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Is traditional marketing dead?

“Traditional marketing — including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications — is dead. Many people in traditional marketing roles and organizations may not realize they’re operating within a dead paradigm. But they are. The evidence is clear.”

BILL LEE HBR Blog Network (9 August, 2012)

Is marketing, as we’ve known it, dead? Bill Lee, blogging for HBR last year, thought so. He provided several persuasive arguments.

First, buyers aren’t paying anything like as much attention to traditional marketing communications. If you visit any rich, mature economy, what’s the first thing you notice about where people’s attention is? That’s right, on their smartphones, pretty much all the time. So all those messages in newspapers, TV adverts, websites or billboards – who’s looking?

Second, in the era of social media, is your traditional marketing department or advisor, schooled in the good old ways of managing the “buyer’s decision journey,” truly going to mutate into a social influencer? Social media is a whole new ball-game of communication. When I look at the number of large organizations that still join social platforms merely to post blatant and repetitive selling messages, I do wonder if the old guard are keeping up.

You think this doesn’t apply to us in Kenya? Think again. With one of the world’s youngest populations and one of the fastest uptakes of mobile computing, good luck with your traditional marketing campaigns. All marketers need to shape up before they’re shipped out.

So it pays to pay attention to a well-regarded futurist, Gerd Leonhard, also featured by HBR more recently. Leonhard tells us that by 2020 he expects “interruptive marketing” to be all but gone. Customers will take charge of which marketing messages they will tolerate, and they will need them to personalized and adapted to suit them. Individually – not in a sweeping campaign.

Watch people consuming digital media, and see how irritated they become when unwanted messages arrive to interrupt whatever they’re doing, to get this point.

Leonhard goes on to suggest that companies will need to connect with customers primarily at an emotional level. That’s a drum I’ve been beating for a while, too – even before the social era arrived to make emotional bonding a necessity. Customers want to feel cherished, appreciated and safeguarded by their chosen brands. If your brand can’t do that – and only wants to spin the message and roll out the advertising, rather than deliver the promise – then you will only have yourself to blame.

In such a world, the idea of a separate “marketing” function becomes moot. You don’t necessarily need a bunch of people trying to manage the message, detached from the rest of the company; marketing becomes integrated into the design of the product and the experience surrounding its purchase and usage by the customer. Marketing is done by everyone, not just an elite manipulative force.

If you can delight your customers, you get to keep them. If you can’t, they convince one another using their all-too-powerful social networks to leave you. And leave you they will. If your product is sub-standard, or your service is shoddy, no amount of sexy advertising or sponsorships of golf tournaments helps in this hyper-connected world. The nature of influence and influencers will have changed irrevocably.

To make the change, marketers will need to understand some essentials: that companies will have to work through peer networks in order to sell, because customers will be buying more by asking others; and that marketing strategies will need to be “co-created” using the very customers that are being sold to, not designed in plush cocooned offices.

If you’re a marketer and you can make those leaps, there’s a prize: you get to stay around.

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