“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 here, here, 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.
DigitalAdvertising 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.
The marketing department often has a big ol’ bullseye on its back. If you’re a CMO at a large corporation, don’t get too comfy: Most of you will be gone in under 4 years. If you are a Marketing Director at a small or medium company…you probably aren’t “directing” any marketing.
“Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”
Was this a snarky dig at marketing? Or was Dave trying to get something else
The odds that you’ll overestimate the importance of marketing
The odds that it will be relegated to “that lady over there in the corner who buys ads” are practically 1:1.
Dave, speaking from beyond, wants you to know that marketing isn’t “ads.” But ads are part of it. Marketing isn’t “being creative.” But those are good chops to have. Most importantly:
Marketing isn’t a department, c-suite title, or one
person. If it has something to do with
touching the customer, it has something to do with marketing.
Your pricing strategy? That’s marketing.
The texture of your business cards? That’s marketing.
Your refund policy? That’s marketing.
How fast your website loads? That’s marketing.
Being a part of a charity event? That’s marketing.
Where your business is located? That’s marketing.
Where to buy chairs for the waiting area? That’s marketing.
Qualitative and quantitative research? That’s marketing.
Business hours? That’s marketing.
Staff training? That’s totally marketing.
This is not to suggest that your CMO or Marketing Director should make all these decisions alone. This is to expound on Dave’s point: Marketing is too important.
Your Marketing Director should be a clearing station for these decisions. Is this going to fit with our greater marketing mission? Yes…do it. No…don’t do it. Far too often I hear marketing directors say they would like to do something “but the sales department won’t let me.”
Shut up sales department.
If you want to direct marketing, apply to be the marketing director. Your world is selling stuff. Do that.
Marketing’s world is making sure what is being sold is consistent
with the overall message being put forward.
If you’re Tiffany’s, Ralph Lauren, or any business that wants to convey that the quality of the product is more important than the price, your Marketing Director needs to body-block the door to prevent any department from having an “80% off storewide blowout sale.”
If you’re a plumber who proclaims how important fast
response is, your Marketing Director needs to be empowered to judo-kick anyone
trying to install an automated phone tree.
If your Marketing Director comes to you and says “hey, that meathead at the front desk was watching TikTok videos when a customer walked in,” don’t reply with “that’s not your department.” Say “thank you,” and FIX IT.
Frankly, if anyone sees a rift between your values and the way your company is being portrayed by your employees, they need to be able to bring it to the attention of the owner.
If you’re at a Chick-Fil-A and say “thank you,” employees consistently
reply with “my
pleasure.” Is it some kind of
southern charm? Is it because the owners
are devout Christians? A smidgen of both…but the real reason—Marketing. It’s good marketing. It’s their way of saying “we are selling the
same, dull, and pathetically tasteless meat everyone else is…so we better make
the experience special.”
Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing
department…so get everyone involved.
In no particular order, here is an incomplete list of the
things Marketing should be paying attention to:
Invoice terms from your vendors
Available billing hours
Value : Benefit ratio
Email response time
Business card texture
White glove test
Positive word of mouth
Comfortable waiting area
What would you add to that list? Send me an email.
Spend 8 minutes listening to a less-than-mediocre manager, and you’ll likely hear an infernal sports analogy. “See, it’s like this: Ya got yer head coach, that’s me, then ya got a quarterback. He’s the one that makes sure the guy on third doesn’t steal home. Ya get in a huddle, see, and block the forward from making a free throw. And THAT’S how you build a team.”
The purpose of a football team is to win the game.
But you’re not playing a game, and there’s nobody to beat.
The whole thing falls apart when you remember that your job is to help a customer. Your customer needs a root canal, a new air conditioner, or a bag of groceries. Your customer wants legal advice, brakes that stop the car, or a puppy. Your customer doesn’t care about your competitors, industry trends, or internal policies. So, why do you?
company’s purpose isn’t to “beat the other team.” Even if you did, there’s
nothing to “win.” No trophy to kiss. No Gatorade bath. No ring.
You win when you view things from the customer’s perspective and make things easier for her. This is not a feel-good philosophy to fill an article. This is called Market Orientation.
