Those of us old enough to almost be part of the Mad Man culture of the Madison Avenue crowd understand the concept of “mainstream.” It’s where we felt we had to position our brand – in the mainstream. A common definition of mainstream is, “purchased, used or accepted broadly rather than by a tiny fraction of population or market.” The key word is broadly and that’s how the term “mainstream media” evolved.
This week’s AH-ha! moment suggests that there is no marketing mainstream. It’s gone along with all the icons that once flourished just a few decades ago. We often speak of the importance of pattern shifts but what is happening in the marketplace is not just shifts, they are waves of change, driven by technology that is at the heart of our changing landscape.
In a simpler era, with fewer media channels and messages that were constructed for the masses and easy to understand, we flocked to the mainstream. Now, without a mainstream, brands and retailers are struggling not only for a consistent audience but more importantly for consistent shoppers. During the last eight years that we have been writing these weekly AH-ha! e-marketing newsletters, we have often struggled to make sense of the world engulfing us. Marketing was much more straightforward.
It finally dawned on us in an AH-ha! moment that marketers are searching for the mainstream because traditionally, that’s where all the consumers were and now they are gone. Yet marketing teams keep searching. We ask ourselves, “Where did they all go?” and the truth is they are all still right in front of us. That was painfully evident as we walked through the mammoth Mall of America (MOA) last weekend. The mall was packed like it was Christmas. There were shoppers galore but unlike me, carrying my Sketchers bag with new summer shoes, there were more lookers than buyers. The food courts were packed, but Best Buy was a ghost town. Nordstrom Rack was overflowing with shoppers scurrying to find a hidden treasure but most other stores were not overflowing with foot traffic.
We waited for our cell phones to buzz, directing us to the closest deal but there were no vibrations and no text messages. By the time we reached the third floor, it because painfully evident that the hundreds of MOA retailers were all stuck in the 80s and 90s, with their store signage screaming 30%, 40% or 50% OFF SALE! The message is decades old. “WE’VE GOT A DEAL FOR YOU!” Only the colors of the signs have changed.
The Marketing Implications
Brands are lost and floundering now that there is no mainstream. Volumes are written about how businesses have to be customer-focused and yet when we walk into the mall all we see are SALE signs. Marketers believe they can get into the mainstream by running another sale. Marketing teams are stuck in a time warp. We’ll say it again: there is no mainstream. We, the shoppers, have wandered away and marketing strategies have not figured out how to find us and hold on to us.
Where did we go? We evaporated into the digital void and in the digital void there is no mainstream. According to the latest Forrester Research data, consumers report spending an average of 21 hours per month viewing online video across a variety of devices. Did you know that YouTube gets four billion video views per day? Consumers don’t have time to be in the mainstream because it has become meaningless.
Marketers continue to opt into the digital space with the misguided view that they will find the sweet spot in the mainstream. This is a strategy doomed to failure because the digital social media marketing landscape has become ludicrously complicated. Maybe that’s why General Motors went “mental” and pulled its Facebook ad budget. Maybe that’s why the big investors shied away from the recent Faceplant IPO.
Digital marketing is confusing, and trying to navigate through the various new social media categories, blogs, sharing sites and social media firms is an absolute mess. The graphic below is testimony to the social landscape marketers face as they try to be customer-focused and find their customers.
This week, pass around this AH-ha! and ask your team to look at the graphic depiction of the latest social mediascape below and then ask how your brand is navigating between your brand and your consumer. It took me five minutes just to find Yelp, my social media BFF. And we dare you to find Pinterest because it isn’t there. (Click here to view a full size version.)
Imagine being at the country club three years from now, explaining how you let your business slip through your fingers by letting your competitors get the best of you. In any given market, there can only be one “best” position that delivers the greatest return-on-investment. Will that position belong to you or a competitor? Right now, you are both seeking the vanishing mainstream. Hopefully, our guidance through these weekly e-marketing newsletters and our continued focus on our Sixth Star marketing strategy will help you find your way.
Have a wonderful week and welcome to summer.
Bart Foreman and the Group 3 Marketing Team