer

What’s the purpose of the 3rd rebellion? As Mark put it, “Stop it, marketers! Respect me! Respect my life, my privacy! Stop interrupting! You gotta respect me.”

The third rebellion is the end of marketer’s control over the advertising narrative.

4 big ideas for the future of marketing

“Marketing is all things human.”

Alex Honnold was the first and (as of writing) only climber to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. In 2017, he climbed the 2,900 foot path in just under 4 hours. Without ropes.

He also features at the beginning of North Face’s #QuestionMadness ad campaign – a video that’s been viewed 8 million times on YouTube.

North Face’s ad features emotional moments in outdoor sports. It shows falls, scrapes, and tears. And unlike a typical advertisement, it’s composed entirely of user-created content.

Why is this ad so effective?

  1. The customer is the hero
  2. The customer is the marketer
  3. The company helped people belong

North Face’s ad isn’t about their own story. It’s about their customer’s story – which they are the hero of.

Mark challenged attendees to be more human, and share personal moments in their marketing. To do that, he shared the four ideas that emerged as a result of the research for his latest book.

  • Big Idea 1: Marketing isn’t about ‘our story;’ it’s about their story
  • Big Idea 2: Personal brand is now the company brand
  • Big Idea 3: Bringing people together changes everything
  • Big Idea 4: Build peak moments into customer experiences

By telling human stories, highlighting real people, bringing those people together, and creating incredible experiences, the most human companies will win the marketing rebellion.