The marketing industry is experiencing really big changes right now – AI, LLMs like ChatGPT, the Twitter rebrand, new platforms like Threads, and the rising power of foreign controlled TikTok. I’m still having a hard time calling the little blue bird “X”. The whole “formerly known as” feels like I’m talking about Prince!
Not only is the industry being disrupted, I’ve been feeling personally disrupted. After playing with AI extensively and exploring its uses for marketing with my weekly newsletter audience this spring/summer, I was left feeling a little lost – like a boat blown off its mooring, casting about in the sea. AI could be best summed up as: So many possibilities… So much happening so quickly… So many concerns for the impact on society as a whole…
Whether you’re a marketer, a blogger, a podcaster, video creator, or an entrepreneur in general, we are unquestionably living in a time of massive disruption. AI is threatening a lot of the things we do. Social media platforms and changing algorithms are making it harder to get noticed. We no longer have the reach we once did. Creating amazing content, or have a great product means nothing, if nobody sees or hears about it.
History and context
I’ve been a marketing consultant and speaker for a few years, and I’ve got a few natural highlights to prove it! I remember a time without the internet, and a time with no email. I remember when there was no social media, no blogging, no YouTube, and no Facebook. I remember a time when the only way to get your message out was via a newspaper, magazine, TV or radio station, billboard or the post office. These were all intermediary media of course, and still offer viable integrated marketing communications options. But living in recent times with the internet bringing disintermediation, has offered unprecedented opportunity to get our message to people directly – often leading to more readers, listeners, viewers and buyers.
Things changed with the internet. And they are now changing again.
I can remember paying Sonya $2/page to type my undergrad thesis in the late 80s at the University of Waterloo. I thought I was pretty progressive, having made enough money during a work term to pay someone to do the busy work of making it look good, while I went to the pub! We didn’t have personal computers yet. In fact, my “Computer Science 101” class the summer of 1984 was one of the first group of students working on the original Macintosh computers – the grad students likely more interested in watching a bunch of arts students interact with the machines, more than teaching us anything about coding. Personal computing arrived on mass several years later.
I can remember driving ad proofs around to clients when I worked at the Georgia Straight in the late 80s, and then in the early 90s, faxing them out. Yes, faxing was a thing. And then along came digital proofs and email.
I can remember pre-press design for printing flats, that were then plated and printed as ink on paper, weekly for the Georgia Straight newspaper, where I worked as sales manager. And then along came digital files that enabled direct to plate printing, and later digital online content.
I remember when my colleagues were selling print ads, and then along came Facebook advertising that decimated advertising and the local newspapers it supported.
I remember the strength of talk radio, and its actively engaged listeners as an advertising opportunity for clients, and then along came podcasts.
The same thing happened with network TV appointment viewing, which has largely evolved to online and subscription-based consumption. And now even subscription based streaming is being disrupted by free content available on TikTok and YouTube.
Music used to be released as albums, then it was digitized first as CDs, then online as singles, and now by subscription.
The book industry was disrupted by Amazon. Blockbuster and Rogers were initially disrupted shifting from VHS to DVDs, and then Netflix arrived and wiped out the whole industry.
Gas powered cars are being replaced by EVs. Autonomous driving will change the long haul truck transport business, car design in the future even more. Why would you have a steering wheel and all face forward for example?
The steady state of disruption
The idea that we are now in disruption is kind of comical. We will be forever in disruption. In fact, as I review the list above, having worked in media my whole life, pretty much my entire career has thrived during periods of disruption.
The key has always been in adapting and trying new things, prompted by continuously scanning new trends. Being in a state of constant curiosity and learning has been key.
What I’ve been able to learn during the period of reflection this summer, is that if we accept that things by their very nature will change, then we can alter our thinking.
When you accept disruption, it allows you to prepare for it. It alters you thinking from victim to opportunist. You start thinking about ways you might take advantage of a shift, rather than denying the change and clinging to what once was.
How do you change perspective? Like the cycle of the tide, or the wind that blows a boat off its mooring, it is a force that will always win. It’s far easier to go with the flow, than to fight back.
We all need to shift our mindset around marketing these days. We need the eyes to SEE what is happening, so we can take advantage of it. We can’t just assume what we have today, is what we will have tomorrow.
Or what worked today, will work tomorrow. We need to evolve.
Scanning and predicting: 5 big picture trends
Predicting where things are going can help. Below I’ve summarized some of the bigger picture trends happening right now.
1. Reading less
The written word used to be king. Now we seem to be shifting to a preference for audio and video – at least on social media. Reading isn’t going away, but undeniably, as more and more content is consumed through mobile, there is an increased desire to hear and see, in addition to reading opinions.
2. Searching less
Many people are also searching less, and AI will continue to impact how search is delivered. Content that is “found” and shared is becoming more prevalent. Like this blog post (originally published in my weekly newsletter and widely re-shared there). Or audio and video recordings. The days of people searching for content are fading away.
People are gathering, often in private groups and communities around interests and with other like-minded folks. Discord, Facebook groups, WhatsApp private groups, and sub groups on other social media are great examples.
4. Disinformation and the blurring of facts
We’re soon to enter an era of AI generated content, where with the influence of a few bad players, it may get difficult to recognize what is actually true. I’m genuinely worried about the 2024 US election and how AI could mettle with democracy.
From a marketing perspective, rather than fret about the parallels to George Orwell’s 1984 and the Ministry of Truth, we need to establish direct channels where people find our content, and we offer real person analysis, strategy, facts and opinions. I believe we are moving ever closer to a time when people will gravitate to information from individuals who have earned their trust through thought leadership.
5. SEO is changing
The days of us showing up in search as a listing of content (hopefully on page one!) are going away. AI assisted search will soon deliver consolidated answers to queries, with fewer chances of people linking directly to our content.
Change is the answer
While I’m not entirely certain how to beat all of this, I do know that change is required. And change that takes advantage of the opportunities buried in these trends, is a good place to start. We can’t continue to do things the same old way, and expect better results.
Differentiation amidst disruption
With AI set to challenge our skill sets and even careers, having a presence, reputation and authority to stand out in our field is the only way to fight back. And in my mind, the best way to do that is through sharing personal opinions, thoughts, perspectives and wisdom – hard earned through experience, and shared through story. Like I’m doing here on this blog, or through my weekly Five-Minute Marketing Tips newsletter. (Not yet a subscriber? LINK HERE to check out past issues, and sign up!)
This is likely to be the new differentiator is this state of disrupted SEO, AI and shifting social media. In the future we will be more apt to trust information delivered direct, and in a personable way, via a person we trust.