The future of marketing is the same as it was 32 years ago – according to Marketo

In 1984, Apple launched its first personal computer to change the future of computers. And in 1984 ADMA held a 4 day conference in Sydney at the Regent Hotel in Circular Quay. It was a huge success and where I first met my good friend and business partner, Drayton Bird.


On one evening, there were two boats for the delegate’s harbour cruise. The majority of the delegates crammed aboard the first boat, which left a small handful for the second. Mr Bird and I boarded the second boat. Despite our best efforts all evening, eating prawns and oysters, while drinking for Queen and country, we hardly put a dent in the seafood. We did give the beer and wine stocks a decent nudge though.

The topics at the ADMA conference included such things as the future of marketing, acquisition and retention, CRM, customer relationships, customer contact strategies, touchpoint analysis, data driven marketing, personalised messaging and much more. The consensus was the future of marketing was not mass marketing, but direct marketing – how to acquire and keep customers profitably – driven by relationships, data, insights, computers, testing, tracking, analytics and relevant personalised creative delivered in context.

There was nothing really new though, as marketing has always been, and always will be all about, acquiring and keeping customers profitably.

So it was with a sense of deja vu, I attended a breakfast seminar this week in the MCA, located next door to the former Regent Hotel (now the Four Seasons). It was run by Marketo, a very successful marketing automation software company – and it was about the future of marketing. (Hint – you can always draw a crowd when you’re predicting the future).

fortune teller
Predicting the future of marketing…

Of course there were the obligatory marketing buzzwords – our industry would die without them: these included “customer journey”, “incremental customer journeys”, “customer journey tools”, “customer engagement”, “engagement marketing”, and the new impressive job title for senior marketers – “the CMO”.

It’s interesting how a job title changes over time. The head of marketing used to be the VP of Marketing, or the Marketing Director, or the National/Regional Marketing Manager. Now the same role is the CMO – and they occupy a similar spot on the corporate food chain as they did in 1984. Though they are only ever addressed as an acronym – CMO – never Chief Marketing Officer.


But I digress.

Marketo’s business depends on marketers believing the future of marketing lies with computers and software that automates what humans used to do. So we were told mass marketing is dead – despite it being everywhere you look on posters, public transport, buildings, television, radio, in letterboxes, cinema, the internet, sports clothing, coffee cups, etc.

Curiously there were Marketo branded cups, booklets, pens, lanyards, banners and clothing everywhere you looked at the event – it was a riot of purple – which sort of argued against the mass media argument, if you get my argument?

Marketo 1
Marketo’s mass marketing was everywhere…

And certainly the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, publishers of the brilliant book “How Brands Grow” wouldn’t agree mass marketing is dead. They’ve proved it using science and customer data.

Apparently campaigns delivered directly to your customers to sell them stuff, via email, mail, phone etc, are also dead. Yet the seminar, which was free, was promoted directly to me via email. Go figure? But I’m easily confused.

So the future is not about mass marketing or even directly selling to your customers. What fool wants to sell things to stay in business? We were told the future is all about customer engagement – connecting with customers on every touchpoint in their buying journey – using data and computers to delivering your non-selling messages along the way.

Given Marketo’s business model though, one might cynically believe their predictions for the future of marketing are a tad biased?

I suspect Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian wouldn’t agree with them either. While the event was being run, he published his latest blog titled Data Vs Probability in which he candidly argues: the more you study data, the more you realise that data is just the residue of probability – brilliant insight.

The speaker summarised by revealing the following bullet points as the key things we all need to understand about the future of marketing:

  • Relationships
  • Listening
  • Marketing everywhere you look
  • Outcomes
  • Context
  • Engagement marketing

So in summary, nothing has changed in 32 years – even the location for marketing events.

Technology changes, humans don’t. We still buy emotionally and justify rationally. Only now we have loads more channels in which to learn and buy – and marketers have loads of new channels in which to advertise (sorry, I meant place their content in context).

The problem for marketers of course is what I call “The John Howard Conundrum“. Just as he put it to Australians in his 2004 election campaign: “Who do you trust to run the economy…” – now marketers have the same conundrum as voters did: “who do you trust to do your marketing in the future?

John Howard
Who do you trust to do your marketing?

I do like the good folk at Marketo, they put on a great show – but I’m not sure the average punter really wants brands to have computers engage with them and follow them through life on their buying journeys – whatever that means.

Most research I’ve seen, concludes customers don’t care much about brands except in the moment they buy or when something goes wrong. People don’t awaken and rush into the day looking for a relationship with their toothpaste or a tin of sardines, for example.

Unfortunately much of the customer engagement software we’re being sold, is driven from the marketer’s point of view, not the customer’s, and leaves cigarette burns all over the punters in its wake.

But the brekkie and coffee were good, the view at Circular Quay was enhanced by the presence of the QE2, while the presentation was not too heavy.

The QE2 in Circular Quay

And for a couple of hours I drifted back in time to 1984, when I was younger and enthusiastically thought the future of marketing was all about:

  • Relationships
  • Listening
  • Marketing everywhere you look
  • Outcomes
  • Context
  • Customer relationship management

Aaah, what’s old is new again, again and again…well done Marketo!


  1. Excellent blog Malcolm, I am no expert on marketing, but I do know that there is so much internet marketing that the message is being lost. The ways of the past still hold true in my opinion. You just have to be more creative and appeal to the target market with your message. My letter box drops are working and as I improve them the results are increasing.

    • Thanks Steve, keep doing what works and test new channels. Am glad the letterbox is working – it will continue to do so as digital channels choke on their own content.

  2. Hi Malcolm,

    Glad to see that you were at this event. I was also there and commented to a neighbour that the principles of the marketing have not changed. Engagement marketing is really another term for integrated marketing. We also spoke about a book called “The Power of One to One” written some years ago by Ian Kennedy and Bryce Courtney.

    Interestingly Marketo also uses sales people, merchandising, events and collateral in addition to digital to promote.

    PS Love your blog.


    • Thanks Linda
      You’re right the principles never change, just the technology and suppliers trying to grab market share. Appreciate your feedback and glad you enjoy my musings:)

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