’The medium, or process, of our time - electric technology - is
reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every
aspect of our personal lives. It is forcing us to reconsider and
re-evaluate practically everything. Everything is changing ... every
thought, every action and every institution formerly taken for
So wrote Marshall McLuhan, in The Medium is the Message, more than 30
years ago. Today, with less than two months to go before the New
Millennium, 92% of leading UK companies still have no clear
understanding of what the new industrial age will mean.
This is one of the findings presented this week to The Marketing
Society’s annual conference, and comes from research conducted among
delegates by brand consultancy Headlight Vision.
The conference itself has the future-themed title ’The Turning Point’,
while the research uncovered apprehension at the speed of change,
countered by excitement at the business opportunities the New Millennium
The results come from the responses of 180 conference delegates, at
marketing director level or above, at some of the leading UK companies.
These include: Van den Bergh, Diageo, Cadbury, the BBC, Prudential, the
Royal Mail, and Sainsbury’s.
Headlight Vision has divided the responses into five ’future’ themes:
change, stakeholders, consumer vigilantes, customer involvement, and
Each has statistical responses backed by quotes from respondents.
The overwhelming majority of the marketing community believes we are
living in a time of incredible change, and the feeling of excitement is
matched by fear and uncertainty.
The most disconcerting aspect of this future-gazing is a slight air of
complacency, fuelled by uncertainty - almost a wait-and-see attitude -
which is pervading a profession which is, after all, responsible for
both shaping and meeting consumer needs.
Although nine out of ten respondents believe we are only at the very
start of a new age, and don’t quite understand what it will entail, just
30% feel that their companies are acting with the right sense of
Sixty per cent, meanwhile, believe that marketing needs to make
fundamental changes to meet the new challenges.
Underlying these responses is recognition that the millennium has
already created individual and collective feelings of doubt,
introspection and uncertainty. As a counterpoint to these are feelings
of optimism, renewed hope and purpose. And while marketers are not
immune to any of these feelings, their brands may not be either.
The opinions voiced by the delegates reflected a sense that the ’old
ways’ were no longer good enough or fast enough to serve modern business
’We understand market dynamics better than ever. We do slightly fear the
future, but look at how we have ’managed the change’ regarding the
’Skills which have stood us in excellent stead for many years may no
longer be relevant in advertising, production and media planning.’
Serving two masters
The biggest successes of the next millennium will be those business
which can market a brand and company at the same time. Brand marketing
will need to consider complementary corporate and brand values if they
are not to be exposed as contradictory or inconsistent.
Creating strategies and organisations to meet the new consumer demands
for visibility, integrity and clarity will be one of the biggest
challenges facing marketers in the 21st century. Consumer power equals
consumer stakeholders, as more consumers are recognising their power and
are happy to use it. However, the financial markets’ desire for profit
and stability can run counter to consumer desire, and there are likely
to be more and more clashes.
Thirty-five per cent of respondents believe that in the future,
businesses would be valued more on their ability to take risks,
contribute to society and articulate their vision of the future than on
more conventional financial results. Indeed, only one-third believe the
City will continue to value companies purely on current sales or
Respondents’ quotes reflected the need for all companies to present a
holistic picture, which so far has predominantly been the strategic
domain of a few visionary businesses:
’Brands deliver to the consumer; corporate marketing delivers to the
’The City is only interested in current and future earning streams.’
’Only stakeholders would be interested in corporate marketing.’
’Brand marketing is transparent and consumers are increasingly
discerning, looking beyond the brand to see whether the company lives up
to its claims.’
’The newest companies, such as lastminute.com and QXL, combine corporate
and brand building.’
’More high-calibre visionaries, fewer brand managers required.’
Within the new model of company and brand values, of visibility and
integrity, there is a new force - real consumer power.
In the old model, every one person who complained was judged to have
told another ten; in the new model, for every one person complaining,
they will use technology to tell another 10,000, who will tell another
One of the keys to the future will be managing disapproval, which could
even be at an individual level. Imagine spending as much time and
resource considering ’disloyal’ consumers as nurturing loyal ones - and
avoiding the growing amount of crisis PR management.
Two-thirds of respondents believe brands will find it harder to meet
consumer expectations in the future, and their comments predict and
address the growth of consumers ’delisting’ poor quality or annoying
’Zero tolerance will find its way into marketing.’
’Consumers have so much more information at their fingertips that they
are consequently more discerning and sceptical. Brand owners need more
’Contribution to society, and vision for the future will increasingly be
’If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a
faster horse,’ was one memorable quote of Henry Ford’s, and recalled by
a survey respondent. Memorable, but no more relevant to tomorrow’s
customers than his ’any colour as long as it’s black’ line.
Because customers of the 21st century will know what they want, and will
expect and demand the company and its products to be geared to their
The aim is to integrate the consumer into businesses. Think of the leaps
made in traditional supplier/ retailer relationships over the past 20
years. How can we achieve the same progress between business and
consumers over the next 20? They will have to open up and let consumers
have genuine involvement in the brands they buy.
