Customers have more power than ever, so it’s important to think about how you’re reaching them with your annual marketing plan.

This fundamental shift in power is outlined very well in “Absolute Value,” by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen. They propose the idea that “a person’s decision to buy is affected by a mix of three related sources: the individual’s Prior preferences, beliefs and experiences; Other people and information services; and Marketers.”

Prior preferences have diminished the role of marketers even more, while others have taken a larger prominence. The “absolute value” in the book’s title refers to the availability of information across the digital world that takes knowledge and information out of the hands of Marketers and Prior preferences and puts it beyond your control into the hands of the “Others.”

The largest enabler of this is the rise of digital —in particular mobile — communications, coupled with the proliferation and fragmentation of media outlets, print, video, or online. Internet trend reporting guru Mary Meeker shared a key slide in her 2016 report, comparing a consumer’s time spent with a media vehicle versus the percent of advertising spending. The slide headline is “Advertisers Remain Over-Indexed to Legacy Media,” and the key word is “remain” since this is definitely not a new idea. Print especially sees more advertising investment than time spent with the media by audiences, while people spend an increasingly large amount of time with mobile devices, and advertising investment there lags behind.

What does my print ad look like? What does my TV spot look like? What product do I want to sell? These are the questions that drive many marketing planning efforts, instead of the more important question — what will the customer respond to?

Many companies start planning marketing efforts by looking backward. What did we do last year? What worked or didn’t work? Many also look forward. What new products or services are launching? What important trade shows do we need to plan for? And everyone looks at the budget, deciding how much needs to be cut or held flat and, even in some instances, increased.

Almost always, this planning is done with the brand at the center. The focus is on the company. Its products, its services, its needs. How it’s going to sell itself to customers and potential customers. This mindset is still fairly pervasive among product managers, brand managers, social media managers, and advertising managers.
As planning for 2017 begins in earnest for many manufacturers and brands, it’s a good time to challenge your existing behaviors and assumptions about your brand’s communications and marketing efforts. Think of it as a time to make some “new year’s resolutions” for how you connect with potential customers and put them at the center of your planning efforts.

Consider these questions:

• What does my customer need to help them succeed?
• What can my brand offer to guide them?
• When is it best to interact with my customer?
• How will they react to the incremental product update that we created?
• Where can I best reach my audience?
• What would happen if we didn’t run a single TV commercial or print ad? Would we cease to exist?

The customer is the focal point. They are the center of their own world, and they should be the center of yours as well.

With such a shift in time being spent online, growing use of ad blocking software, time-shifted viewing, and personalized news feeds subject to the whims of the algorithm … with so much beyond the control of brand marketers, why continue to look backward or inward when planning?

Instead, look outward. Look to your customers — your audiences. To reach them in new places, and with relevant information that will help them, you might have to stop doing the things you’ve always done. What would happen if you thought about marketing from the perspective of how someone interacts with your brand via their phone rather than what looks good in an ad?

It’s definitely a shift. And it’s a little uncomfortable. But that’s where the power lies — in the palm of your customers’ hands.

About Patrick McGill

As the managing director of strategy, Patrick is our very own Sherlock Holmes. When he’s not immersed in research, you’ll more than likely find Patrick traveling — those travels have taken him to all 50 states. You can email our inquisitive Mr. McGill at