The Future of Marketing Has Little To Do With Marketing


While I don’t always have the ability to say yes to writing forewords, I do find time now and then to do so. One of the conditions however is that I’m allowed to share my thoughts, unabridged, with you here. The latest is for a new book, Share This Too, released by Wiley, the publishing house that I also worked with on #WTF, #EOB, #Engage. Thank you to my good friend Paul Fabretti for the opportunity…

Without further delay, allow me to share this (foreword) too…

The Future of Marketing Has Little To Do with Marketing

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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 of 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?


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’ve 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 over confidently 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 err 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 my 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 in what is nothing less than an emergent moment for marketing and communications, I see even the best of them 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 and 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 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. It is relationships after all that 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.


About Share This Too

The follow up to Share This: The Social Media Handbook for PR Professionals, Share This Too is a practical handbook that outlines the changes taking place in media and marketing. Written by 24 marketing and public relations practitioners, the book covers the state of the media and public relations industry, social media strategy, technology and social networks, online media relations, monitoring and measurement, new skills and expertise, and the future of the industry.

My new book…#WTF

Connect with me: Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Google+ |Youtube | Instagram

  • pamdothall

    Success is the convergence of a little luck and a lot of elbow grease. – @pamdothall

    • briansolis


  • Kathy Klotz-Guest

    Ultimately, marketing is and always will be about people – not products and services. It’s that higher purpose that matters. The worst thing to happen to marketing was marketers who never understood that people matter. However, I think things are starting to change. And it has to. There is just too much info coming at us every day; the status quo doesn’t work anymore. Here’s to positive change – and to “people!”

    • briansolis

      Lovely comment…thank you.

    • Tom George

      Beautiful and eloquent comment Kathy…and so TRUE!

    • Mark Kovarski

      Couldn’t have been said better! Brian, as always, spot on and directionally could not be more correct.

    • Brian Solis


    • Abhishek Vidyarthi

      Marketing is more of a Process , like kaleidoscope, its far more Dynamic , i think the there is big time lag – when you register a problem and while you are thinking of solution, the world or for that matter PEOPLE , evolve , that unmet demand gets either diverted to something else , or people configure other ways to meet it . Its so fast now – Time lag between problem identification and providing solution must be reduced.

  • Dan Mazzini

    Thanks for the content – there is one typo to fix though: “bigger thank you think”

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  • Pascal Beucler

    Thanks Brian!
    Putting the public back in public relations is definitely a top priority…and even better if we put People back in PR:)

    • briansolis


  • Robbert van der Vleuten

    Spot on Brian! Originally the word marketing consists of two words: “market” and “getting”. Besides the fact that the word “market” is ugly and impersonal, the word “getting” is even more worse in my opinion. I think nowadays companies and organizations need to “give” something to the “market”. Enrich it! In return they will be rewarded, not the other way around! Maybe we need another word or another definition for Market-Getting aka Marketing.

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  • Steve Freeman

    Using the surfing / snowboarding analogy is a great way to visualize how marketing has changed. Sending out message after message and then leaning back waiting for the customers to respond is not working. Instead you really do need to lean forward to listen, provide value, then respond to the customer.
    This helps provide clarity, and makes me realize how easy the concept is. Now, putting it into action, that’s where the work begins. I’ll be looking forward to those posts!
    Thanks again!

  • briansolis


  • Andy Newbom

    perfectly on. strategic, forward, future, now, real, spot on, timely, timeless. Nailed it Brian. I have been ranting to my poor wife about this for days! and I had the exact same experience going from so cal skater to snowboarder. its all about leaning forward and catching the forward coming curve. Thanks for rocking it Brian. We will have to sit down over great cappuccinos soon.

  • Tyler Patterson

    This was such a great post. It really showed a better understanding for a younger generation such as myself. I’ve always thought about these points and will continue to put them in action for the rest of my career.

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  • Ryan King

    As a marketer, it’s very exciting to be a part of this revolution. No longer are we limited to interrupting people with advertisements but we are tasked with the charge of solving problems and creating value for our market. You mention putting the public back in public relations and social back in social media; I’m excited to put the market back in marketing. Great post!

  • Jose Palomino

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

    Hm… what’s the value proposition of your marketing? Such a great question. My company was founded around the “value prop” and how it can transform a company. Much of my work consists on sharpening company’s value propositions in order for them not only to function better internally, but to market SMARTER externally. Now you’re bringing up the fantastic point (why didn’t I see it all along?) that it’s not only about using the value prop to market — but having a value prop for the marketing itself.

    We’ve been talking a bit about this at my own company as my marketing team and I try to figure out how to bring better content to our audience — to cut through the content noise. And we’ve been grappling with the following…

    “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.”

    As always, I appreciate your posts in the way that they cause me to sharpen my focus on my business. It happens every single time. Thank you!

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  • 1asmajor .

    Brain, you have made such an important point here. So much of where we are at fault as marketers is the lack of confidence we have in ourselves. Trusting our own vision, purpose, and value can be the pathway to success. How are others supposed to believe your marketing message if you dont believe it yourself. We all control our own directions. Very well said.

    • briansolis

      such a great comment!

  • Justin Belmont

    Your analogy is a great one. In the past, marketers may have taken a
    more surf like approach—leaning back, letting the consumer come to them,
    and only shifting their weight when absolutely necessary. Now that they
    are snowboarding, or #leaningforward, they are bringing themselves back
    to the forefront and closer to consumers, to understand them better and
    better be able to steer, or change their approach.

  • michael bian

    Communication played a big role in a marketing industry since it is one of the enablers for conveying value.

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Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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