As industries pivoted from solely manufacturing and distribution to providing a blend of products and services, consumers began to demand services that offered intangible benefits, such as convenience or ethical value.
What resulted was a higher need for “downstream” marketing tactics. Rather than focusing on the “upstream” of product quality (which consumers regard as a given), industries now need to consider their “downstream” impacts on their customers.
Think of it this way: in today’s world, consumers are faced with more choices than ever before, and market competition increased the quality of the products available for them.
That means that what differentiates products and services for today’s consumer is not simply quality. Now, consumers are looking for products that improve their quality of life by offering convenience, sustainability, or even meaningful social interaction.
Just consider a consumer’s morning latte. Instead of making a pot of coffee for less money at home, today, consumers will pay more for their coffee because it offers them convenience, quality, and a meaningful opportunity to catch up with friends or venture into the world.
The perfect blend of abstract benefits and concrete quality brings consumers back to their favorite chains.
This shift in consumer purchase criteria means that now, when companies want to develop competitive and sustainable marketing strategies, they need to focus on aspects of business that exist outside of the center of their firm or office.
As the center of business and competition has shifted downstream, the best marketing strategies have actually become decentralized and multimodal, relying on several channels to create a compelling narrative for consumers about a given product.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated some of these changes in consumer habits, making it necessary that companies change their marketing programs. As of 2022, nearly 75% of global consumers reported that the pandemic changed their shopping priorities and habits, noting that they desired products that benefited their mental and physical health.
In addition, 75% of US buyers use “omnichannel behavior” (a hybrid between in-store and online shopping) to search for new products, and nearly half of the population reports being influenced by social media as they make their product choices.
Each of these changes in consumer habits has created what some call the “loyalty shake-up.”
Now that consumers are using new channels and applying new values as they select products and services, brand loyalty is also shifting.
Whereas brands of the past could count on a five-year audit of their marketing strategies (or even simply brand recognition and memorable logos) to ensure that they kept their loyal customers, it is critical that businesses of today opt for a fluid, consumer-oriented approach to their downstream marketing strategy.
This approach must be multi-faceted and adapted to the digital age; consumers are now shopping as they scroll through social media, but they still yearn for human connection while obtaining products or services.
The most strategic marketing tactics will embrace this changing era of meaningful, ethical, and omnichannel consumption. By combining digital marketing tactics with opportunities for in-person connection or community and environmental engagement, businesses can showcase the intangible benefits of their products and services while meeting the demands of today’s flexible consumers.
In the midst of the great loyalty shake-up, it is those intangible benefits and impressions that will bring new consumers in and encourage them to return, even as their needs shift and change with the world.
But making this transition to a fluid and omni-channel market is easier said than done. Finding a CMO who is ready to take on the challenges of an ever-shifting, constantly flexible, and digital marketing world is tricky.
Most CMOs work on the downstream side of business; however, all too often, those CMOs do not have the adaptability and flexibility it takes to survive in the mutable, post-pandemic markets that companies are facing.
Having and hiring a flexible CMO is critical, given that nearly half of all CMOs focus on downstream marketing techniques regarding print, digital, and social media tactics for reaching consumers.
Companies often make the mistake of hiring a CMO based on the needs of their current week, rather than the true flexibility mandated by the past few years.
They might hire a seasoned, full-time CMO, only to realize that the experience that created great marketing tactics in the past hasn’t fully transferred to the digital and multimodal present. Then, businesses get stuck with steep hiring and training costs and a CMO who can’t meet their true needs.
Shifting Downstream: Fractional CMOs
One solution uniquely capable of supporting the currently decentralized marketing landscape’s need for flexible and multi-skilled CMOs is the concept of a fractional CMO.
Whereas traditional CMOs usually bring one tactic or strategy to the table, fractional CMOs bring exposure to different industries, technologies, and marketing platforms when they join a new team.
Because fractional CMOs offer part-time marketing services to a few businesses at once, they are constantly exposed to new perspectives and knowledge niches.
A fractional CMO thus offers several areas of expertise and the rare, adaptable perspective needed by each business they work with.
Therefore, fractional CMOs are naturally suited to thrive in the decentralized and digital downstream currents of today’s fluid markets. Even better, the part-time nature of their work means that companies can save money on hiring expenses.
By avoiding the opportunity cost presented by hiring a full-time employee, companies that take advantage of fractional CMOs and outsource marketing can invest in developing the intangible benefits that bring modern consumers back time and again.
While trying a new model for marketing and hiring may feel risky, there are resources for learning about fractional CMOs. For example, many fractional marketing agencies offer free or low-cost consultations to help businesses assess whether adapting their marketing tactics to the changes in today’s consumer landscape with a fractional CMO is the best step forward for that business.