The two-thirds of respondents who believe brands will find it harder to
meet consumer expectations also indicate, by their comments, that the
satisfaction process will be driven by the level of involvement of 21st
century customers - at least in those companies which are ready to
’It will be easier because consumers will transact with brands, and let
them know their demands; harder because brands will be expected to
change in response to this information - to transact in their turn.’
’Consumers’ requirements feed off previous experience, so last time’s
exceeded expectation becomes this time’s base expectation.’
’Customer expectation is increasing faster than product innovation in
The traditional role of marketers as a source of creativity is under
examination. So are the methods by which creative thought has been
Eighty-one per cent of respondents felt companies needed to think more
laterally, to look beyond categories and geographic borders for fresh
ideas - and then take a leap of faith.
Sixty-three per cent thought marketing needed a leap in creativity to
meet new demands for novelty, experimentation and new experiences.
The goal for the next millennium is to create environments which will
produce challenges to our business, to build risk-taking and intuition
back into the marketing model, and to accept and encourage failure if it
occurs in the pursuit of new successes.
There was a recognition of the need for new ideas, yet a sense of
despondency about how to get those ideas and toward the perceived
’opponents of creativity’:
’Look to what drives creative people. Destroy anything which inhibits
’Innovation and dynamism is ’sexy’. It sends signals to the City.’
’The big issues will be how to win the accountants and lawyers over to
’Marketing is at its most imaginative when it breaks new boundaries and
thinks the unthinkable.’
’Sack anyone with marketing in their title.’
This feature is adapted from the Marketing Society conference speech
made by Crawford Hollingworth, director of Headlight Vision.
THE FUTURE IN FORMATION - LIVING EXAMPLES OF THE TRENDS
’Prudential to cut 4000 jobs, almost one-fifth of the UK workforce, as
internet sales gather momentum.’ The Times, June 18, 1999.
’Eventually all companies are replaced.’ Bill Gates
IBM quickly moved out of hardware and into services. In 1992, 12% of its
revenue was in services; it is projected to be 46% by 2003.
’An organisation’s ability to learn and translate that learning into
action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage.’ Jack Welch, chief
executive officer of General Electric
Bill Gates has claimed that in the 1980s the focus was on quality, in
the 1990s the focus was on re-engineering and in the 2000s, it will be
An American publisher has created the ’one-minute bedtime story’ for
parents in a hurry.
Serving two masters
Diageo ad reads: ’The success of our brands rests on the long-term
prosperity of the communities where they are enjoyed.’ The company gives
1% of its pre-tax profits to community programmes around the world.
’One-third of analysts and institutional investors believe a company’s
contribution to society and the communities in which it operates impact
on its financial performance. The evidence of research suggests there is
a place for principles and profit.’ Charlotte Hines and Robert M
Worcester, MORI Mintel research (UK 1998) shows that 61% of consumers
make purchases based on ethical considerations.
The failed takeover of Manchester United by BSkyB could not manage the
contradictory pressures of City and consumer interests. Rupert Murdoch’s
(pounds 625m) bid was referred to the Monopolies and Mergers
’We’re now going to push for a place for grass-roots fans to be on the
board because we need to make sure football is run in the eyes of
everyone.’ Paul Richards, Supporters Association.
Consumers are now in a position to influence companies through
collective bargaining. The new e-organisations give them the power to
affect pricing on goods from minute to minute.
Third Voice software allows people to leave virtual Post-it notes on web
sites. It allows visitors to the sites to read and add to the comments
and pass them on to other parties.
Despite billions of pounds being spent on ’consumer services’ by
businesses in the past few years, one in two of us complained about
products or services bought last year. (Henley Centre)
’Consumers have market power. If governments don’t understand that, let
Monsanto be a lesson.’ Sheila McKechnie, Consumers’ Association
More and more advertising campaigns are focusing on the company’s staff
rather than its products. British Gas, B&Q - whose staff are actually
featured in its ads - and Flora all fall into this category.
’I think there has been a change in culture; people are more willing to
complain than they were before. Ironically, this may well be a result of
companies asking consumers what they think.’ Geoffrey Randall, The
’(Red Bull) is offering students cash and a free mobile phone to become
’Red Bull Student Brand Managers’ to promote its services on campus.’
The Guardian, June 1999
The high street will become more entertainment-oriented as consumers
purchase essential items using the phone or internet. The new Levi’s
store can be converted into a club; Niketown has given over its entire
ground floor to promotion and entertainment.
Toyota encourages consumers to design cars using their computer-aided
design. Not only are the consumers’ dreams met, but the results are
analysed and impact on future design.
’If we innovate well, we ultimately win. To innovate, you have to be
unconventional. You have to do things differently.’ Durk Jager, CEO of
Procter & Gamble.
This article was first published on Marketing