Yesterday, like every Sunday in the fall, I watched football. Lots and lots of football. And that means that I saw a ton of beer commercials, and a ton of car commercials. And the reason is so obvious that we never think about it. People who watch football drink beer and buy cars. They’re “guy products.” So beer companies and car companies advertise there because they know it’s the perfect environment for their products. Being in that environment throws off the right vibe for their products. By creating affinity between football and their cars and their beer, they are borrowing that affinity, connecting with their customers, and creating engagement. They are living in the environment, and thriving there.

But.

The marketing environment is changing. Advertising and traditional media relations are becoming less effective by the day. Inbound marketing efforts driven by high quality content and distributed by social media are rising.

And the reason is simple. Because of changes in technology and the way we consume information, organizations can now create their own environment. Your marketing department can create its own world in which your organization can thrive.

What it means is that there is a monumental disruption now under way in the place in which marketing occurs. Marketing used to happen out there, within boundaries defined by media companies and other outside entities. Those boundaries were largely defined by the audience a given media property had.

Now, the audience has scaled those walls and escaped, free to roam wherever it chooses. Media companies are still very powerful, but not as much as they were a few years ago.

And, today, anyone can start a media company and compete if they choose to. And I’m not just talking about Arianna Huffington.

Big brands like Coca-Cola, Subaru and SAP have embraced content marketing and created environments that deliver value to the audience. These new environments are not just pimping out their products; they’re committed to informing the audience about things they know the audience cares about; they’re sparking a conversation about topics that are important to that audience. And they’re doing it within boundaries that they define.

In a recent blog post at Forbes, Patrick Spenner wrote about these new content-rich environments which, in his words:

  • Sparks the customer to explore her existing mental model about how something works in her business.
  • Introduces a disruptive idea that upsets the customer’s existing mental model.
  • Confronts the customer with the disruptive idea in the customer’s terms.

And as Spenner writes, you need to create this environment because of new consumer behaviors. As we’ve written about several times, we live in an era of preference marketing. Splenner writes that

“the average customer contacts a supplier once they’re 57 percent through their purchase decision process, meaning that most of your customers have long since landed on their key buying criteria by the time they’re talking to your sales reps. Influencing them away from those criteria is like trying to re-shape already dried cement. It ain’t gonna happen.”

So Splenner advocates creating a “disruptive content path.” Rather than allow your prospects to educate themselves about your product or services out there on the wild and wooly Internet, create a new environment built around what those prospects are looking for – information. Create a new world for them to explore. Deliver value. Give them information they’re looking for. Then, when it comes time for them to buy, you’ll be on the shortlist.

The disruption is already under way. Customers and prospects now have control. Marketers are waking up to the new reality, but many are still living in the old world – one in which they throw money at advertising and never measure ROI. But they will be left behind. They’re on the wrong side of the wave.