Phil Kotler recently celebrated his 90th birthday—an impressive feat on its own. Equally impressive is that few have impacted marketing as Phil has. An economist by training, he has evolved into a more general social scientist and scholar. Indeed, he has fearlessly strayed outside the ivory tower of academia to influence practice; an accomplishment recognized by his many books and awards including a 2021 Lifetime Contribution award for his work as a management consultant.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and have a one-to-one conversation with Phil. Of interest to me was his take on the past and future of marketing. And, while we covered quite a bit of territory, I thought that the audience of this column might be particularly fascinated by a mutual exchange we had on the evolution of marketing.
In particular, influenced by Phil’s books on Marketing 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0, I discussed with him the various “evolutionary stages” of marketing. Think of these as what the marketing discipline has taught us about what it means to be a great marketer. Phil opined on the stages, and even offered me a sneak peek at his expectations of the future. We both agreed that understanding and mastering each of these stages is what leads to the very best marketing has to offer.
Marketing 1.0: Functionality—At the foundation of classic marketing is the product. Not surprisingly, “Product” is one of Phil’s “4 Ps.” The premise of marketing 1.0 is simple—Marketing can communicate the quality and functionality of goods. Even as marketing has evolved, “1.0” remains important to the marketers. We still need to create great offerings and to communicate these values to consumers. However, the marketers’ job is now recognized to be far from done when functionality has been communicated.
Marketing 2.0: Emotions—People are not driven purely by the functions products and services offer. A longstanding literature in the fields of psychology, sociology, and marketing reveal that how products make us feel is an important part of the equation. We want to feel emotions, to be inspired, even to love our brands. And one of the best ways to create the emotional connection with our consumer—marketing! Indeed, this stage of marketing helps us understand how great brands—Apple, Google, Coca Cola, Nike—have built themselves far beyond their functional offers.
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Marketing 3.0: Purpose—Phil observed that the idea that brands exist purely to make profits is old fashioned. The best brands—the one’s that persist and span generations—have a purpose beyond an antiquated idea of “pure profits.” As we discussed, Marketing 3.0 is a recognition that brands can—and should—have a purpose in society. Phil has written about such ideas in his book, “Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action.” He noted that brands that understand their role and responsibility are more than just profitable—they have greater importance, attract more loyal consumers, and have happier and more satisfied employees.
Marketing 4.0: Digital—In his book entitled, Marketing 4.0 Phil has noted the necessary pivot from traditional to digital channels. Digital has allowed us to access many more journeys and touch points with consumers and customers that require more vigilance as to how best to reach them. I told Phil I thought of this as a “channel revolution.” Although he understood my observation, he suggested it was even richer than this because it required shifts in how business operates and is conducted. He’s right—digital has transformed how many of the classic approaches of marketing—segmentation, targeting and positioning, for example—are carried out.
Marketing 5.0: Information—The next stage of marketing, which arguably is still happening at a rather fast pace, has placed the spotlight on a new form of currency: information. Brands now have access to a greater abundance of information about their consumers and customers. Moreover, with privacy laws protecting consumers, brands that are able to gain consumers trust have unique opportunities to speak and communicate with them. This evolutionary stage suggests that great marketers will have to develop capabilities to both acquire, sort, and utilize consumer data while also maintaining consumer trust.
Marketing 6.0: Entrepreneurship—What lies on the horizon? Phil was generous enough to offer a preview of what he saw as the next evolutionary stage in marketing: entrepreneurship His thoughts, as always were, provocative. He suggested marketers must move beyond conventional marketing to take a more entrepreneurial mindset to the craft. Marketers will have to take the charge to develop new ideas and tactics—an entrepreneurial mindset—to stay ahead. I also have it on good authority we won’t have to wait too long to hear more on this—Phil already has a book in the works.
Of note, one might be tempted to ask which stage is most important. However, the trick is being a great marketer isn’t about mastering one stage—it’s about mastering all of them.
It was a delight to sit down to speak with Phil. Beyond understanding the evolutionary stages of marketing, two additional matters were abundantly clear. First, Phil’s passion and love for marketing remains as strong as ever. Second, while Phil has written serious books on Capitalism, Democracy and the Common Good, he is far from finished. I hope he will grant me an audience on his 100th birthday to continue the conversation.