Marketing is a process – the effects should be apparent but not the process.

You may find this a pretty obvious statement, and quite inoffensive. For the six or so decades of this still new art (or science?) of marketing, we have held such a truth to be self-evident. However, in the so-called ‘post-truth’ era it is a finger-post for where marketing communications may be going.

There have been a number of small but significant cultural shifts that have combined to create a perfect storm. Consumers have had more control over what advertising messages they receive than ever before. People are viewing more television, films and entertainment, but seeing fewer ads. Catch-up TV, Netflix and more, allow viewers to sidestep ads. Adblockers go even further.

People are listening more to people – not advertisers

At the same time we have seen a growth in the power of advocacy. Recommendations from trusted friends make a great deal of sense. Word of mouth has long been recognised as one of the most compelling communications channels. However, we now see consumers influenced by online recommendations by total strangers. People are trusting in anonymous advice rather than marketing messages from established businesses.

Some of the bizarre surprises and recent political upsets may be explained by a social groundswell that has lost faith in ‘big’. People are more likely to trust their emotional core and that of their friends than communications from an establishment.

For marketers, if they are to be effective for their clients, they need to have an almost invisible presence. It is ‘light-touch marketing’.

Social media has provided a highway, facilitating new chains of connections through trusted advocates, outside the mainstream. Big agencies are striving to create under-designed branding.

What is light-touch marketing?

For many years, there has been a holy grail of relationship marketing – of organisations striving to build closer and closer individual customer relationships. Businesses may now need to re-think the nature of those relationships.

Overt messages may have lost their power, but emotional relationships are stronger than ever. Trust, faith and belief are the emotions which are influencing consumer decisions. Emotions are rarely susceptible to rational, factual arguments. Light-touch marketing is less about what we say but more about what we do and how we do it.

Rather than depending upon the direct relationships with consumers, we need to be concerned with chains of relationships – building networks of advocacy and influence.

We can look forward to more subtle, communications strategies. Messages will be appealing to how people feel and believe. Channels will be more broadcast rather than narrowcast. The mantra of the early days of social media marketing will be more relevant than ever – ‘building conversations rather than communications’.