Just as the internet ruthlessly sorted winners (Google, Amazon, etc.) and losers (Kodak, Blockbuster, etc.) in the 1990s and 2000s so too will the wave of change and innovation that is enveloping markets across the globe. Ad blocking, AI and personal agents, voice and visual UI, social influencers, and generational waves of anti-greed sentiment are wiping away old marketing realities. Your brand can only thrive if you quickly embrace this reality.

I’ve been a marketing professional my entire professional career; nevertheless, I’m unashamedly urging you to stop marketing to your customers. In fact, if you continue marketing to your customers your business is certain to suffer. To thrive, you must start marketing “for” your customers. Allow me to explain.

Marketing “to” customers revolves around what one of my colleagues used to call “selling crack to babies”. When brands adopt this attitude, they think they can sell anything to anyone if their insights are smart enough and their creative is cool enough. This antiquated thinking positions the brand as smarter than the customers who are considered gullible and malleable. This is last-century thinking.

Marketing “for” customers, on the other hand, recognizes that brands no longer have control of the narrative. Brands that embrace this view of the universe see their customers as kindred spirits rather than cattle to be herded. These brands listen to customers and employees 24/7 and orient all activities towards building authentic products, experiences, and cultures.

Before we move on here are just a few specific examples of the seismic forces at work

  • Desktop/laptop ad blocking usage will exceed 30% in 2018 – eMarketer
  • Google’s Chrome browser will automatically block certain ad formats – Business Insider
  • 77% of millennials buy more from brands that practice sustainability and operate ethically – Forbes
  • By 2021, early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by 30% – Gartner
  • Epson reports that they achieved a 75% increase in qualified leads using AI – Harvard Business Review
  • Half of Inc.’s eight most innovative brands for 2017 are AI based

This list goes on and on. So great are these forces that traditional marketing will be completely overthrown in the coming decade …and so too will many CMOs. CMO tenures are already the shortest in the C-suite and tenures will shrink further if CEOs and CMOs don’t rapidly get on this page together. Its daunting stuff, but fear not my marketing comrades. Here are three recommended strategies that you can take to the next C-Suite meeting, that are sure to start a lively conversation: Build an authentic brand. Empower and enable the front line. Invest in adaptive innovation.

Begin by ensuring that your customers see your brand as authentic. This goes well beyond being socially responsible. Brands that are authentic will have heart. They will know their “why” and they will connect meaningfully with others that share similar passions. Authentic brands have a story that is compelling and rooted firmly in company culture. Quality, consistency, great service, and near-instant access are now costs-of-entry, the new differentiator is authentic relationships.

Next, empower and enable your employees through a culture and toolset that allows them to deliver directly to customers, with flexibility, in whatever channel required. Brands that are marketing for their customers will leverage digital transformations to become, in part or total, a tech platform on which customers, employees, brands, and institutions exchange value more conveniently. When this radical new level of front-line empowerment is wrapped in an employee-first, customer-obsessed culture, the results can be astounding.

Finally, adjust your organizational structure and investments to place adequately substantive focus on adaptive innovation. Statistics abound regarding the rate at which change initiatives fail, and there should be no doubt that digital transformations are more complex than most. It’s quite likely that your current organizational structures are geared only to serve existing customers in existing ways. The most whiz-bang tech implementations will stumble and stagnate if investments in other areas are relatively anemic. Adaptive-innovation means smart-risk investing that creates alternative pathways for change to flow and grow within all departments, particularly operations and sales.

The late 1990s and early 2000s were an incredible time to be a marketer. It felt good, exhilarating, like cliff diving. Now, as we walk through the door to 2018 that feeling is back, only this time, the cliffs seem a bit taller and the rocks in the water a little more plentiful. Marketing can no longer rely on the old “may the best pitch win” mentality. In the age of digital transformation marketing to customers is a mistake. It’s time to embrace our customers as partners and allies. It’s time to start marketing for them, and to stop marketing at them and down to them.