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What digital marketing will look like in 2020: Q&A with 'Futurist' Gerd Leonhard

Gerd Leonhard has a term for the 30-second TV spots, pop-up display ads and 'batch and blast' emails that consumers have long been subjected to. He calls it "interruptive marketing" — and he joins a growing chorus of experts who argue that the days of marketers telling consumers what they think they should hear, and when they should hear it, are ending. Leonhard, the CEO of The Futures Agency, a consulting firm that advises companies on strategy, ventures even further with this bold prediction: all forms of interruptive marketing will cease to exist by 2020, replaced by messaging that is 100 percent controlled by the customer. Here, Leonhard explains why marketing is changing and how marketers can adapt to dramatic shift.

Q: You've boldly predicted that 'interruptive marketing' will be extinct in seven years. What makes you so sure?

A: Marketing used to be a loudspeaker and now it's a magnet, pulling people in. The future isn’t going to be about saying stuff the loudest or to the most people, but about saying the right stuff to the right people. When you have five billion people connected to the Internet, which we’ll have by 2020, very few of them will like the idea of being targeted with general information they're not interested in.

Now that digital technology helps us to find the right people through data mining, marketing becomes more like content. Marketing will solely by about the art of getting consumers' attention in such a way that’s it’s perceived to be personalized, customizable, timely and respectful.

Q: Can you cite an example of how technology today is changing the way brands interact with consumers? 

A; Google Now (which aims to be a consumer's digital "personal assistant" a la Apple's Siri), anticipates what you need throughout the day based on your calendar and your email. Three hours from now when you’re on your way to a meeting, it will tell you that Starbucks is having a special, it knows you like "X, Y and Z" because of your email, and it will send you a coupon and directions to get there. But you didn’t ask for it. The advent of artificial intelligence today and in the future, which is what this is, is essentially Amazon book recommendations on steroids. It’s a powerful tool for marketers to deliver you things that you haven’t asked for.

Q: How will the marketer's role evolve?

A: "Marketer" as a stand-alone job is going away. While marketers used to be "chief interrupters" by making enough noise to get attention, now a good marketer will assimilate other roles like product development and sales, ceasing to exist in a single silo. You’ll still have chief marketing officers, but they’ll be a part of the overall strategy and the brand, merging the divide between selling and creating. Marketers will be part of the creation of the product, no longer at the receiving end of the product, by anticipating what people want and giving it to them before they ask for it. Every aspect of a business will have one objective: to create products that people really want, to anticipate what they want, and to create a story around that product.

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