The marketing times are a-changin'

Come gather 'round marketers wherever you roam. And admit that the waters around you have grown. And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone. If your job to you is worth savin.' Then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone. For the marketing times they are a-changin'. (My most sincere apologies to Mr. Zimmerman).

So how does it feel? To be on your own? With no direction home? Like a complete unknown? Like a rolling stone? How does it feel to have consumers in charge of what, how, and when they watch, read, listen and click? You feel it, don't you?

The Elephant(s) in the Room

As the story goes, John Wanamaker, the father of the department store, is said to have grumbled that he knew that half of his spending on advertising was wasted, but didn't know which half. Today, for most marketers, that squandered portion is likely much higher than fifty percent. The media landscape has splintered into a plethora of platforms, sophisticated consumers are spending less time with traditional media, and the few marketing messages consumers do receive are suspect, at best.

The funny thing is most marketers, and their agencies, know this. So why do they continue to pour large sums of money down the traditional media drain, and in that traditional top-of-mind-awareness way? Here’s why: most marketers and their agencies, like most human beings, spend most of their time and money . . . staying comfortable, avoiding risk, preserving the status quo. “I’m not going to try that. How do I know it will work? How do I defend it? What’s the CPM? What’s the ROI?”

Instead of trusting their innate knowledge of an audience (their beliefs,  habits, connections, and sensibilities) and defending a unique marketing approach with a coherent, persuasive appeal, it’s much easier, efficient, and, at the end of the day, profitable (in the short term) to simply tow the line and toss out the numbers. That’s the truth; the elephant in the room. And it’s also true that those risk-averse advertisers and agencies rarely know for sure who sees or hears their ads, let alone whether the ads influence anyone (the other elephant). So why not try something new?

The Masses Have Left the Tree

The marketplace of old resembled a mass of caterpillars hanging around the tree of traditional media, venturing down the branches of mass distribution, and consuming the offshoots of brand advertisers. No more. The masses have escaped their pupae, spread their distinctive wings, and are fluttering around fields blossoming with an abundance of colorful and succulent offerings. A fleeting glimpse is all one usually gets of them. So what’s a marketer to do in this chaotic environment of abundant products and services, fast-flying consumers, and a rapidly changing landscape?

Will Rogers once remarked, “Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.” Orderly inaction describes today’s ineffectual, status quo marketing. Chaotic action is the new marketing imperative; to wit:

  1. Be wherever and whenever your audience is most receptive to your message (verifiable metrics be damned). Like butterflies, consumers are best observed when they are “feeding.” With some experience, you’ll quickly learn to find "hot-spots" of butterfly activity;
  2. Get their attention by being captivating, desirable, and real. Bright, plastic flowers may attract butterflies from a distance. But once they get close enough, if it’s devoid of aroma and taste they’ll quickly flit away to something worth their time;
  3. Deliver value in exchange for their time, since the key to long-term marketing success (read: ROI) is to get them to come back for more, and to bring all of their friends; and
  4. Keep notes on what you observe regarding the habitat, the offering, the way the butterfly moves and communicates, and other matters of interest. And you can leave your nets at home. You’re not trying to capture anything.

The marketing times, they certainly are a-changin’. Are you changin' with them?