Educational resources for the community


The New Math for Marketing


Marketing in the 21st century is radically different than it was in the 20th century. Blame it on technology. Or thank technology.  But changed it has, and we have to change with it. Continuing to use a 20th century marketing mindset to design 21st-century marketing programs is missing opportunities. Here’s how to think about marketing in this new century.

I grew up in the latter half of the last century and learned marketing in the 1980s. The heroes of marketing were Coca Cola, who spent more money on advertising than any other company in the world yet had pretty much the lowest marketing-$-per-unit cost of any of the soda companies; and Procter and Gamble, the company that brought us Ivory Soap, Tide and Brand Management. But I advise startups and growing companies now, nearly 20 years into the new century, and the changes in marketing technology have required me to re-tool my marketing knowledge and skills. The “marketing math” I learned in the 1980s just doesn’t work anymore; it’s time for the “new math” of marketing.

The Golden Age of Broadcast…

The 20th century saw the rise of mass media.  Radio, TV, print on a scale never seen before.  These broadcast technologies allowed one person, or one show, or one marketer, to speak to millions of people at the same time. A single ad could be created and sent out to the entire nation!

This was the age of one-to-many marketing communications.  One message, many recipients.  Incredible efficiency and reach.  A Golden Age of Broadcast led to a Golden Age of Marketing!

Becomes the New Age of Search and Social Media

Fast forward to the 21st century (now). The internet, Google, Facebook, Twitter – these are the technologies that have emerged over the past two decades. They reach far beyond the TV or radio signal of the old technologies – they can reach nearly every corner of the globe, nearly every person on the planet.  No longer just communicating to just millions, but billions.

But these are not just 20th-century technologies on steroids.

One-to-many Communication Becomes One-to-one Communication

In the broadcast world, everyone gets the same signal. Meaning everyone gets the same message. Like Henry Ford’s manufacturing – “You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black,” marketing messages were limited in their tailoring. With broadcast technologies, the ability to “target” a message to a group of customers is very limited; you can choose to advertise to those people who watch the Beverly Hillbillies or those who watch 60 minutes, but everyone who watches the Beverly Hillbillies sees the same message. Targeting messages was limited to choosing the subset of the recipients you were most interested in communicating to, tailoring the message to that group, and ignoring that other people will receive a message not really meant for them.

Not so with the new technologies. Recently, I and my family got some Ice Cream at McConnel’s in Santa Barbara. I paid with a credit card but declined to take a receipt or give them my email address to email me a receipt. That same day, an email from McConnel’s showed up in my inbox that said, “Hey friend, we want to celebrate your birthday…but we don’t know when it is!” They knew where to find me, thanks to Square, who they use to process their credit cards, and who knows where to find me (from past transactions) and is very happy to share that information with the retailers.

Now marketers (that’s us) can know specifically who is on the receiving end of our communication. If a consumer does a search for “women’s shoes,” Google knows it. They not only know that someone searched for women’s shoes, they know that that person searched for women’s shoes. And they can connect shoe sellers to that person.  They can then follow that person on the internet and bombard you with shoe ads for the next several minutes, hours or even days. And they may even know more about her buying habits – what kinds of shoes she’s purchased in the past, how she has responded to price promotions – and can then choose which specific shoes they show her and how they price them for her.

And One-way Communication Becomes Two-way Conversation

The recipients of communications through these new media can TALK BACK. They can respond. In real time. And then the company can respond back to them. One-to-one interactive conversations – and thanks to software we can carry on many (massively many) of these one-to-one conversations at the same time.

The New Math

blackboard with mathOne-to-many one-way communications has become many one-to-one two-way conversations. Today, we can have millions of customized one-to-one conversations at the same time. Millions, or even billions, of tailored conversations. And purchase is just a click away.

With broadcast messages we talked to some extra people who we were not really intending to target, but hey, no harm done, right?  We were still talking to lots of the right people. Right?

Pretty much yes, that was right.  In 1950.

By using this same approach today, in 2018, we’re not only missing the capabilities of the new technologies. We’re also not exploiting the changes in how buyers can respond to the message we send to them.  

With the 20th-century technologies, buyers can respond in real time.  Even if they don’t “buy now,” they can visit your website, sign up, tell their friends, set a reminder, all without delay. If we create a pathway from our initial communication to purchasing, and leave good breadcrumbs (“click here”) to follow the pathway, we can lead them to purchasing much more reliably than we ever could before.

Since we’re talking to them on their phones, or on their tablets, or computers, why not give them a little nudge and get them to click. Click! They’re on your website. Click! They’re looking at your product. Click! It’s in their shopping cart. Click! It’s being shipped to them, and if they don’t hurry home it’ll be there before they are.

Marketing in the 21st Century

Forget Awareness-Interest-Desire-Action.  This is Click-to-Click-to-Click-to-Click. Want them to click? Give them an incentive: “Click now and get 20% off.” “Click now and get a free hat.” Want them to click? Give them an itch they can’t resist scratching: “Click here to find out that one weird trick that will shave inches off your midriff.” “Click here to see the five steps to independent wealth.”

The marketing game for many if not most companies is not “let’s spend millions on advertising to create awareness.” Maybe Coke can play that game.  Most of us can’t and shouldn’t. The marketing game now is about creating engagement and action in real time.

