Behold The Age of Robot Marketers!

This post is part of a series, I am writing with friend and colleague Augustine Fou where we approach the same subject from different angles. You can read his take on the changing landscape of the 4Ps here.


For five decades, marketers have lived the maxim of storytelling, leveraging the popular frameworks of 4Ps for optimizing their product marketing mix, to convince consumers to either switch to or buy more of their brands. Much of that storytelling has followed two tenets -

  1. Make it emotional to create engagement
  2. Product quality is less relevant than the story of the brand

Today, with the advent of "consumer centricity" along with the host of enabling technology advances that paradigm is questionable. The biggest disruptors to the conventional marketing mix modeling are IoTs, free access to information and automated e-commerce. They have changed the process and intent of brand interaction, creating a distinct divide between the high and low involvement purchase decisions. 

Yet, storytelling has its place and will never go away but in today's world of convenience, price sensitivity and access to information, the story alone no longer is sufficient. And, in some cases, indeed, irrelevant. A successful marketer needs to adapt not just his/her thinking in leveraging new channels of engagement but also efficiently allocate resources between the company's brands across these channels in light of inevitable changes in purchase behavior.


What we will find is that for a majority of the retail products, the paramount drivers will be Product and Price.

  • For most everyday consumables, like detergent, tomorrow's marketers will really need to focus on just Price, and even that will be automated
  • For high value purchases such as electronics and technology products, the Product and Price will be key to driving purchases
  • For ultra high value purchases such as cars and furniture the story will become increasingly irrelevant to differentiable product proposition
  • The luxury segment is only one where all four parameters will continue to add value and weigh in the mix. 
  • The opportunity to micro-target and market in the moment of shopping through promotions will increase with digital targeting and facial recognition technologies
  • Social media will increasingly becoming a channel for managing customer experience rather than creating brand engagement towards purchase decisions.

Now, let us look at the future state of each of the 4Ps and see how evolution in technology and consumer behavior impacts its significance and how the role of the marketer will evolve in the not too distant future.

Place : Instore Retail will rekindle early 1900s

The least in contention of its relevance in the marketing mix framework is Place. By Q4 2015, total digital commerce had grown to account for 15% of discretionary ( totaling $90 billion in Q4 2015) dollars spent by consumer  (comScore).

Given the increasing shift to digital retail, physical stores will become increasing unnecessary for a majority of consumer retail products. In store demos and promotions will continue to play importance as long as retail stores exist, but stores themselves will reduce in size from the hyper-marts of today to niche small scale local shops featuring unique items akin to the life of the early 20th century when commerce was local and highly artisanal.

Tomorrow's P&G marketer should focus on driving retail promotions online and through retailers such as Amazon and AliBaba rather than the Walmarts and Costcos. Increasingly, Place will refer to online targeting and push messages delivered when the consumer is in the market for purchase, no matter the type of purchase - from commodity to high value.

The only deviant to this will be high end luxury and experiential products such as travel, hospitality, designer fashion.

Promotion: Algorithms will rule the roost

A combination of brand awareness advertising and price promotions are used to campaign for a product now. In the future, advertising will play a limited part for commodity products. With increased adoption of automated e-commerce such as Amazon Dash Buttons, there will be limited active decision making involved. In a future state where even the timing of purchase is automated through smart devices and IoTs, the only criterion of choice between undifferentiated products in the same category will be price. Future brand purchases will be determined by past brand purchases and if the same brand is still within x% of the price band of the closest substitute.

For Example, Tide and Gain will essentially match up on price rather than product or brand loyalty as ultimately, there product function is sufficiently similar to be substitutable.

The opportunity for marketers here is jump ahead of this inevitable future behavior, adopt and enable it in their brand's interest. So, Tide should include that Tide Amazon dash button in every box of Tide purchased now, so it locks in the customer and creates ease of reordering. In the future when the washing machine automatically places an order, they only have to ensure that Tide's price is programmatically maintained very close to its competition.

In essence Promotions will be folded into Price for this category of purchases.

For higher value purchases, such as cars and electronics, Promotions will continue to drive short term sales and advertising will help convey the differentiating message between products since decision making will remain a human prerogative.

Price: Operations will outrank marketing

Price will become a paramount parameter in the marketing mix. As the supply chain evolves to become more cost and logistics efficient, brands will increasingly look at their operations to drive price bargains for their consumers. Once again, these efficiencies will be computed, implemented and recaliberated not by humans but by highly intelligent, self-learning algorithms. Factory operation will be redesigned on the fly for optimal  inventory management and demand-based supply logistics.

In the marketplace, as outlined in Promotions, pricing will be determined by on-demand market equilibirium rather than by discrete decision making of marketers and business goals.

Product: Will Rule the Roost

Not surprisingly, the one driver that will become the king of the mix is the product itself. The universe of products will significantly converge into distinctly articulable, measurable different brands in each category. For example, for cereal giants such as Kraft, it no longer makes sense to have a plethora of indistinguishable brands in the same category fighting for attention on supermarket aisles. Companies can consolidate and converge their brands into uniquely distinct value categories. There will be a single cereal brand that is conventional, one in organic, but each in multiple flavors. Eventually, none of them will need physical shelf space.

Indeed there will be the emergence of online only brands particularly in mass market categories as it no longer makes economic sense to cater shelf space to broad range products. Post, Fiber One, Cheerios will disappear from stores and be exclusively available on online marketplaces, while, niche and new brands of the company will look for physical presence to create value.

And, the Marketer?

In this new world, the marketer's role will be in close collaboration with product R&D teams to create tight product lines that are super quantified by market need. And, in telling a story and proving the differential within increasingly reduced attention spans. Marketing as a function will evolve into three distinct paths -

  1. Technical and data driven for majority of mass market category retail
  2. Emotional and data enabled for high value purchases
  3. Experiential for luxury and hospitality. 

New businesses looking to enter a market will have to show sufficient differentiation in their MVP to be able to even be positioned to create a market for themselves. "Me Too" in the context of B2C will disappear. A new product introduced will be so different from existing options and will be based on easily communicable technology or other breakthroughs that jolts the consumer into taking notice and actively making a decision to override learnt behavior.