By Jennifer Finetti - Managing Director, NIA Creative
I recently came across a blog post on the Harvard Business Review (HBR) site - the post was called Marketing is Dead. And with a title like that, I had to read it.
The post proclaimed:
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.
The supporting evidence cited largely related to the impact of social media - noting the rising importance of word-of-mouth marketing and customer reviews, and also the need for marketing activities to demonstrate ROI.
Nuts & Bolts
Here's the thing. Marketing has ALWAYS involved word-of-mouth, and marketers have always been asked about how their initiatives will demonstrate ROI. This is nothing new. Yes, there has been a greater shift toward marketing activities that can be leveraged via social sites, but when you get right down to it, much of what is pushed online still has to be created via the same kinds of tactics that marketers have been using - because so much of social media marketing relates to content. And what kinds of content are being created and posted to social sites?
- Product marketing videos, customer testimonial videos, training videos, commercials, etc.
- Interactive product demos, mechanism of action animations, etc.Photos of products and/or photos of people using products
- Banner ads and ads on social sites
- White papers, reports, articles etc.
- Press releases and newsletters
- Electronic brochures & datasheets
- Creation of custom landing pages with lead generation forms
All of this has to be created and/or promoted by the in-house marketing team and/or professional marketing agencies - yes, there are instances of consumers posting their own photos, videos, product reviews etc, but consumer-produced materials have never - and will never - replace professional materials developed by companies or their agencies. And of course, some of what consumers produce can actually adversely impact a brand, meaning that development and execution of a strong marketing and social media strategy is even more important, as-is the need to produce professional marketing communications that can help to diffuse and respond to customer concerns.
And let's not forget about other core marketing needs that go beyond what is pushed online:
- Marketing strategy development & implementation
- Social media strategy development & execution
- SEO strategy development & execution
- Online brand reputation management
- Branding / identity design
- Print ads with customized URLs and/or QR codes to help track ROI
- Materials for tradeshows and events
- Web design & development
- Web application development
- Mobile apps & SMS marketing
- Email marketing
Marketers understand that some activities have better ROI than others - but some things, such as branding and identity design, are imperative even if ROI is not obvious. That said, most marketers can and do prioritize ROI-generating marketing initiatives when developing their marketing plan and budget, and ensure that they communicate the ROI of their proposed activities to the executives making the final decisions.
B2B vs. B2C
There are also major differences to consider when looking at B2B vs. B2C marketing. Social media has had a far more dramatic impact on consumer marketing vs. business to business marketing. With the exception of LinkedIn, most social media platforms are intended to provide an outlet for fun, entertainment and social interaction. So it makes sense that consumers might view and share fun photos, humorous videos and blog posts - and that some of what is shared could positively impact your brand and its products. But audiences are fickle and unpredictable, and sometimes attempts at viral campaigns fizzle rather than sizzle. And we all are aware of instances when "unpopular" company decisions led to social media and PR disasters, such as when Netflix decided to split its DVD rental services from its streaming services, effectively doubling customers' monthly fees, leading to a social media uproar that resulted in customers dropping Netflix en masse. And finally, getting lots of Facebook Likes or Twitter Followers doesn't mean a whole lot, unless that like or follow actually results in a meaningful change in behavior, such as personally recommending a product or service to others, or actually purchasing that product or service.
In the B2B space, users post and share content primarily via business blogs as well as LinkedIn, but the content tends to be primarily information-rich vs. entertaining. The good news is shared B2B content can more directly influence a buying decision, with the understanding that most buyers will spend a significant amount of time researching and evaluating their options. Therefore, companies in the B2B space need to develop and implement marketing materials that can be shared online as well as via other methods (tradeshows, customer events, email marketing etc) to compete with the noise and make sure their products achieve first-page search engine ranking. Development of video content is an especially critical aspect of B2B marketing, as video and motion graphics quickly engages viewers, and provides a great platform for simplifying complex technology, distilling it into an attractive, streamlined and more easily digestible package.
The HBR article also discussed the importance of involving your customers in advocating for your company or brand. This is something we have always encouraged our customers to do - because the best way to secure customers is to have other customers talk about how much they value your products and services. This can be accomplished via testimonial videos, live presentations / speaking engagements, gaining their involvement in an advisory / affinity group, asking a customer to write an article or blog post about their experience with your company, etc. But all of this has to be planned and executed, and still the marketing materials and campaigns involving those customers need to be developed and implemented.
The Bottom Line
Companies who curtail their marketing activities in hopes that crowd-sourcing and word-of-mouth buzz will get them the results they need will ultimately be unfortunately disappointed - but I do think that most companies instinctively know this. And this point is underscored by the fact that more and more companies - like GM - are questioning the effectiveness of their online advertising, and are instead moving their marketing dollars to tactics that more directly result in increased revenue. Social media activities require a long-term commitment, but unfortunately offer minimal ROI proof. Just because people like you, or even share a post about you doesn't mean that they are actually "talking" about you or your brand, nor does it mean that they are going to make a difference to YOUR bottom line by actually buying your product or service.
Marketers and public relations professionals will always be needed. They are the bedrock of a strong marketing strategy, and are relied upon to execute that strategy in the most creative, innovative and cost-effective method possible, ensuring that the right team is in place to enable the company to meet or exceed its revenue and marketshare goals.
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