21st Century Marketing just doesn’t look like your grandfather’s marketing!

Brad Barbeau is Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at CSU Monterey Bay and Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation and Economic Development at CSU Monterey Bay. He is also the Principal and Founder of Ascend Business Design & Development.  



marketing tiles

The New Marketing

I have been starting companies and teaching entrepreneurship for over two decades.  I’ve been a team member for startup teams, I’ve started my own businesses, I’ve guided students to start their own businesses.  

business plan sketch

When I started teaching entrepreneurship in business school, I inherited a course that was designed to teach students how to write a business plan.  How to do the research and analysis, how to assess the “feasibility” of their idea, design a product or service, write a “marketing plan” and create financial projections.  

But I knew then that the PRACTICE of entrepreneurship was NOT THAT.  Writing a business plan is important (and the rumors of the death of business plans are still premature) but writing a business plan is one specific task in starting a business and definitely not the most important one! So I redesigned the course to build it around the way businesses were REALLY being started.  

Confronting The Old Marketing

Fast forward a few years.  In my (new) entrepreneurship courses, I struggled with helping students create effective marketing plans suited to the businesses they were creating. They kept defaulting to developing marketing plans as they had learned in their introductory marketing courses, basing them on advertising as the primary tool, putting together arbitrary budgets that were not based on any useful metrics, and adding statements like “we will market our product/service using social media” – whatever that meant!  

At the time, my own approach to marketing was still rooted firmly in what I had learned in the 1980’s—which was based on the amazing technologies of the 1950’s! TV, radio, and print-based mass-communications had given marketers the ability to reach tens of millions of consumers at the same time!  These technologies led to the rise of marketing through brand development and mass advertising strategies that exploited the ability to communicate one-to-many where “many” was now measured in tens of millions.

But it’s no longer the 1950’s.  

The 21st century has seen enormous changes in communications technology. These changes started with the “information age” revolution in the latter half of the 20th century but have developed far beyond the close of that century.  These technology changes have deeply affected the way we live – the way we communicate, the way we shop, the way we find friends and lovers.

A phone (21st century) is not a phone (20th century).  At the close of the 20th century, phones were still “telephones” – we used them to TALK to each other.  Now, our phones are deeply embedded in our everyday lives.he LEAST thing we use them for is to talk to one another – that’s just so…20th century!  We text, we get notified, we shop, we search, we learn, we manage our calendars, we announce to the world what we’re having for lunch, we keep in touch…all through our “phones” and mostly without ever actually making phone calls.  Where we used to be searching for public pay phones, now we’re searching for wifi connections. Where we used to “call” one person at a time we now “post” to hundreds or thousands at the same time.

But this post isn’t about phones; it’s about marketing.  It’s about how this revolution in communications has led to a revolution in marketing. And how we as marketers and entrepreneurs need to evolve to stay in step.  

The 21st century marketing tools are more than just new, more powerful tools. They represent a whole new world of marketing technologies presenting new opportunities to connect with customers in entirely new ways.


New Tools

The internet, websites, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest – these are where buyers are, and where they’re searching, deciding and buying.  These are (some of) the new tools that have emerged in the 21st century.

The 21st century marketing tools have capabilities far beyond the one-to-many mass media technologies of the 20th century. We can now reach buyers by the billions instead of just by the tens of millions.  We can reach the entire planet, limited more by government censorship than by technical limitations. And we can now reach them with text, voice, and video communications.

But the 21st century marketing tools are more than just new, more powerful tools. They are not just new places to “advertise.” They represent a whole new world of marketing, a new set of marketing communication technologies presenting new opportunities to connect with customers in entirely new ways, requiring an entirely new mindset for marketers.

These 21st century tools allow customers to ACT: to communicate back to us, to respond in real time, to buy in real time wherever they may be physically located. And that is a game-changer for marketers.

21st century marketing uses behavior-based marketing instead of attitude-based marketing; creates massive one-to-one conversations instead of one-to-many one-way communications; clicks not impressions; validation and experimentation not surveys.

Need New Tooling

We have to rethink how we approach the practice of marketing. Behavior-based marketing doesn’t look like attitude-based marketing. While we still want buyers to like us, what we REALLY want is to move buyers (potential buyers) through our marketing funnel from recruitment to conversion. We want existing buyers to remain engaged and repurchase. And so we have to our communications with buyers (not “to” buyers) to reflect those new objectives.

Harnessing these tools poses new challenges, new skills to learn, new strategies to follow – in short, these new tools mean marketers need to retool. We need new marketing tooling for this new century of marketing tools.

21st Century Marketing

So follow this space for more on 21st Century Marketing.  I’ll be discussing (and looking for your responses and thoughts about) how marketing strategy, message content, and campaign implementation have to look in the new century.  I’ll be referring to examples of 21st century marketing looks when its well-planned and well executed.  My goal is to help you master the strategies and tools of 21st century marketing so that you, and we together, can become masters of 21st Century Marketing!

Brad Barbeau is a professor at California State University Monterey Bay School of Business, executive director of the Institute for Innovation and Economic Development and founder of Ascend Business Design and Development.

Read more about the 21CM marketing system at