Marketing has traditionally been thought of as a split discipline, with strategy driving the concept and direction, and execution and tactics charged with making things happen.

Nothing could be further from today’s reality than this.

The more you separate the strategy from the execution, the more you wall the actions from ideas that directed them, the more you lose touch with the dynamics of the market.

And the more you view marketing as anything less than an ongoing continuum with your customer, the more you are stacking the deck against you.

Something very intrinsic has changed that drives this.

In many ways the reality of today’s business and marketing world has occurred because it can. Not only the hierarchy of power, but people themselves have changed.

I don’t know which came first–the technology that empowered the change or the human drive for different market dynamics. Regardless, the result is a new landscape with the customer as the center of gravity for the commercial world.

Human behavior has evolved alongside the technology and the marketplace has reconfigured itself to the new world order. And marketing, that connecter has shifted focus toward process of discovery and communications with the customer. In fact, marketing is that process.

I had an email exchange with a University marketing professor after I wrote my “Customers rule” post last week. This sums up his stance:

While customers have more power to vote with their dollars because of the Internet, it’s just an enabling technology and not a paradigm shift. There were customer centric companies before the Internet.

We are on opposite sides of this discussion. Not about the value of the customer but about the depth of change in today’s commercial ecosytem.

Undeniably, the tools are powerful and enabling but I believe that a basic human and commercial shift has occurred. This is not merely a continuum of core business values, but something new and more profound.

The real-time web and social nets have enabled new behaviors to arise and the social landscape has changed with them. With freedom of choice, personal power of communications and a readily available global audience, the result is a different commercial and (even) political world.

Communications and social tools are not the change–how we use them and how that has affected us is. This is a paradigm shift, not just faster cars on the same roads with the same rules.

Think about the check-in space and the social nets.

Have check-ins exploded because we have phones and are always connected or because it tapped into a behavior looking for a platform? Or the incessant need for sharing on social nets. Is Twitter or Facebook the catalyst? Or was human behavior ready to share and brand itself and the platform enabled that?

Things changed because they could, because a new platform of possibility empowered by technology but inhabited by a customer-centric world has evolved.

I believe that this is driven by the behavior not the tools. And this is not a subtle distinction, especially as it affects how we market to and discover our customers.

Great customer-centric companies like Nordstrom who invented the ‘no questions asked return’ policy in the 90s changed the rules of business dramatically. They realized that most people were honest and only returned items if they really had to. But they are not like Naked Wines , a company that opens up the supply chain of wine production and sales to the community along with a no questions asked, no cost mail-in returns policy. Each fervently believes in the customer. Each is a product of its times and the times have changed.

Certainly there is a different model for every company.

Groupon employs the social net driver to power its viral loop to acquire customers, a new twist on email marketing selling local products on a global social platform. Lululemon created a brand that drove fierce customer loyalty around the intersection of street gear and yoga clothes and good vibrations by local word of mouth (pushed by social nets) with hyper friendly in store policies, all without an online component.

But for each, a new culture fueled by new technology served a demand of the customer to sold to in a certain way–their way. Great companies figure that out. The models are endless with flexible technology as a servant to design social and personal commerce.

So what does this have to do with the traditional polarity of strategy and tactics in marketing?

Everything I think.

What is the goal of all businesses?

  • At its simplest, to find a way to bring value to your customers. Certainly you need to do this is in a cost-effective, margin-positive way but without customer value all the rest is moot.

What is the goal of marketing?

  • At its core, building that value chain between customer and company.

How does it get done?

  • An ongoing, dynamically informed process. Smart iterative execution.

Whether you are an early stage startup with a new product or a more mature company looking to extend the line, the process of discovery will be dynamic for both. Not the same of course but dynamic execution nonetheless.

The process of discovering what you should do is tied to the idea you set out to quantify. Each will be unique. Each will be dynamic. Each will be iterative.

Traditionalist marketers will state that this is how it is always done. They are wrong.

Traditionalists will counter that this is a non-directed process. Not so.

Budgets, criteria for measuring success, timelines and resources all are essential. Just that finding the right process is the initial goal. Discovery is the focus and the customer is the group that will provide the information.

This change is empowering and the surge in entrepreneurship speaks to it.

Today you can come up with an idea, create an online space, gather those with like minds and establish a global community of people to vet your ideas with.

Today you can build a sizable community with only your friends and their friends and test ideas in a invitation only space before you ever go to market.

Today you can start with your existent business and test an extension of services or products without a public launch, with mitigated risk to your core business and gather data to make a decision with.

But this is hard to do, old paradigm or new. It has always has been a herculean task to build a new brand or a successful business or create a market out of an idea. Still is. Just that the process is different and the skills to succeed changed. And the barriers to success less about resources and more about ingenuity and early market creation.

I believe in market magic. In that ineffable ‘thing’ that happens when value and customer connect. When the chasm gets crossed. When ideas become a market reality.

Everything is different but somehow the magic is more accessible under the new order. Sure there is more noise to cut through. More competition for everything but with customer values as the clear target and social nets as marketing’s road to travel, directionally everything makes sense.