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Author, speaker, futurist and consultant Mark Schaefer joins “The History Factory Podcast” to discuss the past, present and future of marketing and share insights from his latest book, “Belonging to the Brand: Why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy.

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Listen to our episode on nostalgia, “The Pull of the Past with Dr. Krystine Batcho.”

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Jason Dressel: Today on “The History Factory Podcast” we are joined by author, speaker, futurist and consultant Mark Schaefer to talk about the future of marketing and how we got here. I’m your host, Jason Dressel. Welcome to “The History Factory Podcast,” the podcast at the intersection of business and history. Mark Schaefer is here to talk about the future of marketing and how we got here. His new book is “Belonging to the Brand: Why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy,” which I learned about at a conference this spring where Mark was a keynote speaker and certainly one of the highlights of the event.

One of the interesting aspects of this notion of community that Mark and I are going to talk about is the role that history and heritage can play in creating that notion of belonging and community and tribe that Mark and I talk about, as well as, more broadly, how marketing has changed, while at the same time the underlying principles have really been in place forever—so a fun conversation.

Mark Schaefer: Check him out if you’re not already familiar with him. Mark is a globally recognized author, speaker, futurist and business consultant. He is a prolific writer and speaker whose work sits at the intersection of marketing, technology and humanity. He has advanced degrees in marketing and organizational development. He holds seven patents, and he’s a faculty member of the graduate studies program at Rutgers University. Mark is the bestselling author of 10 popular books, including the very first book on influence marketing. His blog, {grow}, and podcast, “The Marketing Companion,” are ranked among the top-rated publications in the marketing field, and his clients range from successful startups to global brands such as Johnson & Johnson, Dell and the U.S. Air Force. Most recently, Mark is the author of “Belonging to the Brand: Why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy.” Let’s jump into our conversation. Mark Schaefer, welcome to “The History Factory Podcast.” Thank you so much for joining us.

Mark Schaefer: I’m delighted to be here.

JD: I heard you speak at the Page Spring Seminar, a corporate communications event, maybe a month or so ago. As I shared with you then, you were my highlight of the conference, and your new book, “Belonging to the Brand: Why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy,” definitely resonated with me. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll start with: What inspired you to write this book?

MS: It’s an idea, Jason, that’s been percolating, really, since 2018. The previous book I wrote was called “Marketing Rebellion” and was sort of a wake-up call. It’s frustrating to me that I think marketing is sick in many ways, that we’re stuck on algorithms and automation, and sometimes we really forget the human factor: the psychology, the sociology, the anthropology. That’s the heart of marketing. In the book, I talked about focusing on the things that—not the things that are changing so much in technology, but what are the things that are not changing? What are the fundamentals of consumer behavior? What about our consumers? They want to be acknowledged. They want to be seen. They want to belong.

I wrote a whole chapter in that book about this idea that community might be the future of the marketing boom. One year later, during the pandemic, people started saying, “Mark, all these ideas you talked about are coming true, that everyone’s turning to online communities as the only thing they have right now.” When I had finished that chapter in that book, I thought, “That is probably the most important chapter in the book.”

And I see, as I mentioned in my talk, that there are really three great megatrends happening right now that point to community as the future of marketing. One is that our typical marketing isn’t working like it used to. We’re in a streaming economy. People don’t see ads. If they see them, they don’t believe them. The second factor is this mental health crisis. People are lonely. They’re depressed. They’re isolated at record levels, especially young people—but really across every generation, they have this longing to belong. Is there an opportunity for companies to step in and enable that? And then the third thing is the great investments being made in technologies today—like the metaverse, Web3, some of the AI things that create new ways for people to belong. Young people are surging into these spaces. You put those three things together, and it says: We need to be looking at community as a brand strategy. That’s the difference in this book. Community has been around for a long time, but it’s really been overlooked as a brand strategy.

JD: I want to ask about why you think it’s the last great strategy—and maybe it’s not. Maybe that’s just the strategy to sell the book. But before we get to that, if community is the last great strategy, where does it fall in that historic context? You’ve been, obviously, an expert in this field for a very long time. I know you started when you were like 12 years old or something. What have been some of the great strategies of marketing of the past that you’ve covered?

MS: Whenever people ask that question, the first thing we usually think of is advertising campaigns, and I think that’s part of the reason why we need to be thinking about community. I mean, look, I grew in Pittsburgh, so my favorite ad of all time was the Coca-Cola commercial with me and Joe Greene, right? So there’s an ad. But what does that do? It creates an emotion. It creates this meaning. That’s what great branding does: It creates this connection and this meaning.

