In today’s world, business and marketing changes happen much faster than it did when leading companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google were in their early stages. The “digital economy” – which has become one of the key drivers of our economy – was just beginning to take shape. The emergence of AI will only increase the rate of change.

Many of the management principles that drive these companies today – including their approaches to product development, organization design, and culture – weren’t well understood then.

Rigid Strategy Replaced by Working Backwards

Certain processes and principles, like rigid, top-down strategy development and a multistage-gate approach to innovation, have largely been replaced. Now, other practices are proving more effective:

  • Agile planning
  • Design thinking
  • Minimum viable products (MVP)
  • Generative AI

Marketing Strategy Has Evolved

Over twenty years ago, EquiBrand conducted a best practices study including companies like IBM, Nike, The Walt Disney Company and Gap. The goal was to help our client, a global apparel manufacturer, develop a process to stay at the leading edge of innovation. Although two decades have passed, revisiting our study now gives a good glimpse into how marketing strategy has evolved with the digital economy.

Then, customer input came at later and more discrete stages in the product developmentstrategy, marketing, upstream marketing cycle.

Now, it occurs much sooner and in an ongoing fashion.

Then, Rigid strategy development occurred periodically.

Now, that has been replaced with continual listening, learning, and adjusting.

Then, innovation emphasized new products and services.

Now, it involves creating new business models and customer experiences, often through digital transformation.

Technological innovation, new forms of interactive marketing, and digital disruption are common. Artificial intelligence, design sprints, rapid prototyping, and digital diaries lead to better, faster, and cheaper innovations.

Interactive vs. One-Way Marketing

The way companies and consumers interact has also changed. Historically, marketing communication was mostly one way, from companies to consumers. Now, it’s interactive—real-time marketing, including multiple streams of ideas, with continuous strategic strikes.

Brand storytelling and immersive customer experiences have proven more effective than broadcast media in driving sales. Interactive content, personalization, and social and data analytics enable deeper brand-customer relationships.

Increasingly, companies are turning to direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing as they seek to bypass retailers, wholesalers, and other distributors to serve end customers.

Companies that traditionally relied on intermediaries to market and sell their products—including many in the business-to-business space—are now taking the reins in marketing directly to end purchasers.

Marketing, as a concept, has also changed. At one time, marketing was viewed in organizational terms, often as a functional silo. Today, it’s seen holistically, from a process perspective, intertwined throughout the organization.

A Principles-Based Approach Emerges

In the end of the best practices study, we significantly improved our client’s business condition by using a principles-based approach to growth, adaptable across individual business units. We obtained deep consumer insight and developed and launched numerous new products, with results far exceeding the cost of the study. It was a very favorable return on investment.

Today we aim to share the importance of customer insight, a strong brand, and an innovation mindset in our book Upstream Marketing. For a limited time, we are offering a free download of the first chapter so you can explore the growth-drivers that are foundational to marketing. Download the first chapter here.