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Avid travelers have a unique lifestyle. They’re curious. They’re adventurous. And most of all, they value the experience of travel.

Marriott sells hotel rooms. Or does it?

Marriott is one of just a few companies evolving its marketing focus when it comes to engaging audiences. The brand launched an original content studio that creates content that informs, entertains and adds value to travel lifestyle consumers. It's building worldwide communities of people passionate about travel that will drive commerce to the company’s hotels.

This is one example of how companies are shifting into the next era of marketing -- the era in which marketers use content to build audiences by creating differentiating experiences. In Marriott’s case, it understands the need for a formalized process to create, manage, organize and measure a portfolio of content experiences -- a key to stand out in today’s always-on, hyper-connected world.

Where We’ve Been

Most marketing textbooks generally agree that the development of marketing, as a process, took place over five distinct eras that covered roughly 125 years: the Trade Era, the Production Era, the Sales Era, the Marketing Department Era and the Marketing Company Era.

A sixth era of marketing, The Relationship Era, is generally accepted (though not in most textbooks) as the era in which we’ve been operating for the last 20 years. It started with one-to-one marketing in the mid-1990s, moved into personalization in the early 2000s, and for the last seven years or so has been squarely focused on “engagement” and becoming “friends” or “liked” by customers interacting across social media channels.

Share of Experience: The Future of Marketing

It’s getting harder and harder for brands to differentiate their products from the rest of the marketplace. Why is that?

Several reasons.

An article in the Harvard Business Review outlined the responses of a study called Marketing2020. In it, the authors put forth the notion that marketing’s role needs to evolve in order to create an organizational structure that creates a “total experience” for customers:

Companies are increasingly enhancing the value of their products by creating customer experiences. Some deepen the customer relationship by leveraging what they know about [customers] to personalize offerings. Others focus on the breadth of the relationship by adding touchpoints. Our research shows that high-performing brands do both -- providing what we call ‘total experience.’ In fact, we believe that the most important marketing metric will soon change from ‘share of wallet’ or ‘share of voice’ to 'share of experience.'”

If any function within an organization holds the talent and potential to drive a total customer experience, it’s marketing. As we look to the future of marketing, the role will be much more than just creating a customer. Instead, marketing needs to evolve a customer using differentiating, content-driven experiences across the entire lifecycle.

David Edelman and Jason Heller of McKinsey pointed this out in their article "Marketing disruption: Five blind spots on the road to marketing’s potential,"

Continuously evolving customer expectations are a major disruptive force, but marketing is still limited in its ability to shape the entire experiences… This lack of responsibility -- and accountability -- for the entire customer journey will continue to inhibit marketers’ efforts to develop seamless and consistent experiences across all touchpoints.”

So what does this mean for marketers?

Marketers Create Value Through Content-Driven Experiences

It’s time that marketers take on new responsibilities and leadership roles. Instead of just describing the value of the products and services that a company sells, marketing must now create differentiated experiential value that’s separate and distinct from a product or service.

In addition to Marriott, other companies already doing just that include:

  • Qualcomm’s Spark platform -- Built by inventors, semiconductor and mobile giant Qualcomm has created an online hub for forward-leaning futurists. They hope to reimagine the future of communication and technology by celebrating inventors everywhere through storytelling and exploring a world that’s changing for the better every day.
  • Jyske Bank TV -- One of the largest banks in Denmark, Jyske Bank has centered its entire marketing strategy on an Internet-based TV station. It’s not your traditional bank. Jyske has transformed into a media company that also happens to sell banking services.
  • American Express -- The brand’s well-known OPEN forum helps small business owners discover insights, make connections and get exposure so they can grow their business. It offers opportunities for business owners to talk about challenges they have in doing business. They created Small Business Saturday to promote shopping all year long at small, local businesses.

The 7th Era

As we move into a new era of marketing, many elements of previous ones persist -- the value of the sales team and building relationships, for example. In fact, some of the best elements of the previous eras will likely play important roles (maybe even forever) as we move into the seventh. Brands are beginning to realize that it’s not the product or service that keeps customers loyal -- it’s the experience that they have at every stage of the journey with the brand.

It's time for brands to understand that reach, frequency and campaign-oriented approaches are over. The goal, as we move into this next era, is to make content creation a core function of the business and the foundation from which all experiences, across the company, are created.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic LicenseTitle image by  Thiago Melo