But advertising is not the option that it used to be. Social media isn’t the option that it used to be. What I talk about in the book is looking at this continuum where we used to create this emotion through ads. That’s not the strategy like it used to be. Today, we can create some connection through social media and hopefully bring people to our content where we can create an audience that has a higher level of emotional connection. But that’s where most companies stop. The ultimate emotional connection is in a community, where people actually commune and become friends with each other, and that’s the highest level of emotional connection. You literally belong to the brand, because if you leave the community, you leave your friends. You don’t want to do that. You stay with the brand.

JD: Not to put you on the spot, but one of the stories that you shared in that keynote was the example of soap.

MS: Yes. It’s a fun story, but it’s also a really meaningful story if you’re a marketer. When I was a kid, the only soap we used in our household was Ivory, and that’s what my mom saw on TV. That was really the only channel most brands could use to build trust with families and with households. And in the 1960s, this was remarkable, really. What a success story. I mean, Ivory Soap had 50% market share in the 1960s. I’m such a marketing geek, and I love legacy brands like this. And I was reading in The Wall Street Journal a few years ago: The Ivory market share was below 3%. It’s not just Ivory. It’s other brands, like Tide and Mr. Clean. Some of these brands that have been built on advertising were in severe decline, and I just couldn’t figure it out. You know, this is Procter & Gamble. We’re talking about the greatest advertisers in the world, the greatest marketers in the world.

That same day I was reading this article, I went to a friend’s house for dinner and went into the bathroom, and they had this soap from a local soap company. And I said, “OK.” I asked the lady to come into the bathroom with me and explain why she bought this soap, and I said: “Why not Ivory? They’ve been advertising to you for your whole life. Why do you love this brand?” And she said, “Well, I’m not sure that I love this brand, but I loved the hands that made it.” And she went on to tell me about the meaning that was established between her and the soap because of the family that made it—how they’re involved in the community, how they treat their employees so well, how they’re trying to create a sustainable business that’s good to the environment. She went on and on and on telling the story.

There’s a lot of lessons here, but one of the lessons is this idea that the emotional connection wasn’t to the soap. It wasn’t because it was lemon-scented. It wasn’t because it was Irish Spring with leprechauns or whatever. It wasn’t because of a jingle. It wasn’t even because of the price, because she spent 10 times more on this soap than a bar of Ivory. The emotional connection was to people. And I think that’s part of an important idea, especially with young people today. They want to know: Who are the people at these companies? What do they do? What do they stand for? Should I trust them? How do they treat their employees? And that’s an important megatrend.

JD: You mentioned this before when you were talking about the three drivers of why community is becoming such an important conscious strategy for companies and brands. You talked about technology, and it was interesting. To your point about thinking about the soap thing and then that day having something happen, I had a similar thing happen with you. I was having a conversation with a friend, and I was like, “No one’s talking about Web 3.0 anymore.” I went to the Page conference last year, and I came back, and I drove my IT people crazy, because I was immediately like, “We need to buy real estate in the metaverse.” And they were like, “All right, Jason, chill out, dude.”

And of course, after all the conferences I go to this year, I run back to the office and I’m panicking about AI, which I feel is very well founded, by the way. But I don’t think that a year from now we’re going to be like, “What did AI stand for again?” I don’t think that’s happening. But on that very same day I was having this conversation for the 15th time in the last month, I saw you wrote an article about this issue and how, just literally quantitatively, Web 3.0 is definitely not getting the kind of traction, and it has gone cold. You wrote about how you’re still very bullish on that. So I’m curious: Why do you think Web 3.0 has gone so cold, and why do you still think it holds so much promise, especially in this context of community?


MS: I wouldn’t describe myself as bullish, but I still think there’s a “there” there. Really what’s happened is that the tech investments are driven by the financial markets. So Web3 held a lot of promise for brand-new marketing ideas, brand-new marketing strategies and entirely new ways to connect in an intimate way with consumers, and there’s still a lot of that going on. There’s still a lot of brand involvement with NFTs, and when you get through all the hype there, there are some foundational ideas there that I think are going to change the world eventually. But what’s happened is it was Web3, and of course there’s all the hype with the metaverse, and Facebook changed their name, and then AI.

I was an early adopter of ChatGPT, and I wrote something on my blog. I wrote words I had never uttered before in my life, and it was this: “This changes everything.” I mean, I didn’t say that about the web. I didn’t say that about social media, because it took us a few years to figure those things out. But taking AI out of the computer science backroom and into our lives like Google is a mass adoption of AI and mass access to the API behind the scenes. It’s really going to change everything, and the financial markets responded to that. Whoosh: All the money or the attention moves off of Web3, moves off the metaverse and goes into AI.

