Over the past several years, a great amount of attention has been focused on Total Market within marketplace and workplace communities — what it is, what it is not, and how it impacts brands and agencies moving forward. Overall, the concept remains cloudy and misunderstood, with considerable misinterpretation and misuse of its theory and practice.
While I was at Ogilvy & Mather (a general market agency) I reintroduced the topic of Total Market in 2010 at an advertising and communications conference, among a membership made up of brand marketers with agency partners. Because of this, the interpretation from attendees and the rest of the industry was that the object of a Total Market approach was an advertising outcome. This created confusion among brands, which believed they were investing in an advertising solution, rather than a systemized business growth strategy that embraces the new marketplace and the new workforce.
To set the record straight: Total Market was derived from an idea that was presented in 1964 by McKinsey & Company, a management consultancy that facilitates change management and has no affiliation with the advertising industry. Forty-six years later, I expanded on this business concept, developing insight, systemization and tools for organizations, so they could achieve marketplace and workplace readiness. Despite countless attempts to clarify the intent and execution of Total Market, gross misinterpretations of the approach continued to exist. As a result, the first wave of companies that pursued Total Market, from 2011 to 2013, often failed. Many abandoned the idea because they didn’t start by putting in place the infrastructure to support the deep changes that Total Market demands. Their focus was on how to acquire ethnic and female consumers rather than how to engage with and retain them in the marketplace and workplace. These companies often viewed Total Market as a way to create efficiencies and reduce costs, rather than to drive equitable connections, relevant content and make their messaging more effective. Brands that don’t embrace the New Majority reality will fade.
The New Majority workplace and marketplace requires disruptive changes. At the same time, too many companies still think of Total Market in terms of and advertising outcome, whether they “get it” or “don’t get it” – a black-and-white conception of a complex situation, which doesn’t help anyone. We are entering an age where the workplace already encompasses people who came to adulthood having had a multiracial president for a third of their lifetimes. Times have long since changed, and the rate of change will only become more profound.
To be ready for the future, companies and marketers will need to tear down old structures and thinking that are rooted in an America that no longer exists. Total Market is a journey for brands, with key milestones along the way:
- Select the partners and advisors that truly understand the transformation that is underway and embrace the new reality.
- Understand that this topic carries a lot of layers, and become open to different ways of thinking about workplace readiness and market readiness.
- Make investments in training your organization to think about and approach total market in a new way.
- Collect data that captures the full interests, preferences and cultural backgrounds of your consumer targets – most companies are woefully lacking in such rich information.