The Harvard Business Review is one of the most respected and watched academic journals in the world. So when it publishes a piece with the simple title “Marketing is dead”, then the world of PR, marketing and advertising is going to sit up and take note.
The story, written by author and consultant Bill Lee, begins by asserting the various ways in which traditional marketing has fallen apart before going on to explain what actually is working in the 21st Century.
Lee attacks traditional marketing on three fronts: He believes that ‘buyers are no longer paying attention’ — that they have reached saturation point with nearly all marketing messages they receive and no longer really believe in the process.
Secondly, Lee cites a report that spoke to dozens of CEOs who reported that they are no longer willing to blanketly support vague ‘marketing’ budgets.
The report, by the London-based Fournaise Marketing Group states that “72% are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric.” Finally, Lee says that the fundamental logic behind marketing departments no longer makes sense.
Why would a company hire ‘professionals’ who are not really involved with the product and who don’t know the buyers to come in and generically sell a product that they are not passionate about? He just doesn’t believe that’s ever going to work.
This final point plays into what Lee sees as the solution and the next phase for marketing. Turning your customers and your network into ambassadors of your brand. Everyone says that word-of-mouth is the strongest marketing tool there is — but how can it be leveraged to the benefit of a company?
The answer is to tap into the things that people love most about social networking — creating a community of like-minded individuals who you trust and who are not restricted by physical distance. Lee says that ‘Companies should position their social media efforts to replicate as much as possible this community-oriented buying experience. In turn, social media firms, such as Facebook, should become expert at enabling this.’
What’s become increasingly important is for companies to find valuable connectors, customers who are really passionate about their brand and give them something important to talk about. Once these advocates are empowered with great info, whether it’s a special or just some insider information, then they will be more motivated than ever to use their networks to spread the word.
These customers can open doors to new customers that traditional marketing never could. In these instances, it’s not only about money: Lee writes that “Traditional marketing often tries to encourage customer advocacy with cash rewards, discounts or other untoward inducements. The new marketing helps its advocates and influencers create social capital: it helps them build their affiliation networks, increase their reputation and gives them access to new knowledge — all of which your customer influencers crave.”
Another important evolution that Lee believes in is to get your customers involved early on with a product. He believes that a collective opinion can help a product evolve into something that is really valuable to customers.
He cites an example where the government of Florida state co-opted teenagers into working out an effective campaign on cutting tobacco consumption amongst teens and concludes that “traditional marketing may be dead, but the new possibilities of peer influence-based, community-oriented marketing, hold much greater promise for creating sustained growth through authentic customer relationships.”
The article contains many truths and firmly places the consumer at the heart of everything that corporations should be doing. All of which makes perfect sense, until one considers the example of Steve Jobs and Apple, who never do any product testing or focus groups, but simply create the products that they think will be the best for the market. There is a fine line that needs to be walked for companies to create strong brand advocates for the work that they do, while still having the courage to create products and sell them in a fresh and original way that will make them stand out from the crowd.