Image: Book cover
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It’s difficult to recognize shifting trends and movements when we’re in the middle of them. Imagine a writer in the 1500s saying, “This is the Renaissance! I must create and compete in an era of cultural transformation!” Today that writer would probably turn to Twitter for such a declaration.

Although not as earth-changing as the Renaissance, a new movement in marketing has begun. That’s the argument that Robert Rose and Carla Johnson present in Experiences: The Seventh Era of Marketing. Rose and Johnson identify this new movement and offer instruction and encouragement for marketers, content creators, and strategists as they figure out how to be a part of it.

Content-Driven Customer Experiences: The New Era of Marketing

What is this new era? As Rose and Johnson explain, the seventh era of marketing is not about creating campaigns or just describing products and services. The new era is about creating content-driven customer experiences.

“In this new era,” Rose and Johnson write:

Unique, impactful, differentiating content-driven experiences will become as important as product development.” Marketers need to shift their focus to “creating delightful experiences to inform, entertain, engage, and evolve the customer.

Coca-Cola, Red Bull, and Kraft are some of the brands Rose and Johnson call out for their forward-looking content marketing efforts. Storytellers in these organizations don’t just describe products and features and benefits. They create value for their employers by using both content and the experiences in which that content lives.

A simple example of this is the Michelin Guides, which don’t overtly market Michelin tires. “In most cases,” Rose and Johnson write, “the value delivered from these experiences will actually be separate and distinct from the product or service itself.”

Rose’s and Johnson’s thought leadership adds credibility and urgency to their claims. Among other roles, Rose is the chief strategy officer for the Content Marketing Institute and a cohost of the podcast PNR’s This Old Marketing. Johnson of Type A Communications is an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute and the Online Marketing Institute. Both speak and write often about content marketing, and together the two of them have boosted the marketing efforts of numerous government and corporate clients. Drawing on their experiences, research, and reflection, they are definitely qualified to identify a new movement in marketing.

Experiences: The 7th Era Of Marketing from Robert Rose on Vimeo.

Context: A Little Marketing History

To help put the new era of experiences in perspective, Rose and Johnson remind us of the earlier phases of marketing:

  • The Trade Era (about 1850-1900) was dominated by manufacturers’ and farmers’ efforts to find the best place to sell their goods.
  • The Production Era (1900-1920) tapped into the United States’ fascination with mass production and distribution.
  • The Sales Era (1920-1940) ushered in the focus on price and salespeople.
  • The Marketing Department Era (1940-1960) found corporations establishing their own marketing teams or working with advertising agencies.
  • The Marketing Company Era (1960-1990) started marketers on the path to creating more meaningful messaging and company branding.
  • The Relationship Era (1990-2015) focused on establishing and maintaining rewarding interactions with customers.

The Experiences Era picks up (continues) where the Relationship Era leaves off.

“The Experiences Era may be as short as the Relationship Era,” Rose and Johnson write, “or it may, itself, be a transition to something completely different. The future is unknowable, of course, but by understanding where we’ve been we can better navigate where we’re going.”

Image: Marketing Team Meeting
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The Need for Content Creation Management

How are marketers supposed to do their jobs in this new era? How are we going to create systems and processes that produce valuable experiences?

Rose and Johnson advocate for content creation management, a subset of customer experience management. They define CCM as “a conceptual framework to facilitate the organization, creation, development, and management of owned experiential content platforms for marketing purposes.” (I’m hoping the tone of this definition helps persuade management to fund such an effort.)

The goal of such a framework is to help marketers use content to create experiences that stand on their own.

Rose and Johnson outline a 12-step approach to establishing a CCM framework, and it’s a challenging list. For example, step 1 is “inspire a revolution in the organization.” If a marketing team is able to survive that step, then they’re on their way to creating, organizing, managing, measuring, and improving the CCM framework and the experiences it produces.

Other tactics and techniques—such as story mapping and internal marketing—are also important in this new marketing era. But my thoughts started to wander in the latter chapters of the book as I took in so many better practices and suggestions for transforming businesses with content. Rose and Johnson keep the ideas coming, but how can one person or even one team possibly act on them? How can we, or will we, take these new approaches to heart—and to our clients and businesses?

Image: Marketing strategy
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Avoid Taking On Too Much At One Time

We can’t do it all. Earlier in the book, the authors caution us about trying to take on every communications channel and every tactic. “The marketer’s role is to find a happy medium,” Rose and Johnson write. “We should be creating a balanced portfolio of appropriate, relevant, and high-impact experiences at ONLY the stages of the buyer’s journey where we can be most influential and deliver the most value.”

Toward the end of the book, as if sensing how overwhelming all the research and recommendations are, Rose and Johnson slow down. And here they regained all my attention.

“If we’re perfectly honest,” they confide, “we care much less about the companies you work for—and much more about you.”

This book is as much a pep talk as a presentation of better content marketing practices. Rose and Johnson know the challenges marketers face. There are no easy answers, no templates to fill out. But there is great opportunity to connect with customers and each other with the stories we tell.

Has the seventh era of marketing officially begun? We’ll probably only know for sure after we look back at this time from years away. Today we can all point to companies we know—perhaps our own clients or employers—who still operate in the Marketing Company or Relationship Eras. But Rose and Johnson make a convincing argument that we SHOULD be in a new content-powered era. And these authors provide sound advice, strategies, and tactics for how marketers and other content professionals can survive and succeed in the brave new world of experiences.

Buy the book.