Updated: Jul 5, 2019
If I had a $1 for how many times I’ve heard the rhetorical question “Is traditional marketing dead?” or purporting that it is, my business office would be located at the top floor of a fancy San Francisco building instead of my small condo. I even heard this phrase as part of “common knowledge” last year on a phone interview for a job from someone squarely in the internet space. Makes sense given his world revolved around ecommerce. For fun, I made the case for other forms of promotion, not sure if knew instantaneously I wasn’t a good fit for the job, was sticking up for my generation of marketers, or being a devil’s advocate. Lo and behold, they hired someone else.
Fast forward to now: I’ve had over a year to think about traditional marketing and what it actually means (nor not). I realize that the answer to this question affects not only the way thousands of companies seek out and market to customers, but also me professionally and personally. What should I spend MY time focusing on? What’s important to know for the future? I watched and waited, I scoured Mashable, TechCrunch, marketing articles and editorials, Linkedin groups, talked to people. I want to know what trends that have come and gone and maybe more importantly. what is noticeably absent from the mix – perhaps even permanently.
My first thought was we need to get rid of the word “traditional”. It not only sounds stodgy and connotes ancient, it doesn’t capture the essence of what marketing has and will continue to be: an ever-changing transformation of strategies, tactics, and tools to reach customers and prospects. As mentioned on this blog before, a recent marketing class instructor said “There is no such thing as online and offline marketing anymore – it’s all marketing” and this was an aha moment for me, reinforcing the fact that innovations in technologies, shifts in communication and creative strategies, and business and consumer drivers dictate what direction the marketing mix will go, not simply salivating over anything internet related.
Think back to some of the trailblazing times in last century’s marketing: the first print advertisements in a newspaper; the first highway billboards seen for miles; the first advertisements for hair care, cigarettes and indigestion cures on black and white TV; and now social media communities churned into marketing machines. Some forms of communication go out, but many never leave. What works stays, what doesn’t goes away (fax advertisement anyone?).
Which brings us full circle to the same question: is traditional marketing dead? And does traditional marketing collectively include any communications that is print/offline and not on the internet? Is it one-way marketing pushing out promotion vs. two-way communication encouraged by social media communities and customer feedback? The answer depends on your definition of traditional, but the most popular one seems to be one that focuses on “old school” direct mail, advertising, trade shows – anything offline vs. the Big Dog: the internet, with a heavy emphasis on social media, particularly as of late. In fact, young B2B marketers have probably never even produced or received a hard copy direct mail at work, but ironically might be getting a postcard twice a year from their local carpet cleaner offering 20% off…which happens to be quite successful for their business.
The important question marketers really have to ask is not whether there is such a thing as traditional marketing and if it is dead, but what is the best way to reach their target? Context is everything – smart companies assess and deliver the right mix of gravitational pull for their own business and do not fall prey to the latest trends because they are in fashion or techie appeal. It might not be a Facebook Fan page that grabs your customer’s business if they are not internet-savvy; or consider hybrid marketing like the Yellow Pages which have print directories but also support a web business to reach their targets wherever they are. Compare a high level executive receiving a hand-crafted invitation to an exclusive CEO event in the mail versus an email. It may not be as convenient or include flashy html but it strikes the right emotional and business cord to open up a real and personalized invitation (with texture yet!). Or a multi-level, integrated campaign for a new consumer product which is advertised on the web, in print, on TV and retail. One communication channel may have more impact than the other but they all work together in concert, one is not more relevant than the other. Lastly, a high tech companies that offer customer events both webinars and in person events maximum impact with different audiences and objectives. All of these examples come back to: there is no such thing as online and offline marketing anymore. The truth is that traditional marketing does not exist, smart decisions to reach your target do.
While it would be foolhardy not to be on top of critical pieces of the internet pie – be it email marketing, ecommerce, social media, the alphabet soup of SEO, SEM, PPC, etc. – we must not be myopic and dismiss the successful tools used for years to reach our prospects and customers when they hit the bullseye.