Point/Counterpoint: Are Traditional Marketing Methods Still Relevant?
Most everyone agrees that marketing and the media used to disseminate marketing messages are changing. The nature of the change and the implications are subject to debate, however, as evidenced by this special "point/counterpoint" post by two members of the Villing & Company team. Do you have an opinion? We'd love to hear from you.
Guess What, Marketers. You Can't Reach Me.
For someone who works in a marketing agency this may seem like a strange admission, but I have no love of marketing. Well, let me clarify: as a consumer, I tend to get very annoyed when marketers interrupt my life to tell me about products that are irrelevant and unexciting. Because of this, I use my computer DVR to skip commercials in all the TV shows I watch; I've installed an advertising blocker in Firefox that eliminates almost all online advertising; when I'm in my car, I listen to podcasts or music on my MP3 player instead of the radio; I don't read the newspaper; the few magazines I subscribe to are skimmed in favor of more timely online articles; plus, because I've signed up for electronic and/or automated bills from nearly every utility and credit card, I basically trash everything in my mailbox without reading it. The bottom line is this: it's nearly impossible to interrupt me with marketing messages.
If you're hoping that I've got a lot of good news for you in this article, think again. The reality is that the marketing tactics that you've relied on for the past 30 years are becoming more and more irrelevant as Gen X and Gen Y enter your target market. As the newspaper business dies, the broadcast radio industry becomes irrelevant and the TV industry is chopped into tinier and tinier pieces, what hope do you possibly have? Even emerging media, such as online advertising, podcasts and social networks are struggling to find effective business models and/or reach any significant portion of the population.
Is there any hope?
The answer is no. Not if you keep trying to update the same strategies to fit the new media. Not if you keep marketing to the online generation the same way you advertised to their parents.
Just throwing more money at the same strategy might work for a little while, but those days are numbered. What you need to do is re-think the strategy itself.
So how DO I hear about new products?
When it comes to invasive advertising, I can still be reached by point-of-purchase advertising when I'm actually in-store (either online or offline). In addition to point-of-purchase, outdoor/environmental advertising is sometimes able to sneak through, basically because there doesn't seem to be any way to avoid it short of gouging out my own eyes. But that's pretty much the only invasive advertising that gets through with any regularity.
However, while I may not be interrupted by much of a company's invasive advertising, I do see a lot of their public relations and customer service efforts, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. When I'm looking to buy products, I read the online reviews, for example. Sometimes (for software and games), I'm able to download a demo or free trial to test things myself. I also am very likely to visit the company's Web site to see what information they have and to look through other related products of theirs. This gives companies an opportunity to cross-sell or bring new products and services to my attention.
Experiences of existing customers are also quite accessible in most cases, so I'm able to gauge the general attitude toward a company's customer service. By participating in these online discussions, especially in public forums, a company is able to make an impression and affect my perception. Of course, this is even more effective when I'm interacting with them directly. Providing quick, professional feedback drastically improves my perception of the company's brand. It's even better when they have appropriate materials, such as clear, well-designed product brochures or easy-to-use configuration and pricing tools, that help me make a better purchasing decision.
I think that the companies that will succeed in the future are the ones that successfully use PR to engage third parties to reach new customers, provide those prospective customers with the sales tools and information they need to make a decision and then provide excellent ongoing support to cultivate and enhance the relationship.
It's OK to Be a Maverick, but You'd Better Watch Your Backside.
When I first read Nathan's opinion piece above, I couldn't help but think he was playing the maverick. And we all know what happens to mavericks when they get caught. They get a hot iron put to their hind quarters (interestingly known as branding), sent back to the corral and ultimately to the slaughter house.
Nathan does provide some interesting points, however. How do we as marketers reach the segments of our target audience who may be increasingly resistant to traditional message delivery strategies? We do live in a society in which many consumers would prefer to get their decision-influencing information on their own terms. DVRs are used for more than just recording TV programs. There's a reason why over 18 million people visit WebMD.com every month. And the decline of newspaper readership, especially among young adults, has been well documented.
Where I believe Nathan's conclusions break down is the assumption that all consumers think and act the same way he does. To be sure, one can make generalizations that GenX-ers and GenY-ers have different attitudes than an old Boomer like me. But they still represent a very diverse set of buying habits and preferences. If they didn't respond to traditional message delivery vehicles, do we really think the iPod and iPhone would be the cultural phenomena that they have become simply through word-of-mouth? When it comes to understanding youth culture, Apple is a very sophisticated marketing company. They recognize the value of creating buzz about products and viral marketing. But they also know they need to prime the pump so to speak through traditional marketing methodologies.
DVRs may be the ultimate commercial avoidance device, yet you may be interested to know that half of the people who use them do NOT skip through the commercials. Here's another interesting statistic. 74 percent of US adults read a newspaper each week either in print or online. And it should not be assumed that online advertising is any less invasive than print advertising.
Nathan says that when he is looking for new products, he reads online reviews or goes to the company's Web site. But how does he know that new product - or even a new product category - exists? At some point, he had to be exposed to this information. It could have come through an online article or word-of-mouth, but chances are also good that the chain of communication he is responding to originated with an ad or story in offline media. Again, someone had to prime the pump to get the stream of communications flowing in the first place.
The bottom line here is that effective marketing involves targeting one's messages and message delivery systems in ways that will reach potential customers with maximum impact. For some customers, that may mean PR, social media or other non-traditional or non-invasive tools. For others, that might involve a very traditional media mix. Marketing has never been a "one size fits all" discipline. The only thing that has changed is that there are a lot more sizes and styles to fit into the marketing mix.
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