Mark Schaefer, a celebrated marketing speaker and leader, may owe his entire career in marketing to one class he took during his junior year of college. 

He unexpectedly fell in love with the subject matter and pivoted from his journalism major. Mark later earned an MBA in marketing and studied under Peter Drucker.  

Mark’s corporate career includes extensive experience in global B2B marketing. He powered e-commerce growth at a Fortune 100 company before starting his own company specializing in marketing strategy.

Today, he runs a popular blog, writes books and delivers powerful marketing keynotes. He was recently named one of Brand 24’s top three digital marketing influencers in the world and has worked with brands such as Adidas, Dell and the Air Force.

So, what’s on Mark’s mind lately?

Community as an Undeveloped Customer Access Point

Mark’s latest book, “Belonging to the Brand: Why Community Is the Last Great Marketing Strategy,” is a solid indicator of where his mind is at these days. 

In 2018, Mark wrote “Marketing Rebellion,” in which he predicted the importance of people’s need for belonging and community when it comes to marketing strategy. 

“In a world where fewer customers see or trust our ads, the white-hot competition of content marketing isn’t sustainable,” he explains. “Profitable success with search engine strategies is out of reach for many businesses, and community seems to be an undeveloped customer access point. 

“Helping a person belong to something represents the ultimate marketing achievement,” Mark continues. “If a customer opts into an engaging, supportive, and relevant brand community, we no longer need to lure them into our orbit with ads and SEO, right? What we used to consider marketing is essentially over.”

The pandemic accelerated this trend toward “belonging to a brand” as people’s lives and routines were disrupted.

“The most human companies stepped in to help fill the gap,” Mark recalls. “During this period, 85% of Americans turned to online communities as a primary source of social interaction.”

And even though the world is slowly moving on from the pandemic, this need to belong is here to stay. 

“The growing isolation in the world, especially with our youth, the need for companies to find a new way to connect with customers, and massive investments that enable communities all point to community as a major business trend for at least the next 10 years,” Mark says.

Marketers Should Earn (Not Shout) Their Way Into Customer Conversations

Most marketing is behind the times, Mark says, with businesses using the strategies of five years ago despite the rapid changes happening right in front of us. 

“We need to look up and see how the world is really working right now,” he says. “The power of our own marketing grows weaker week by week. The power of consumers grows day by day. Today, the correct marketing mindset is to earn our way into customer conversations, not shout our ads at them.”

How should brands earn this presence? Through a focus on personal branding, Mark says. 

“Personal brand is the only way we can stay trusted and relevant in a world of AI and deep fakes. It helps us stand out and earn new opportunities. And increasingly, the personal brand is the corporate brand,” he says.

While ads and other content are becoming less visible and less trusted, there’s plenty of room for brand-driven thought leadership.

“Doesn’t it make sense to deploy your marketing resources to help your executives become trusted thought leaders?” Mark says. “We may not trust the media and brands’ messaging, but we trust each other.” 

‘You Must Be a Change Junkie to Thrive in This Field’

Mark says he usually avoids sweeping statements like “Marketing has been changed forever,” but artificial intelligence (AI) is forcing him to make an exception. 

“The field of marketing will be transformed in the next few months and then transformed again as AI continues to improve,” he predicts. “It improves our planning, analysis, strategies and content creation, to name a few things. 

“And then you have things like web3, the metaverse, and upheaval in social media to contend with. You have to be a change junkie to thrive in this environment!” 

With emerging technologies including AI, web3 and the metaverse, now is the time for aggressive experimentation, Mark says. 

“Dabble in everything so you can at least assess the potential of what might apply to your business,” he recommends. Armed with that new knowledge, move forward.