Marketing illusions

As published in MarketingTribune on June 6, 2017. Stephen Hawking once said: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge”. This message is particularly important for today’s marketers. Only too often do we apply old marketing logic and principles in a context which has changed radically and only too frequently do we start off from the illusion that those still apply. So here are some classic marketing suppositions which have evolved from reality to illusion.

The illusion of differentiation

We just love believing that our brand is different. However, the bitter reality is that brands barely differ from each other in the consumers’ perception. One of the most extensive empiric studies in brand choice behavior (the Dirichlet model) already determined in the 80s that brands are competing on undifferentiated brand attributes. Ever since, numerous surveys have come to the same conclusions in several categories and countries. So you can simply assume that your brand is less different from your direct competitors than you think.

The illusion of attention

As a consequence of the Netflix effect, traditional media have lost a lot of their power. This entails that buying attention is increasingly more a marketing illusion. 11% of the global internet population is currently blocking advertising via the internet, a percentage which increases by 30% every year (2017 Global Adblock Report). And the European GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will further ensure that gaining the online attention of consumers will continue to become more difficult. In other words: you will need to become more and more creative in catching your target group’s attention by moving rather than reaching them.

The illusion of connection

I hear marketers brag all too often that they are listening to their clients through social media listening, thus developing a strong connection with their target group. Evidently, this is yet another illusion. Only a section of all online conversations is accessible; they often take place in niche target groups and generally contain little thorough and insightful information. Listening to what your target group is saying is useful indeed, but it is not sufficient as a basis to obtain a deep connection and understanding.

The illusion of loyalty

Because of an exponential increase in choice options and (online) purchase ease and comfort, the famous 80-20 Pareto rule must create room more and more for a ratio which is closer to 50-20 . For example, the percentage of brand users who will repeat-purchase a given brand has decreased to a mere 55% for Apple, 33% for Harley-Davidson and 13% for Kellogg’s. It could also go (even) quicker: the current market capitalization of Jeff Bezos’ Amazon is about twice as high as Wal-Mart’s. So never assume that clients are inherently loyal to brands; continuous effort is required to put (or keep putting) your brand on the map.
Successful marketing is a whole lot more challenging than it was roughly ten years ago, as the old recipes are no longer sufficient or could even have a counterproductive effect. As long as you know that the reality from the past may have become an illusion in the present.

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