That doesn’t mean Web3 and the metaverse are going away. I mean, there’s a lot of teenagers that spend half their lives on the metaverse. Fortnite is the metaverse. Roblox is the metaverse. So it’s here. People are selling things there. Their kids are attending concerts on Fortnite. The metaverse isn’t going to go away, and as those young people who live on the metaverse grow into the majority of consumers, it’ll become more important. I’m not necessarily bullish like saying, “Go buy land on the metaverse.” I’m saying, look, it’s not going away. It’s part of our lives. It’ll remain part of our lives. And I think, over time, especially—this is a whole other conversation, but places like China and India probably will have higher adoption rates of the metaverse than even in America. So it’s not going to go away. It’s going to be a force. But I agree with Wall Street: AI.

JD: I think what you’re saying, too, is AI is revolutionary, and Web 3.0 was really evolutionary. To that point—you mentioned Fortnite as an example—what are some of the brands right now that, from your perspective, really are on the cutting edge, not necessarily of Web 3.0, but maybe? What are some of the brands right now that you see that are really on the cutting edge or doing really unique things around cultivating community?

MS:There’s so many that I love. It’s hard to choose, but one that is just sort of knock-your-socks-off amazing is Yeti. I remember, six or seven years ago, I started seeing people wearing T-shirts and hats that said “Yeti.” I thought: “Isn’t that an ice cooler? How do you build community around an ice cooler?” I think the first five years of the company, they spent no money on advertising. It was 100% influencers and community. What really nailed it for me to realize how incredibly powerful and effective this marketing was—I was at an event, I think it was in Wichita or something, and there were a bunch of students there from a university. I was the keynote speaker. They wanted to take a picture with me, and they all gathered around me, and this young woman held up her phone, and on the back of her phone—taking up the whole back of the phone—was a Yeti sticker. That’s like a tattoo, almost. It’s like you’re showing the world: “I belong. Stand back. I’m a Yeti person.”

And she’s a sophomore in college. She can’t possibly afford a $400 ice cooler, right? And I said: “Why? Why this?” And she just went on, just like the lady talking about the soap. She went on to tell me the whole story of Yeti and the community and what they stand for and all these things they’re doing and all these friends she’s made in this community. And she said, “Look, I can’t afford Yeti, but for Christmas every year I buy my family some gift, even if it’s a little one, from Yeti, because I believe in this brand.” It’s all about the feeling, and that feeling for Yeti was almost entirely created by community—no advertising whatsoever. And it’s like, wow, talk about getting back to the basics and launching a megabrand: creating a feeling over a $400 ice cooler. It’s amazing.

JD: That is a terrific example. This podcast is dedicated to business and history and brands and brand heritage. As you think about community building, what comes to mind for you in terms of the role that history or heritage can play for a company or a brand and helping them build community?

MS: Well, I think it gets back to your earlier comment about: “Come on, Mark, is this really the last marketing strategy? Why would you say that?” For me, community was the first marketing strategy, if you want to go back in history before advertising and PR and mass marketing. My grandparents lived in Pittsburgh, and they shopped at the neighborhood stores, and they would go to the meat store, and they would go to the vegetable store, and they would go to the bakery, and they knew the people in those places. It had this profound, just really gut-wrenching feeling, this experience. My grandfather shopped at this store in Pittsburgh, and it’s been there since 1903. He called it the Italian store, and it was homemade pasta, and they brought imported cheese. My family didn’t have much money, so when my grandfather went to this store, you knew it was a special holiday or something.

I went back into this store that’s been in the same neighborhood since 1903, and they’ve got this vast case of every kind of cheese and smoked meat you can imagine. This lady walks up to the counter, and the lady behind the counter says, “Oh, Mrs. Sullivan, how are you today?” And they talked about their families, and her husband was sick, so the lady behind the counter gave her a little something special to take home to her husband. And then the lady sees some friends, and she goes over to this corner, and they talk with the friends.

I sat there and watched this, and I felt this deep sadness that I have never felt this with any brand. That store doesn’t need SEO. That store doesn’t need brand content. It doesn’t need Facebook ads. It’s a community. You belong there. Families have gone there for generations. It’s in their DNA. And I longed for that. I felt so sad. I’m just one generation away from that. Where is it? Can we do that again? I think we can. I think that longing is still inside of us. I think that’s the ultimate heritage, the ultimate history of marketing. That’s where it all began. It’s the feeling. It’s the connection. And it started with human to human, before we had Tony the Tiger. So I think that’s the link between the history and the heritage of marketing and this longing that we’ve always had to connect in this emotional way to the brands and the products that we love the most.

