Paradoxically, the more things change the more marketing remains the same.  Regardless of the myriad of transformations affecting the marketing environment – e.g. demographic trends, economic cycles, product innovation, and technological advancements – the core of the discipline remains constant.  Marketing is – and always will be – about bringing together buyers and sellers in order to facilitate the exchange of a product, service or idea.  Following this consistent definition, the irony lies in the second and yet predictable component of marketing: change.

The greatest and most revolutionary changes affecting how sellers reach and communicate with their customers today is through advances in technology.  The Digital Age has raised new challenges and created exceptional opportunities for marketers and consumers to intensify their relationships and alter the rules of engagement.  The era of mass communications and “push” marketing has given way to customized products and services, customer relationship management, and 1-on-1 communication.

Traditional Media Grows Up

Only a couple of decades ago, marketers reached out to their audience through traditional, mass media formats such as network television, daily newspapers, national print publications, and local terrestrial radio.  Couple this with the proliferation of supermarket chains and other mass merchandise distribution channels and it’s easy to understand the ‘one-size-fits-all’ mentality that pervaded marketing strategies throughout the late 1900’s.

Technology, and its penetration into the mainstream, has shifted the playing field away from the mass market toward “markets of one.”  The balance of power has moved away from the marketer and into the hands of the consumer, who now has readily available access to the information they deem important to decision-making.

In the pre-Internet age, consumers relied more on advertising to inform and provide information to solve their problems (e.g. “Got ring around the collar? Try Wisk”).  Today, consumers have more choices through greater access to research, data, peer reviews, rankings, ratings, opinions and other decision criteria without exposure to advertising or speaking to a salesperson.  They can shop for the best price and request recommendations and referrals from their ‘social networks’ all from the comfort of their home.

Today’s consumer doesn’t want to be sold…she wants to make choices based on value.  Marketing has become more about educating the consumer and developing a relationship based on understanding her needs rather than hyping product features and promotions.  David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing and PR suggests consumers want “authenticity, not spin” and “participation, not propaganda.”  Consumers choose to do business based not just on the price of a company’s products or services, but the company’s attention to fulfilling their needs and customer’s alignment with the company’s values and culture.

Let’s look at a few specifics on some old staples in the media industry…

DVRs and Online Broadcasting Changing TV Viewing Habits

Cable and direct satellite television bring more programming into the home than ever before, diluting the audience and making TV advertising among the most expensive to reach a target audience with any level of frequency.  Add to this the proliferation of digital video recorders (DVRs), which as of March 2009, reached 30.6 percent of households in Nielsen’s National People Meter Panel (36.8{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2} in the Orlando market), and the ability of viewers to watch what they want, when they want and without the commercials helps explain why TV advertising has become less effective.

In addition, more consumers are turning to the Internet to view broadcast media at popular websites such as YouTube and Hulu, which have limited or no commercial interruptions.  According to research released from Nielsen Online, almost 10 billion video streams were viewed in March 2009 by an estimated 130 million U.S. unique web users.  This represented almost a 40 percent increase versus the previous year.

Internet Continues to Take Away from Daily Newspapers

2008, the last full year of available statistics, was the worst on record for the U.S. newspaper industry.  Total advertising revenue (both print and online) declined 17 percent to less than $38 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America.  Classifieds were down 30 percent as more consumers turned to online sources such as CraigsList and eBay to buy and sell goods.

Across the country, newspapers are ceasing publication of their print editions, laying off staff, mandating unpaid furloughs among existing workers, or shutting down entirely as a result of this severe contraction in revenues brought on by the one-two punch of economic recession and Web competition.

Again, technology is much to blame for the industry’s woes.  Younger consumers have embraced non-newspaper sources of daily news so much so that in his book The Vanishing Newspaper, Philip Meyer calculates that “the first quarter of 2043 will be the moment when newsprint dies in America as the last exhausted reader tosses aside the last crumpled edition.”

Web Is Only a Portion of an Integrated Approach

Despite the evolution of the media channels, delivering value to consumers remains the ultimate objective of successful marketers.  While the Web has opened direct communication channels to reach buyers with messages that cost a fraction of what traditional advertising costs, marketers must still utilize an integrated approach to deliver value.

The notion, especially among many young marketers, that you can develop a website and “sell” without ever talking to a customer face-to-face still raises concerns (especially amongst Baby Boomers and older consumers).  Relationships still matter.  People still like to buy locally and know who they’re buying from.

So while the tactics continue to evolve at exponential rates, the primary strategies for connecting buyers and sellers remain relatively straightforward: provide value to your customers and make doing business more convenient for them.