3 Big Forces That Are Changing Marketing

And how they're deepening consumer relationships

Aug 05, 2020

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  The introduction of cable television and, later, the Internet dramatically changed the way marketers operated. But now, there are new forces at play, and the times are changing once again.

Three major forces – technological, socioeconomic and geopolitical – are altering everything we know about marketing, says Maryland Smith’s Roland Rust.

Each force has its own implications that ultimately work toward deepening consumer relationships and the expansion of the service economy, says Rust, in new research published in the International Journal of Research in Marketing.


The continued pursuit of artificial intelligence and advancements in data analysis, for example, will affect how society will be structured, says Rust, Distinguished University Professor and David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Improvements in AI increasingly mean that technological capital is fulfilling roles once filled by laborers.

“Those who own the capital will come out very well while the laborers come out worse,” says Rust. “Much like around the turn of the 20th Century, when the farming, mining and steel mill jobs began disappearing, to a now much-reduced state, AI will cause a similar dislocation.”

Many workers already see their jobs changing, and even consumers are increasingly using AI, as personal assistants like Alexa and Siri assume greater responsibility, Rust says.

Related technological advancements, Rust says, are also bringing change. Digital marketing is enabling brands to personalize their messages and their products on an individualized basis. It’s something that is most highly effective for services, as opposed to goods, he says.

“If we’re making a Chevrolet, for example, it’s really hard to make that car completely different for each person given the complexities of the manufacturing process,” says Rust. “But things happening online are transferred in bits, which are easy to change – and the result of this is that a lot of e-service becomes more personalized.”

That kind of personalization requires a data-privacy tradeoff on the part of the consumer, however.

“If you’re a customer and you don’t tell the service rep anything about yourself, they are unable to personalize the experience. But if you tell them everything about yourself, well then, you’ve just lost all of your privacy,” Rust says.


Diversity, discrimination and climate change are also driving change.

The Black Lives Matter movement is changing the way people treat customers and other audiences, Rust says. Even well-established brands like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and the Washington Football Team are finding that they need to be more conscious of the historical significance of their brand names and icons, he says. What was done 10 years ago may be unacceptable today.


With respect to all of the big global issues, Rust says, marketing will be called on to alter the behavior of consumers and decision-makers to help drive needed change. Even rising concern about climate change is forcing many companies, especially energy companies, to balance their current profits against global sustainability, Rust says.

“These are things that must be different moving forward, and marketing will play an important role in persuading people and changing their minds,” says Rust. “For example, with the pandemic, we already have a difficult problem on our hands and without successful persuasion, undesirable behaviors may persist.”

The world is going to continue to change rapidly, Rust says, and those who want to get ahead must be attentive and willing to adapt.

“The most important thing is realizing the big picture. People have to take a step back and consider the big trends that are impacting all of us,” says Rust.

“The successful people will be the ones who look at these trends and think about how their business will be affected, and consequently how it must change.”

Read more: "The Future of Marketing" is published in the International Journal of Research in Marketing.





About the Expert(s)

Roland Rust

Roland T. Rust is Distinguished University Professor and David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, where he is founder and Executive Director of two research centers: the Center for Excellence in Service and the Center for Complexity in Business.

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