Rediscovering Value: A Return to Purposeful Marketing
Marketing communications, the craft of conveying messages to millions, has long held an esteemed position at the intersection of creativity and truth. Once a beacon that navigated the murky waters of information overload, it illuminated the path towards meaningful engagement and genuine value. However, in the crowded digital era, this guiding light has dimmed, and our craft and duty as marketing professionals calls for a reevaluation.
This article embarks on a journey back to the heart of communications, advocating a return to its fundamental principles of truth, creativity, and most importantly, meaningful value.
The market became crowded with marginally different products, offering little in terms of real value or innovation, resulting in the perception of marketing teams (and the companies they serve) as bullshit peddlers.
Lessons from History
40+ Years of IBM
In the nascent stages of the Digital Revolution, marketing strategies were built around core tenets: the value proposition, differentiation, and purposeful engagement. One classic example is IBM’s 1980s campaign, “A Computer on Every Desk.” It wasn’t simply a product-driven strategy, but rather a vision of democratizing computing power for every American. This nuanced understanding of their audience’s aspirations set IBM on a path of global dominance.
Their “Smarter Planet” initiative was not merely a campaign, but a vision for the integration of systems and intelligence to address major global issues. It provided customers with a pathway to leverage technology and data for efficient operations and sustainable growth.
IBM continued to keep value at the core of their strategy, a theme evident in their “Outthink” campaign. It embodied the ethos of transformative thinking, aimed at solving complex problems, resonating with businesses looking for innovative solutions.
Cisco’s Inspiring and Market-Defining Initiatives
Here’s to Humanity: a Philosophical Shift in Cisco’s Strategy and Culture
“Here’s to Humanity” was an expression of a philosophical shift in Cisco’s strategy and culture. Rather than focusing solely on technological prowess or product excellence, the initiative put people—customers, employees, and broader communities—at the forefront of their mission.
The impact was profound. First, the campaign broke through the noise of a crowded tech marketplace. At a time when most competitors were flaunting specifications and capabilities, Cisco’s approach was like a breath of fresh air. This was more than a campaign slogan or a marketing catchphrase—it was a commitment to understanding and serving the very people who make technology meaningful.
A Vision of a Connected Future
Cisco’s “Internet of Everything” campaign, launched in the early 2010s, was a landmark in the company’s marketing efforts. The campaign foresaw the explosive growth of connectivity, where not just computers and smartphones, but a plethora of devices, sensors, and systems would be interconnected via the internet.
This was more than just a prediction; it was a vision for the future, where the line between the physical and digital worlds would blur, and new possibilities would emerge in how we live, work, and interact. The campaign tagline, “Bringing together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before,” encapsulates this vision.
The campaign was powerful because it positioned Cisco as a visionary leader at the forefront of this technological revolution. It addressed the aspirations of businesses to become more connected, efficient, and agile, and the desire of societies for more sustainable and inclusive growth.
But the campaign’s power didn’t just lie in its vision; it also lay in its value proposition. Cisco didn’t just prophesy the “Internet of Everything”; they promised to enable it. The campaign offered a suite of solutions, from networking hardware to software and services, that would help businesses and governments leverage the power of connectivity. This included everything from smarter cities with connected infrastructure to businesses with integrated supply chains and customer engagement platforms.
Where Did We Go Wrong?
In stark contrast, the advent of digital marketing has been characterized by an obsession with getting attention. A myopic focus on expanding one’s digital footprint has overshadowed the necessity to deliver substance.
Consider the proliferation of Software as a Service (SaaS) companies. In an increasingly crowded market, companies are compelled to compete louder and promise more. The unfortunate side effect is a market saturated with noise, with many struggling to differentiate themselves or provide genuinely innovative solutions.
I see this consistently in the cybersecurity industry with the use of the term ‘Zero Trust’. Because it’s such a powerful methodology and many enterprises are seeking to implement it in their environment, we see an influx of security companies (and companies outside of security) claim they “do Zero Trust”, when in fact, they do not. This helps no one.
As more companies started prioritizing attention over value, we witnessed a drift from marketing’s foundational principles: understanding and catering to the needs of the audience. The market became crowded with marginally differentiated products, offering little in terms of real value or innovation, resulting in the perception of marketing (and their companies) as bullshit peddlers.
The Impact to Customers and the Market
The continuous clamor for attention has made it increasingly challenging for end-users to distinguish genuine value amidst the din of promises. Companies that fail to communicate their real value proposition risk losing customer trust and loyalty.
The path to reverse this trend is clear: return to the basics.
As a seasoned guide for B2B tech startups, I advocate reconnecting with your audience. Understand their needs and aspirations, then strategize to provide solutions that differentiate you from your competitors. Contrary to popular opinions and our general lack of patience, this is not something that’s done overnight.
- First, companies must shift their mindset from a focus on attention to one centered around value creation. That means engaging in genuine conversations with your audience to understand their needs, wants, and pain points. The dialogue should be ongoing and iterative; the audience’s needs may change over time, and the company must be willing to adapt its offerings in response.
- Second, it’s crucial to define and articulate a clear value proposition. What can you offer that your competitors cannot? What unique solution do you bring to the table that meets your customer’s needs better than anyone else? This proposition must be articulated clearly and consistently across all your marketing channels.
- Third, it’s essential to establish a clear, authentic, and compelling brand narrative. Just like IBM’s ‘Outthink’ campaign, or Oracle’s ‘Freedom to Transform,’ your narrative should encapsulate your value proposition and vision, creating an emotional connection with your audience that transcends the product or service you’re offering.
- Finally, remember that in a world overwhelmed by noise, sometimes less is more. Prioritize quality over quantity in your marketing efforts. Deliver well-researched, value-laden, and thought-provoking content. It may take more time and effort, but it will set you apart in the crowded market and help establish you as a trusted and valued voice.
It’s time to shift our perspective and return marketing and strategy to their rightful place at the heart of our organizations. Marketing should not be a shouting match in a crowded market. Instead, they must serve as tools to express your unique value, connect meaningfully with your audience, and guide your organization towards sustainable growth.
As leaders, we must reclaim the essence of marketing and strategy, reminding ourselves that the goal is not to be the loudest voice, but the most significant and resonant one.