135757203Don't look back. You're not going that way.

The future of marketing is not about technology, trends, shiny objects or case studies. This is a time for re-invention of philosophies, methodologies, and policies that affect how decisions are made and how they're executed and measured. Everything is different now and it takes someone like you to think outside of your role to push things forward. For if you don't, who will? Without pushing forward we will forever be greeted by those who get though life by pushing back.

When asked the role "a little luck" plays in entrepreneurialism, innovation and disruption, I ask people to look beyond chance.

Think about it. Do you realize just how much is changing right now? I promise you that it’s bigger than you think. And your role in this is also much grander than you know or believe. See, disruptive technology, social networks, new influencers, they’re leveling the media hierarchy.

The ado of crafting messages, pushing them upon targets, and propagating them every and any way possible while attempting to control your story is not only the old way, it’s the very thinking that’s held marketing back for decades.

But you? You’re at the forefront of a new era and marketing communications and its future is in your hands.

Understand this opportunity that’s before you. While technology is certainly part of the story, it’s not the story.

This isn’t about the new tools that are before you.

This isn’t about social media or popular social networks.

This isn’t about bloggers and blogging.

Nor is this about tablets, smartphones, and the app economy.

This is about putting the public back in public relations and social in social media and that has nothing to do with tools or technology we overly celebrate today. Slow down. Take a breath. While there’s an abundance of change there isn’t a wealth of innovation in processes or methodologies.

The truth is that in a time when we could change everything, we’re running without clarity, direction or vision. We’re not necessarily talking about a revolution as much as we’re conforming revolutionary opportunities into familiar packages. We’re merely taking what we know and applying it to what’s new.

In many ways, we’re working against ourselves. But, what’s happening right now is both revolutionary and evolutionary. And in the face of the unknown, it is courage that carries us forward and creativity that will open new doors.

This is a time to rethink the value proposition of marketing and communications and your role within it.

Why is what you do important?

Wiat. Stop.

Try that answer again.

There’s a reason that your friends and family have a hard time understanding what you do for a living. It’s because the value you think you provide and the opportunity that is presenting itself to you are in fact two very different things. Essentially, your experience carried you this far, but it is your vision and ambition that will carry you forward. Think again about the value you offer and the value that others say you deliver.


Allow me to share a slice of my life with you…

I have fond memories of surfing. I would grab my board, play great music, and head for the beaches of Southern California. The ocean was my sanctuary as I would surf for recreation, therapy and also tranquility. There was just something about the smell of the ocean, the sound of the waves, and the ability to dance with Mother Nature in a way where she let you lead and you appreciated the momentary gesture. But, we both knew who was really in control.

When snowboarding grew in popularity, I immediately embraced it. I did so because I saw it an art form that was easy to categorize against something familiar. I was also excited by how quickly it had become a trend. In fact I thought of it as winter surfing and I was wrong to do so. I brought to something new my previous experience and expected it to carry me forward into new territory in a very different environment.

What I didn’t bring along was a new and open mindset. I overconfidently got on my board, leaned back as you do in surfing and set out to surf that mountain the way I thought I should. I learned, quite quickly and painfully, that I did the very thing that you’re not supposed to do. See, in surfing, and also skateboarding, your back foot is essentially the rudder. You steer by leaning back using your back foot to steer the course. In snowboarding, it’s the exact opposite. To control your direction, you must lean forward.

All it took was someone to point out that there was a different philosophy to the approach. Had someone not showed me the error of my ways, that is taking what I know and forcing it as a way of making something try to work, I would have failed. Once they did, I was in control. I didn’t need a book to tell me about style or personalization, I let my mind, body, and soul guide the board … my way. I just needed clarity, direction, an open mind, perseverance, and several pep talks.

Today we are in an emergent moment for marketing and communications. I see even the best people leaning back because it’s what they know. Instead of inventing, re-inventing or leading, we are stuffing promise into familiarity. We’re broadcasting and not connecting, talking and not listening, calendering not investing, justifying and validating not creating value.

To lean forward takes a different approach, perspective and a different philosophy; otherwise you’re wasting time and opportunity. If you take a moment to think about it, everything is different about what’s taking place now, and its direction and future is unwritten. This is your time. Consider what a wonderful moment and chance that’s before you.

1. #LeanForward and forget what you think you know.

2. Define your purpose.

3. Define your vision.

4. Justify your value proposition, what’s special, for a new generation of customers and stakeholders, and for you.

5. Articulate how you intend to improve experiences and relationships and apply that to strategy development.

6. Invest in building communities where the value is much more than belonging to something, it’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter.

7. Use technology to bring everything to life rather than using new technology to do what you’ve always done -- talk at people.

8. Stop making excuses. The future of engagement lies in the connection of every customer-facing department. Collectively you are responsible for the experience. This isn’t in your job description, but it is your destiny.

Again I ask. What is the value of what you do? What’s in it for you, your business and those with whom you engage? This time, think about it beyond the company you represent. Think about it from the perspective of the people you’re hoping to reach, every step of the way. People are part of everything you do now and you are also among them.

Value is not boundless. Value in the eye of the beholder and it varies based on the context of the relationship and your desired outcomes. Relationships, after all, form the foundation of business. Marketing and communications are merely enablers for conveying value while also investing in and reinforcing relationships.

What you do and how you do it now serves a higher purpose. This is why I believe that your role in this is much grander than you may realize or believe.

Lean forward.

Brian Solis is a principal analyst at Altimeter Group and author of What's the Future of Business? (WTF). You can follow him at BrianSolis.com and @briansolis.

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Originally published Dec 4, 2013 8:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023