The English poet Tennyson welcomed the new year with the famous words — “Ring out the old, ring in the new.” Marketers should take heed. Our world has changed dramatically over the past few years, with the advent of so many new things — including powerful smartphones, easy access to digital and data, disruptive technologies, e-commerce, artificial intelligence and fake news.


Harish Bhat, Brand Custodian, Tata Sons (file photo).


With the world transformed, marketers need to bring in new areas of focus to address and leverage these fundamental changes. In my view, there are four such areas which will be very important in the new year — Content, Omnichannel, Data and Experience. For ease of recall, I have combined the first letters of these four words, to call this the new CODE of marketing. Let us examine the new CODE.


Marketing has always been about storytelling, which requires great content. What has now changed is that marketers have to tell their stories across multiple conventional and digital media, each of which requires different formats and types of content.

Clearly, the content that works powerfully on Instagram is totally different from what makes for a superb, 30-second film on television, and both are very important. What has also changed is that marketers now need a virtually continuous stream of new content, because that is the relentless 24x7 nature of the digital medium.

And, finally, creation of content today is no longer the prerogative of a few whiz kids in marketing teams and advertising agencies — there is a wide ecosystem out there, of consumer advocates and social media influencers, all of whom can create fabulous content, when suitably motivated to do so.

But then again, given the proliferation of fake news, we also need authentic content that consumers can trust. This is the complex, exciting, prolific, new world of content. Marketers will need to deeply understand and expertly navigate this new world, creating memorable content at each touchpoint that matters.


There has been a lot of talk about online versus offline retail, and whether shopping malls will withstand the energetic onslaught of e-commerce. The simple truth is that online and offline are merging into a fresh new omnichannel world for consumers, who are navigating between these two spaces with ease.

Consumers search online, buy offline, make payments through a digital app, seek content in print media, review the product on social media, seek product repairs through a mobile website, and want to dispose of their old products through home pick-ups. The online-offline boundaries have ceased to exist.

Marketers must therefore develop this omnichannel capability themselves. This is why the online giant Amazon is opening brick-and-mortar stores. This is also why so many conventional Indian brands are busy crafting out their own online touchpoints.

But the magic will lie in merging the online and offline brand avatars seamlessly, so that the customer sees just one unified world of your brand.

This will require marketers to view their world through a new lens of convergence. No more separate digital and offline marketing or customer service teams, for instance.


It is now perhaps cliched to say that data is the new oil. However, because this is such a big truth, it is worth repeating until we internalise it fully. Over the past few years, data has suddenly become so much more accessible. Data helps marketers understand consumers’ needs better, and serve them with precision.

Data helps us arrive at the right choices on every element of the marketing mix — including the type of products we market, pricing strategy, media mix, exact timing of launch, and how to personalise communication to every single consumer.

To enable this, marketers need to understand the intuitive and counter-intuitive trends and insights that their mountains of data contain. Robust analytics is essential, to mine such knowledge from a deluge of data. Without good analytics, data is useless and can even be misleading.

The application of artificial intelligence (AI) tools can help turn proprietary customer and market data into predictive engines that can become powerful sources of competitive advantage. But walk this path carefully, because there is a lot of hype around artificial intelligence, so it is important to cut through the clutter and select what really works for you. In short, marketers need the right skills and tools to make their data dance in front of their eyes.


Recent research reports suggest that nearly half of all consumers globally are buying fewer products and more experiences. Consumers are choosing to own many more fulfilling and meaningful memories, which are created by positive and evocative experiences.

In pursuit of such experiences, they are turning away from products or services that offer mere transactional or functional benefits, in many categories. This trend marks a fundamental shift, and will only get bigger in the new year.

Some categories, such as travel and recreation, are naturally geared to offer experiences.

But so can retailers offer wonderful in-store experiences that customers will fondly recall for a long time.

Luxury e-retailer Yoox Net-a-Porter offers AI-enabled virtual stylists. Some restaurants surround you with the sound of the waves and the smell of the rough sea while dining on seafood, thus creating a delightful ocean experience.

Packaged food products, for instance, can help create special experiences through evocative packaging or exciting new recipes that customers can experiment with.

In the new year, marketers in virtually every category will need to understand how best to upgrade their products and services into experiences that customers will seek and cherish.

As we step into 2019, this is the new CODE that marketers need to crack — Content, Omnichannel, Data and Experience.

Here’s wishing all of you a very Happy New Year!

Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, and author of “The Curious Marketer”. He can be reached at