We recently stumbled across the #leaveitin2012 hashtag conversation and got a good chuckle out of some of the suggestions for things better left behind as we move into a new year.
The acronym “YOLO,” swag, the band One Direction, girls making their eyebrows look like they were sponsored by Nike, and the Kardashians, for example, each got a good-sized number of mentions on this micro-meme.
We didn’t see too many business, or more specifically, marketing-related suggestions–the spirit of this particular Twitter discussion, as of this writing anyway, is clearly more cultural (i.e., catchphrases, reality TV and pop stars that many of us could do without) and personal (i.e., bad boyfriends, things that make you unhappy, saying “new year, new me”). Nevertheless, we’ve most definitely got our running list of business and marketing ideas, concepts, and practices that we’d just assume not see in 2013, beginning with our top pick:
The statement, “marketing is dead.”
We’ve read and heard more than our fair share of articles, blog posts, speeches, interviews, and discussion that have encapsulated the sentiment of this irritating sentence in one way or another over the years.
Whether announcing the death of traditional marketing, some aspect of marketing strategy such as positioning, or just marketing in general, those uttering the statement typically are expressing the disappointment many have with the current performance of existing marketing programs and the excitement about a new tactic, technology, or channel of communication that’s caught the attention of buyers in the category or industry and, therefore, the businesses trying to engage with them.
Bill Lee’s much-ballyhooed piece on the Harvard Business Review blog back in August, “Marketing is Dead,” stands as a case in point from 2012. Though, in spite of the title, the object of his ire is primarily traditional marketing communications, Lee’s piece is pretty representative of the mindset we’d just assume pass into the annals of history: if it’s not working as well or having the same effect it once did, it’s definitely because it’s no longer relevant and, rather than think about why, marketers just better pull the plug.
“Traditional marketing—including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications—is dead,” Lee proclaimed in his post. “Many people in traditional marketing roles and organizations may not realize they’re operating within a dead paradigm. But they are. The evidence is clear.”
He continued, “Several studies have confirmed that in the ‘buyer’s decision journey,’ traditional marketing communications just aren’t relevant.” His conclusion: “Buyers are no longer paying much attention [to traditional advertising].”
Let’s take a closer look at some of his points.
True, there’s plenty of evidence that many marketing programs and new products/services do not perform as well as they could or should. Still, it seems a little bit premature, to say the least, to conclude that advertising, pr, branding, corporate communication, and, heck, the whole practice of marketing in general are totally irrelevant to the business of selling goods and services today.
It’s a fair statement that the explosion of digital, social, and mobile communications has improved the accessibility to a vast array of information about brands, products, and services and has forever changed where, when, and how companies reach and communicate with customers. While it’s entirely possible that in some cases for some brands, the digital revolution may have had some negative impact on the effectiveness of traditional advertising campaigns, companies should not automatically presume that traditional forms of communications have been rendered entirely ineffectual.
Keep in mind there could be many potential contributing factors to disappointing performance. Perhaps, for instance, the strategy, plan, and tactics used were not appropriate given the firm’s marketing objectives. It could have been a flaw in the strategy on which the tactical plan or a campaign was based, perhaps inefficient spending, or some combination of both.
As our chairman Kevin Clancy is fond of saying, “a body brought in from the cold is not necessarily dead.” It could be that how traditional advertising is used by a company in the future will change, but until a marketer determines for sure that his or her customers aren’t paying attention to it; gets a little closer to the bottom of why not; and figures out how and when it could be better deployed within the context of the consumer journey, it should not be declared dead on arrival.
In fact, there’s a growing body of evidence that indicates some aspects of “traditional marketing,” may be worth a second look. Recent work done by Marketing Management Analytics (MMA), for example, demonstrated that for every dollar a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company spent on traditional TV, print, and radio advertising, the return was negative and had declined over the past five years. Very importantly, however, MMA found the opposite to be true for non-CPG firms where the ROI of traditional advertising had markedly improved over the same time period—which, as an aside, happened to be when digital and social was exploding—and was highly positive.
EMarketer also reported that, according to a 2012 study conducted by Milward Brown and Dynamic Logic, “TV ads were the No. 2 reason smartphone and tablet owners turned to their mobile devices for actions such as brand searches, app downloads or visiting brand websites or social networking pages.” Granted, as depicted in the table below, it ranked second to recommendations, but it would nonetheless seem that TV advertising played a pertinent role in generating awareness and interest in a brand, not to mention inspiring subsequent action.
Making statements like “marketing is dead” isn’t going to make it any easier to get people to buy a brand. It’s not going to encourage companies to do a thoughtful, more comprehensive evaluation of marketing objectives and activities to figure out what’s working, what isn’t, why, and what to do to improve effectiveness and profitability. It’ll be a better year for marketers all around if we just leave it in 2012.