Technology is not a marketing strategy
Marketing is about branding, selling and relating. There is no doubt that over the last 5 years (+) technology has driven massive change into our marketing ecosystem:
1. The consumer is in the drivers seat. They are always on, ready to buy, ready to criticize, ready to hold you accountable.
2. Choice has created opportunities; fragmentation; noise; "ad blindness".
3. We discover brands through different ways...the modern word of mouth is social. Social channels have democratized the pay to play model.
4. We have new channels (DTC), new players (Amazon), new marketplaces (Easy); new influencers (the youtube star)
...I could go on and on.
Adapt or die was the motto and we all raced to change.
Technology forced tough conversations about how quickly we could "pivot", "disrupt" or change. (with word like agile, flat, lean, cheaper, young etc)
But instead of taking a contrarian approach, we were seduced and we leaped, and as a result we let our "digital strategies" hinder our ability to make smart decisions. "Are we digital enough" "Are we shifting fast enough" were some of the questions; but perhaps we should have been asking how technology has reshaped our opportunities and spent more questioning the real problem we were trying to solve versus looking for a shiny thing to fix our lack of discipline.
Digital marketing became marketing....and this has led to a few fundamental problems that are threatening to destroy the entire advertising and marketing ecosystem. We focused on short terms sales, chose cheap over smart; and didn't ask enough questions. Here is a view from Bob Knorpp:
If digital is becoming the dominant media, why are online publishers struggling to make ends meet? The reason is simple: Digital undervalued itself from the beginning and is now caught in a trap of its own making.
Early digital media advocates had a dilemma. They had to convince the marketing establishment to take them seriously. After all, they were new and unproven. So, as an industry they did the one thing every desperate marketer does: They discounted.
From the very beginning we found ourselves in a race to the bottom. Digital positioned itself as the cheaper, faster solution that could target more efficiently at a fraction of the cost of traditional medias. It was a compelling pitch that worked — for a time.
But as the economics of running a company shook out, many agencies, media brands, and adtech firms simply couldn’t compete. Discount digital doesn’t work without scale and volume, so while behemoths like Google and Facebook can show profit by catering to everyone, many other ad platforms struggle to survive. Worst of all, marquee brands have been conditioned to treat digital as they used to treat coupon circulars, buying as a commodity, rather than as a considered brand-building choice on the now-dominant media. And, if we learned anything from marketing history, we know that it’s almost impossible to reposition a discount product as a premium one.
The second problem with segregating digital media as a discipline is that it has effectively left ad planning in a state of remedial thinking. While consumers flow seamlessly from media to media without hesitation, advertising strategy continues to create plans in neat and tidy buckets. Digital strategists work on digital plans. Ad strategists work on television plans. And when they cross into each other’s territories, they do so in a bolt-on fashion, attempting to attach a cool digital idea to a completely baked general campaign.
Integration means more than just smashing media together. It takes a whole new way of thinking about the consumer journey, acknowledging that a campaign needs to tell an evolving story of contextual relevance at every touch point. But everything about the structures of advertising and marketing strategy is mired in ten year old thinking, and just now beginning to wake up to the fact that things have changed.
Silos in businesses have a funny way of preserving the old, while keeping out disruptions. So, while traditionally focused ad agencies and brand teams love to be impressed by innovative new technologies and approaches they see during lunch and learns, they still get to keep digital disruption from remaking the system.
If from the beginning digital had been embraced as a part of the greater process of brand planning or relationship building, it would have transformed the ways that we communicated to and with the consumer. Instead, two decades into the digital revolution we’re still hanging on to old thinking, trying to understand the impact of new technologies as novices rather than the experts we should be by now.
Perhaps the most damning result of digital segregation is that we’ve devalued the customer almost totally into data points. Digital, left to its own devices and largely bereft of the wisdom gained from a century of traditional advertising and marketing planning, has taken hold of an unprecedented wealth of consumer insights only to drown the consumer in an incomprehensible deluge of ads.
It’s almost as if the lack of scarcity in digital ad inventory has created in us a terrible gluttony that demands us to fill the abyss with more crap. Meanwhile, thought about the customer experience has been almost completely sidelined. It’s no wonder that ad blocking is on the rise and brand loyalty is shrinking. We’ve traded in meaningful interactions for nuclear-bomb levels of reach and frequency.
Fortunately, though, the tide is changing finally. Some twenty years after many of the first digital shops emerged, some are transitioning to agency of record relationships that look at the entirety of the brand experience across devices and medias. Meanwhile traditional shops are beginning to offer more than an ancillary digital team, instead incorporating technologists and digital thinkers during the earliest stages of campaign development.
But in the end, it’s not digital expertise alone that will save the businesses of advertising and marketing. We need to get back to basics and understand that while the tools are changing, our objectives remain the same. We brand. We sell. We relate. We just need to learn how to do it more seamlessly across the increasing complexity of the average consumers media experience.