JD: That’s brilliantly articulated. What you’re also talking about there, in addition to community, is the concept of nostalgia, which is a whole different conversation. I’ve talked to some of the world experts and have had Krystine Batcho, who is a professor who has studied the field of nostalgia, and she talks about the different kinds of nostalgia. What you’re articulating ties into a nostalgia for the past, but what you articulated also was almost a nostalgia for a different kind of future. Knowing that you’re at risk of losing something and then being nostalgic, you know, the same way you may be with your—I’ve got two teenagers in the house. So I’m starting to get nostalgic knowing that they’re not going to be in the house forever. That’s a future nostalgia.

MS: I love what you’re saying here, Jason, and tying it all together, because one of the trends with Gen Z right now is the 1980s. They’re nostalgic for a period they weren’t even part of. I wrote a blog post about it. I called it “fauxstalgia.” It’s like this fake nostalgia, but it’s this longing for something simpler, something straightforward and emotional.

JD: If I’m recalling correctly—and listeners, we’ll put it in the notes here, a link to this previous episode that we did on nostalgia—there’s three different kinds of nostalgia. There’s what you just articulated, which is these young kids who are having nostalgia for the ’80s, which is the same as the baby boom generation having nostalgia for the 1950s that they weren’t actually really a part of and didn’t really exist that way, or the strange people that have a nostalgia for “Gone with the Wind,” you know, the Antebellum South. That’s a historic nostalgia of a past that didn’t exist. There’s that nostalgia, like your own life nostalgia, where you’re nostalgic for your own childhood, your own experiences. And then there’s that notion of future nostalgia, where you’re nostalgic for what you know you’re about to lose. Your analogy of the Italian market blended some of those together in an interesting way. Very cool. Well, it’s an awesome book, Mark, and thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on it. Lastly, just because you’re such a great wealth of knowledge on marketing campaigns, what are some of your favorite marketing campaigns of all time?

MS: I admire almost everything that Coca-Cola has done, because if you think about—a brand is a mission of relentless relevance. I love Coca-Cola’s history of marketing, because they have one goal: Be relevant now. They can’t change the product, so it’s “Be relevant now.” From a historical perspective, I love the way they’ve morphed and changed.

I had the opportunity recently to talk to the person who was Steve Jobs’ marketing guru, and she’s an independent consultant now, and she told me some interesting things. We think about the community around Apple and the historical relevance of that, and she told me that was not obvious to Jobs. It occurred to him later, when he started to see creatives adopting Apple in this maverick kind of way. They had PCs, but they would sneak the Apples into work to do their creative. So it wasn’t planned. It wasn’t part of the culture. I love the way that evolved.

A brand that I have loved a lot and the way they’ve managed their campaigns more recently is Glossier. Glossier is one of the fast growing skincare and cosmetic brands totally built on this idea of community. The founder of the company was a blogger that had an emotional connection to their readers, responded to the frustrations of their readers about how these cosmetic companies have these unrealistic body images: “Why can’t they just treat us like people and friends?” And she said, “All right, let’s do this,” created her own company and built this sort of grassroots company that’s growing very well and, again, I think for the first five years of the company did no advertising whatsoever—all built on word of mouth and community. So those are some of the ones that come to mind.

JD: Last question—and depending on how you answer this, we can decide whether we will keep this one in the podcast, but I enjoy reading your stuff immensely. What is the Mark 500? Why did it fail, and why can’t great marketing bring it back?

MS: The Mark 500 was a fanciful concept car that I made up totally in in one of my blog posts, and the reason that it failed is the reason why a lot of my ideas fail. It was too far ahead of its time. Just give it two years, Jason. It’s going to come back.

JD: All right. Well, when it comes back, I’m sure we’ll build a vibrant community around it. You can turn to History Factory, and we’ll start building that origin story and the heritage right from the ground up, so it’ll be engineered right in.

MS: Thanks so much.

JD:] All right, Mark. Great to see you as always. Really appreciate your time. Thank you. Thanks again to Mark Schaefer—nice guy, smart guy, good stuff. That’s it for this episode of “The History Factory Podcast.” I hope you enjoyed it. If you’re interested in learning more about Mark Schaefer or grabbing a copy of his book “Belonging to the Brand: Why Community is the Last Great Marketing Strategy,” you can find out more at his website,, or wherever you like to buy books. I’m Jason Dressel. Be well.

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