For chief marketers or heads of marketing or anyone that calls marketing their profession, I will bet my life that you have encountered countless stories in media and trade publications that include one of the following statements (or something similar to them):
1) Marketing, today, is incredibly more complex and more difficult than it was 10 and certainly 20 years ago.
2) Marketing is becoming irrelevant because of how fragmented consumers are today versus 10 or 20 years ago.
3) Marketing has fundamentally changed because of technology, portable devices and people’s limited attention spans.
The first sentence I read verbatim in Forbes.
The second sentence I read verbatim in Direct Marketing News.
The third sentence I read in Advertising Age.
All three are extremely well-respected publications; no wonder marketers are pulling their hair out. The sky is falling! We’re becoming less relevant! Holy cow, portable devices have blown up our profession and changed it forever!
I say nonsense. Marketing hasn’t changed; tactics, consumer usage and habits have. But not marketing.
Fundamentally, and I’ve said this before, marketing is communication. Marketing is communicating with an audience about a good, service, brand, or something that is deemed to hold value to that audience. Effective marketing communicates in this manner to a targeted audience, via a platform that is amenable to the audience, at a time that is conducive to the audience. As I pointed out when asked months ago, “effective marketing is a two-way communication that combines both art and science. Effective marketing builds relationships and inspires trust; it is not ‘push’ or ‘pull’. The key to effective marketing is getting the communication mix correct for your brand, product or service, understanding how it best interacts with customers or users in the most conducive and accepting environment.”
If you believe this definition, where in it do you see anything about technology, portable devices, fragmentation, or increased complexity? Nowhere. That is because marketing has been around a lot longer than any of us and is much more basic than most of us would like to believe.
Ten or twenty years ago, I would have given the same definition of marketing. I began marketing as a profession in 1997, and very clearly would have said the same thing then. People weren’t even using email widely then, so marketing via advanced technology wasn’t even really on the radar yet except in a few cases. The definition of effective marketing then had nothing to do with technology or anything in today’s world now. In fact, I went back and looked up older definitions given in textbooks and they somewhat mimicked the sentences I wrote above. So what’s changed now that has people all of a sudden saying that marketing has changed?
My point is that marketing has not fundamentally changed, the rest of the world and consumer habits have, and marketing has – and will continue to – adapt. But the goal of marketing is still the same in every case, though. Perhaps some of the techniques and tactics to deliver marketing have changed, but fundamentally the goals of marketing, and effective marketing, have not.
Marketing is far from becoming irrelevant, and in fact has become even more important today than ever before. Nothing about the goals or concepts of marketing fundamentally have changed; quite simply, the techniques and tactics of marketing – the delivery channels and communication platforms – have changed and made it so marketing is more crucial than ever. People in the business of selling stuff need to communicate in order to do so, like they did 100, 50, 20 and 2 years ago. If consumers are more fragmented, doesn’t that place a premium on truly effective communication campaigns? Yes. The point is that if you’re focused first on what marketing is in its essence, as opposed to focusing on all the places your customers may be first, you will have a greater likelihood of success. Message first. Delivery platforms second.
The last sentence above, though, is my favorite. That marketing has changed because of technology, the influx of devices and because of people’s limited attention spans. I have not seen any scientific data related to attention spans decreasing, so I’ll let that one fly. But technology and devices have not changed what marketing fundamentally is. Marketing is still the same. It is still communication. One could say that the various media and communication platforms HAVE changed, that is accurate. But on every single marketing platform, aren’t the fundamental goals of marketing still the same whether it happens via TV, an iPad, the internet, direct mail or anything else?
Yes, they are. Marketing is still marketing, folks. It didn’t magically change with the advent of mobile devices. Sure, marketers have had to adapt to technology and consumer habits. But too often I hear people talk about how marketing is so much tougher now. It isn’t the marketing that’s tougher, it is the multitude of platforms that have created a misconception that it is tougher. In reality, marketing isn’t tougher because of these factors, it is just different. Some subsets of the marketing function are different. Targeting. Segmenting. Creative considerations.
I know people in my professional life who argue with me on this, and talk about how confusing and crazy marketing is today. I just tell them to break it down into basics if they’re confused. The basics being: what is your product or services value proposition to the customer? Who is your target audience? What message do you want to communicate? What goals do you have in your marketing that would qualify as effective or a success?
Answer those questions first. They are the essence and fundamentals of marketing at the highest level, and they will never change.
After that is when some complexity comes in, when you think about which communication platforms you will need in order to satisfy the fundamental questions you’ve answered. But always go back to the fundamentals first. Because marketing itself has not changed, the goals are still very much the same