A business can choose to focus on making their product better (product orientation), make their sales team more efficient (sales orientation), or choose to serve the customer’s needs (market orientation).
Your customer doesn’t care about your competitors, industry trends, or internal policies. So, why do you?
“Oh, our company is ALL ABOUT customer service.” I’m sure that you think you are, but your behaviors suggest otherwise. A survey conducted by the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland showed that 63% of executives said that understanding customers and acting on that understanding was critical (really? Only 63%?). But in practice, only 24% had a customer-led approach to running their companies. An overwhelming majority of companies like to say that “customer service is #1,” but customers don’t agree. In the 2018 Serial Switchers report, a chilling $75 billion is lost to poor customer service. That’s up $13 billion from the 2016 report.
More than 65% say they will drop you like a sack of hammers if you give them bad service. And they won’t think twice about it.
Your football team sucks.
Market Orientation, as taught from Harvard to Wharton to London School of Business, isn’t about “wow-ing” your customer. It’s about figuring out what the customer wants from you, and how to make it as easy as possible for that to happen. Amazon isn’t dangerous because it’s big or the prices are better. It’s winning because they spend a disproportionate amount of time figuring out how to make things easier for you.
You don’t like using a steak knife to open your packages? OK. Amazon researched and found tape that holds a box together for shipping, but pops open with a simple tear at your house.
You don’t want to click all those pesky links to make your purchase? OK. Amazon made a one-click link.
Wait…let’s make it even easier: How about I just say what I want in the air and it comes to me? “OK,” says Amazon. We’ll do that, too.
Company decisions must be made with the customer in mind, but too often are made with the company in mind. When companies over-weight research, sales, and product, they move further and further from the customer. It may sound somewhat backward, but the numbers are hard to ignore. “…research has shown what intuition suggests—that businesses that are more market-oriented enjoy higher profitability as well as superior sales growth, customer retention, and new product success,” according to Professor John C. Narver, University of Washington and Professor Stanley Slater, University of Colorado.
It’s easy (almost habitual) to say “we need a better product…our salespeople need more training…the marketing department needs more budget…we need more research…” But the hard work is figuring out what the customer needs from you. Then doing that.
You never see that at a football game. Because business isn’t a football game. Your customer doesn’t care if you beat the other guy. Your customer doesn’t care if your team has won the local “Best of Duluth” newspaper award. Your customer…that selfish little snot…only cares about – – – –
(This also isn’t a “war.” In war, people lose their limbs, mental well-being, and sometimes their lives. Things that never happen at an accounting firm. If you feel you need to go to war, here’s a link to find a recruiter in the U.S. Army. Otherwise, just stop).
In the fog of business, it’s easy to obsess about the product and sales. Naturally, that’s important, and it sure seems like those things are all about helping the customer…but in practice, that’s just not the case.
In their 2017 book “Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It,” Jeffrey and Brian Eisenberg delve deep into just how customer-obsessed a guy like Jeff Bezos really is. And yes, a lemonade stand can do it. Indeed, a little HVAC company in Charlotte, NC went from making under $5 million a year to clocking in at over $100 million.
I’m not here schlepping books for you to read (but those are good ones), but to remind you that constantly operating from the customer-inward, instead of the business-outward, is what’s missing. You don’t need more Xs, Os, and squiggly lines on a whiteboard.
It’s not easy. It takes a long time. Most don’t have the stomach for it. But when it’s done, it works so much better. Every time it’s tried. Every single employee, from the CEO to the receptionist, has to answer these questions:
Am I making life better for our customer?
Am I making this easier for our customer?
When was the last time I talked to my customer about what they need from us?
Do I even know what that is? Really?
If I don’t know, how can I find out?
Don’t bonus your employees for making more sales. Bonus your employees for doing what’s right.
Can you imagine giving a bonus to a salesperson who says “ya know…what we have isn’t right for you…but here’s the name of a company that can help.”
That salesperson never gets the bonus…but damnit, she should.
just scored a touchdown.
For a deeper dive on this topic, watch the TV thingy below