This article was originally published on Media Village
Marketing has always had an obsession with “the next big thing.” That’s because we marketers have creativity as a core competency, a trait that motivates us to do what’s never been done before; to win in new ways. Despite this ambition, many smart marketers still miss out on big opportunities. One culprit is our over-reliance on trends, which are inherently difficult to predict. But there’s more going on here.
From my vantage point, as an expert on marketing to age — a massive opportunity that many marketers have missed — there are several interrelated dynamics that can blind marketers to the really big opportunities.
Here’s what’s getting in the way:
Most marketing organizations have substantial inertia behind their current strategies, which holds them back from big opportunities that require new ways of working. Most of the inertia that favors the status quo is generated by a dedication to best practices — approaches that a company has had success with and has operationalized for efficiency and predictable outcomes.
Best practices obscure big opportunities for two important reasons. First, they’re based on prior successes, thus orienting marketers to the past versus the future, where big new opportunities live. Second, while best practices allegedly exist to minimize risk, they often have the effect of eliminating it altogether. We all know that risk is a critical and beneficial ingredient for a marketing culture that wants to win big in new ways.
The inertia around best practices and established ways of doing things is clearly a barrier to big opportunities like marketing to age; it’s unlikely that a young brand manager is going to embrace an older consumer when they and their organization have zero experience with an unfamiliar cohort.
Understanding Needs Versus Creating Desires
Most marketing practices begin with understanding the consumer’s existing or emerging needs, then responding with a product benefit that solves those needs. Although this is a time-proven approach, the biggest opportunities result from understanding the consumer’s unexpressed needs. Instead, the best practices described above lead to research that asks consumers what they want or need. This is inherently limiting, as many consumers don’t know what they want until they do; i.e. they define the category based on the way it has always been because they can’t conceive of it being any different.
A great example of this is the smartphone, which consumers weren’t smart enough to know they needed until Apple made it impossible to live without. To be open to new, big opportunities, marketers need to shift their paradigm from understanding needs to creating desires.
What can a marketer do to anticipate what the consumer can’t anticipate for themselves? One solution is to constantly expand the needs your brand already fulfills to extend into new spaces that the consumer is willing to go to — often because they’re coming from a familiar place. Too many marketers strive for transformation when they should be focused on transportation instead; that is, moving the consumer to a neighboring space that feels familiar, even if it isn’t.
This is a term used to describe the behavioral phenomenon that causes people to make ill-advised decisions because they are preoccupied with a predetermined scenario. A skier who’s caught in a white-out at the top of a mountain at the end of the day has the obvious and safe option to wait out the storm in the warmth of the summit lodge. But because he had après ski plans in the base area — and it’s human nature to want to get down or off the mountain when a threat is looming — he heads down anyway, takes a wrong turn because of the poor visibility, and gets lost for the night with no one knowing where to look for him.
While the smart choice seemed obvious, “go fever” subconsciously compelled him to continue moving toward his predetermined plan, acting irrationally without thinking through the significant consequences.
Many marketers are missing out on the big opportunity of marketing to age because they have a preexisting bias to go after millennials. It doesn’t matter that the business case for aging is rational and factual; “go fever” has marketers moving on to millennials without thinking through the consequences. As a result, many are struggling to figure out this emerging consumer base when they could have been winning with a known and much more predictable audience in boomers.
So, what’s a marketer to do? Here’s a radical thought: They should win big by thinking small. Facing more pressure than ever before, many of today’s companies are encouraging their people to think big, to create ideas that can transform and disrupt to create disproportionate wins in the market. Sure, it’s great to be creatively ambitious, but you also need to guard against aiming too high.
Every one of today’s big ideas fundamentally had a small start, so it’s important to have a culture that encourages and rewards ideas that succeed, regardless of their initial scale. Look at e-commerce, a market space that’s brimming with an increasing number of niche products that are generating sizeable results (e.g., reusable food wraps, smart backpacks).
Perhaps the best big idea is to have lots of small ideas that have the potential to become big. Because, in the end, you never know where the next Casper mattress in a box, iPhone, or Ninja Air Fryer is going to come from.
Let's outline the new paradigm for "old" & how marketers will thrive by putting the realities of aging aside in favor of the idealistic notions that Boomers act like they’re ageless.
Let's Monday-morning quarterback this year's SuperBowl ads, explaining why Baby Boomers (and others) might miss the point. Hint: They’re ads, not IQ tests.