digitalmktngsdeath

Digital Marketing’s Death Spiral

Johnny Molson

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How’s that for an opening? 

Digital Marketing’s Death Spiral.” I’m kinda proud of it.


If you find yourself reading marketing articles, you’ll find an unending parade of equally despondent headlines. According to Google:

  • “Television is Dead” (162,000 articles)
  • “Radio is Dead” (255,000 articles)
  • “Print is Dead” (414,000 articles)


In fact, all of “Marketing is Dead” according to 316,000 articles including this assessment from Harvard.  That’s right. A half-trillion dollars are being sent right into a 6-foot deep hole.


But digital is rapidly dying and may only survive a few more years.  


Digital is in a death spiral not for lack of use, but for lack of borders.  Digital once benefited by being its own thingy. It was called “new media” (until someone remembered Sandra Bullock was making movies about the internet 25 YEARS AGO). But it’s no longer new, nor is it novel.


Everything is digital. So, what isn’t digital?  


You buy an ad in the New York Times and 50% of the people see it online, what did you buy? Did that come out of your “digital marketing” budget? Did the New York Times categorize your ad as “digital ad sales?” And if so…how?


You buy an ad on your local radio station. It gets heard online via the stream. Did you “digital market” just now? No? 


Are you sure?


Radio, newspaper, television, and billboards get lumped under the term “traditional.” A pejorative term invented by digital people to be intentionally diminutive. It sounds harmless, but deliberately invokes images of a Grant Wood painting in depression-era Iowa. 


“Traditional” is less than. “Traditional” is olde-tymey. Digital advertising is now and new and sexy and hip. “Oh, you listen to records? Not me…I listen to digital. With my VR goggles on. That I bought online. Using Cryptocurrency.”


Digital ads turn 26 years old this October. The very first one, a banner ad for AT&T, had a 44% click-through rate. Nearly half the people who saw it clicked on it. The most recent data I can find (2016) suggests that the same banner ad would get an average of 0.14% to 0.35% click-through.


None of this suggests (or proves) the death of digital. But here’s what is dead:  Digital Marketing.


By definition, “digital marketing” doesn’t exist. It can’t. As I’ve written about herehere, and here, marketing is the full composite of everything you do that touches your customers. Training your staff to be affable and meet their KPIs is not something a “digital marketer” is equipped to help you with, short of setting up a Slack Channel or Basecamp Team.


Digital Advertising very much exists. It’s a tool in the toolbox for marketers when they get to the “promotion” part of the tactics. It’s on par with billboards, television, and flying a banner behind an airplane.


It’s also old enough and has had time enough, that we can accurately call it another traditional way to advertise. 


The traditional/digital divide is gone.  It’s just advertising. Nothing more.  Nothing less. No magic. No promises. It’s merely an option.


And that’s really the point here. The tools you use to advertise are just that: tools. If it calls for a hammer, use a hammer. If it calls for a socket-wrench, don’t use a hammer.


Marketing your business has never been just one thing…and it won’t ever be.  

Johnny Molson

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