“Toad sat straight down in the middle of the dusty road, his legs stretched out before him, and stared fixedly in the direction of the disappearing motor-car. He breathed short, his face wore a placid satisfied expression, and at intervals he faintly murmured ‘Poop-poop!’”
(‘The Wind in the Willows’, Kenneth Grahame)
A vital attribute for a marketer is to be open-minded, receptive to new ideas and ways of looking at things. The downside is a tendency to become – often temporarily – obsessed with the latest shiny new-new thing. Whilst this has always been a potential problem in marketing, due to the huge array of new tools and channels that have become available in recent years, it seems to have become an endemic issue. It is often reinforced by an unfortunate herd mentality, where there is an unquestioning tendency to use the same media as everyone else irrespective of much (or any) assessment of appropriateness or effectiveness.
A related issue is a growing tendency for marketers to outsource more of the strategic thinking to external agencies. This is partly a result of the sheer complexity of the communication channels available these days, and thus the difficulties in making choices. It is often also the result of an insufficient level of strategic marketing thinking within the marketing function, reinforced by a complete lack of understanding as to what marketing is really about in higher levels of client-side management.
The rush to embrace the latest exciting ‘answer to marketers’ needs’ has, in the past, included direct marketing, ‘the internet’, mobile, SEO, content marketing and many other innovations. The problem has been exemplified by social media. Its arrival heralded a very powerful means by which organizations could fulfil a range of important tasks far more effectively than was previously the case, in particular using its personalisation potential. It became clear that it could be an effective channel for two-way engagement with a range of stakeholder groups, including – critically – customers. This, in turn, can help to build relationships and influence opinions, and enable a company to deal swiftly with customer service issues. It can also be a vital listening device (and help forewarn of potential crisis management issues) and a useful source of intelligence.
There are many significant issues surrounding social media’s effectiveness, however. For instance, the content being created to fill these channels is growing exponentially, yet audiences will increasingly have less and less time available to consume each new piece. We are still learning about the longer-term impact of exposure to social media content compared to other forms of communication – if we are comparing apples and pears we need to recognise that fact and find a satisfactory means of resolving the common measurement dilemma. We often seem to know too little about the different ways in which information is absorbed through different media, about what ‘engagement’ really means (and how to measure it satisfactorily), and how a snatched few seconds of an intrusive social media communication compares, for example, to an engaging 30-second TV ad, a full-page print ad or a cross-track tube ad contemplated whilst waiting for a train. Do we know why we are being followed? Do we put in the hard work to constantly update our social media content?
It should not need stating that a critical skill – perhaps THE critical skill – for a marketer is to be able to understand and empathise with groups of customers, and other stakeholder groups, very different from themselves. It’s what should immediately mark out the marketer’s perspective in an organization from those of her/his colleagues, who will often struggle to grasp the different world of these customers from their own ego-driven world view. Yet, pertinently, in an article in ‘Marketing Week’ a couple of years ago, senior industry executives felt it necessary to make statements of what should be obvious, but increasingly appears not to be:
“Because they tend to be younger than the average person and have a greater awareness of the different forms of media, advertisers are not representative of the wider population and therefore should not base marketing decisions solely on their experiences.”
“Advertisers should fully understand the audience in order to ensure they reduce the amount of money being wasted on channels their audiences are not actually watching.”
I suspect that in years to come we will wonder how, like Toad, marketers became so mesmerised by the siren call of social media that it came to take up such a large share of marketing budgets, even where its appropriateness was very dubious. The same has applied to other new tools and channels down the years, and will continue to do so. For some brands, and their managers, each new innovation can be a wonderful and highly relevant tool, for others a useful ingredient in the mix, and for still others a blind alley. What is so often lacking is the strategic insight to be able to distinguish one from another, which requires a sound market-focused strategic marketing plan and a marketer versed in being able to create one, implement and review it appropriately.
Marketing plans should be led by the strategy, not by the tools currently fashionable.
Further discussion of this topic is welcomed.
Check out the ‘How to’ resource library for a comprehensive range of documents relating to the preparation of marketing plans, as well as the practical and conceptual issues surrounding their preparation and role within the organization. The resources include some downloadable templates and guides.
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