Marketing Faces Shifts in Technology, Demographics in 2019

Lawrence A. Crosby
Key Takeaways

What? Marketing faces changes as we move into 2019.

So what? Expect shifts in technology and demographics.

Now what? Prepare yourself and your team to manage this brave new world.

​The future isn’t a constant, nor are marketing trends. Prepare for changes in technology, demographic trends and even your marketing teammates.​​

The beginning of the new year brings out the futurist in all of us, and columnists such as myself are asked to share their visions. I should caveat this by saying that I’ve been spot-on in my past predictions only once. The second paper I ever wrote as an academic, in 1979, was “The Role of Microcomputers in Marketing,” in which I forecast significant changes to marketing tasks as the result of this embryonic technology. I was right about that.

Technology will no doubt continue to change marketing, affecting customers’ lives and our work. But there’s a lot of hype out there; marketers need to be careful of where to place their technology bets—not every idea is destined to become the next microcomputer revolution. The rollout of enterprise resource planning and CRM systems have been somewhat notorious in this regard over the past 10 to 20 years, resulting in numerous lawsuits. Part of the promise behind these systems was (and still is) an enhanced customer experience by way of a holistic view of the customer relationship, improved communications, enhanced customer service, as well as faster and more accurate order and fulfillment. Despite multimillion-dollar investments in these systems, more than 20% are considered an outright failure.

Your firm and many others are no doubt exploring or actively pursuing technology trends such as Big Data, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain, mobile payment, 3D printing or augmented and virtual reality. But where should you double down? What technologies will benefit your customers the most? 

This was a hot topic at the recent Compete Through Service Symposium presented by Arizona State University’s Center for Services Leadership. At the event, Sherry Sanger, SVP of marketing at Penske Truck Leasing, said that her company vets new technology by reviewing the public buzz around the technology, defining key terms, identifying the players, clarifying the vision, defining the tailwinds driving positive sentiment and pinpointing the headwinds yet to be overcome. Every firm could benefit from being so deliberate and thoughtful.

I also predict that the next great challenge for marketers will be demographics. The aging population, reduced fertility rates, slowed wage growth, increased ethnic diversity and other demographic trends will change the answers to those classic questions: Who buys? What do they buy? and Why do they buy? Just as important: Where and how do they buy? What does that say about channel? Conventional place-based retailing is in trouble and the demise of Sears may be just the beginning. The mobile phone is today’s 24/7 store. Young grocery shoppers order online and expect immediate home delivery. 

It’s about choice, too. Why visit Sports Authority with only two choices for knee pads when you can choose between dozens of user-rated brands online? With the power increasingly shifting to the consumer, survivors will need a crystal-clear value proposition more than ever.

There’s also the supply side of demographics. Most baby boomers working in marketing have already retired or are near retirement. Many have degrees and 40-plus years of experience, making their loss a significant brain drain. At the same time, undergraduate enrollments have leveled. How this will play out in the marketing talent pool is unclear but worries me, even though business remains the most popular undergraduate degree. At the graduate level, there’s a shift from the MBA to specialized master’s degrees where marketing is underrepresented. While there’s a growing interest in data analytics, there’s more to marketing than numbers. Understanding the principles and frameworks of marketing is essential to asking the right questions and making the right decisions and interpretations of the data. Coding skills are not a substitute for understanding.

Firms may find it difficult to keep and grow the talent they already have. As Peter Drucker said, we’ve entered the era of the “knowledge worker,” people who think for a living. In addition to being self-directed, autonomous and creative problem-solvers, they are often more attached to their field than their firm. These valuable assets can easily walk out the door. 

Beyond technology and the changing nature of demand, my crystal ball says that the management of human marketing resources will be among the field’s greatest challenges in the years to come.​

Lawrence A. Crosby
Lawrence A. Crosby is the retired dean of the Drucker School of Management and currently the chief data scientist at the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society, part of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University.