Saturday, February 05, 2005

Traditional Marketing is Deader 'n a Door Nail

This morning got started as I traveled through some of my favorite marketing blogs. I dropped by the site collecting votes for the 2005 Business Blogging Awards. Having just told my wife the other night that there are too many award shows on TV these days … cause they’re beginning to push reality shows off the air … and yet I had to cast my vote for Seth Godin’s blog.

I then went to the blog by Ben McConnel and Jackie Huba where I came across a post that challenged some of my basic tenants of marketing. Jackie was encouraging visitors to tell owners of movie theater chains to stop pre-movie ads. I commented back, but then got to thinking that my comment didn’t quite convey my thoughts.

That action sent me to the blog for small business marketing by Michael Pollock where he was writing about how democracy and freedom of choice was an underlying driver in the death of traditional marketing.

Traditional marketing is dead.

It's dead because for the past decade it has not produced results that merit the expenditure. It must change. We cannot force messages down people’s throats when they are not willing to receive them. This is nothing new, but as Michael points out, it is only getting tougher because customers are acting aggressively to protect themselves from us marketers.

Michael wrote: “We've cut traditional marketing off at the knees. We fire up our Tivos, and skip the commercials, unless we choose to watch them. We filter our email, and read only the messages we choose to read. We not only propose laws that force theater owners to tell us how to avoid their advertisements, we demand they stop showing them altogether. To companies who seek to enter our purses and wallets via the telephone, we say don't call us, we'll call you.

We expect business to respect us. Respect our privacy, respect our values and respect our humanity, rather than prey on our human vulnerabilities and our love of the bling. We expect you to stop marketing to us, and start connecting with us.
Purple cows wow us, and free prizes entice us, but we also want you to be real. Be human. We see you behind the curtain. You're no wizard. You're just one of us who wants the same things we do. Information flows more freely and more quickly today than ever before. And if you make the grade, we'll tell everyone we know. And even more who we don't know. If not, no need to pack a lunch. We won't keep you around long enough to eat it.”

Prospects have not changed.

They have never liked nor responded to intrusive marketing. While there are exceptions, most mass marketing has hovered in the 2% response rate for years and years, across all media – free standing inserts, direct mail, trade shows, TV and radio, banner ads. By any standard, a 2% return on investment is not a good deal. Our CEO’s would be better advised to invest the money in a long-term bond than to spend it on such programs.

We’ve just been unwilling to invest in new approaches that can be more successful and helpful to customers. We got real comfortable running a 24-page insertion campaign in the two leading trade magazines than in identifying our prospects by name and connecting with them on a more personal, helpful manner. The former is easy. The latter is hard work.

Our task as marketers is to communicate the value we offer. The best way is to be relevant to the customer. When we love the customer as we would have the customer love us (Biblical echo not accidental), then we will find ways to communicate that are appreciated by the people we want to buy our stuff.

While practicing customer love, we need to be sensitive to their needs, wants and expectations. We need to be less intrusive and to fit into their world. Our messages themselves should be seen as valuable to them, helpful to them, relevant to them.

Now back to the issue of running pre-movie ads

Some movie fans clearly seeing this as an intrusion on their evening at the movies. As consumers, the fact that we see such ads as intrusions indicates to me that the marketers behind the ads have failed. They placed an ad in front of an audience without establishing contextual relevance. If I am thinking about a restaurant after the show, then I am interested in messages about nearby restaurants before the show. Another way to help me as a consumer not to see these ads as intrusions is to make them as creative and entertaining as the movie I am about to watch. We love our Super Bowl ads … many tune in just to see the commercials and not the game. There are ways to preserve the movie theater as a viable medium for marketing.

More troubling to me is the issue of transparency. Pre-show advertising at movie theaters versus product placements neatly placed into the movie itself. At least the pre-show ads are transparent. We know they are ads. Not so with James Bond driving a BMW, or contestants on Survivor earning a snack of Budweiser and Fritos, or a promotion for a political point of view being slipped into the blogosphere as if it was written objectively by the author (who, instead, was paid to pitch the point of view). Which one is more honest and respectful to customers?

Marketers have important decisions to make. If we keep the interests of our customers as a priority, we will be more helpful and more successful.


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