Shouting at consumers is a losing game – it's time for a rethink

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Shouting at customers – or advertising, as it has been called for the last century or so – is a losing game. Scott Galloway, clinical professor of marketing at the New York University Stern School of Business, recently said that advertising is becoming “a tax on the poor”.

If you’re wealthy enough – and willing to pay – you don’t have to put up with it anywhere.

That observation of a social trend should be compelling enough for brands to rethink their approach to marketing, even before the shocking levels of fraud and lack of control (think “your-brand-here” next to extremist content).

There’s still some value in advertising as a marketing tactic, but its role as the sun around which all marketing promotion orbits is largely over. You can tell this from the behaviours of two groups of companies in the twenty-teens – new, disruptive winners, and agile incumbents that are reinventing how they work with customers in the digital age.

Both of these successfully design the way they do their marketing by delivering content where customers are, and make it useful or compelling to them in that moment. This contrasts with the highly irritating self-serving brand content that customers are increasingly buying their way out of ever having to see, with ad-blockers, subscription content, and carefully cultivated selective-vision.

So what should be at the centre of big brand marketing these days? The customer. But while the answer to the question is simple, the shift to customer-first marketing is beguilingly hard for legacy brands invested in the old media-buying order of things.

Among the new kids on the block of any given industry, you will find that the marketing approach that got them there was lean, focused and all about the customer.

In the cosmetics industry “you’re worth it” still trumpets from cinema ads, glossy magazines, and even TV sets where people don’t subscribe to Netflix.

But upstart new players avoid the high overheads, waste and fraud in mass paid media, and focus their energy on content that customers actually want in social media and killer point of sale displays.

Legacy brands that reinvent themselves for the digital age are the ones that have a burning platform that gives a visionary leadership team the licence and urgency to change how their marketing organisation works. Think Burberry and Adidas as fightback stories over the past decade, each powered by visionary creatives and ground-breaking approaches to marketing with content.

Winning in brand marketing, and commerce more broadly, is about designing your marketing organisation around the customer, focusing on: what they need to hear from you; where they are when they want to hear it, and the most valuable moment for them to hear it.

£ Antony Mayfield is chief executive at Brilliant Noise.