The information age. The technological revolution. The automation generation. The high-tech era. The digital age.
What a time to be alive, amiright?!
Digital marketers, like me, like to think we’re all clever, creative and progressive. But, you’ll be surprised to hear me admit that digital marketing isn’t a revolution at all. It’s an evolution from the advertising industry – the Mad Men era.
Marketing campaigns have always revolved around:
- The product – the combination of a price and set of outcomes or features
- The persona – the audience
- The channels – how you share your message with your persona
These 1) aren’t new and 2) aren’t different in the “digital age.” Digital marketing is simply the introduction of a new channel: the digital channel. These include email, social, PPC, web, apps, etc.
The goal of marketing is to: share the right message to the right audience at the right time. In the face of the digital age, we use an updated definition: “marketing is the entire user experience of interacting with a brand or company.” The purview of marketing’s concern has expanded drastically.
On one hand, digital marketing itself is nothing revolutionary. But yes, the entire marketing domain has expanded its reach.
What is Traditional Marketing?
Traditional marketing – think of it as advertising – took off in early 1900s with everything from incandescent lightbulbs to war propaganda. By the mid-1900s, television sets were commonplace in the U.S., and, between commercials and print advertising, the “Mad Men” age ensued.
Before the Internet, brands had full control of their image and their message. Almost everything customers knew about a particular product or service came directly from that product or service’s marketing department — brochures, billboards, commercials, radio advertisements, etc. From this perspective, brands had full control of their reputation. This era relied heavily on creative departments for clever (but occasionally sexist, example below) catchphrases and contemporary imagery.
But, in the digital age, opt-in/opt-in innovations like caller ID, Tivo, liking or following only the people/brands you want, brands no longer have full control over their message and reputation. The control shifted to the consumer.
This. Scares. Marketers.
What’s our job, then?
Controlling the Message
Consumers can turn off a company’s message altogether, or consumers can look to other sources for recommendations. Consumers can opt-out of email subscriptions with the click of a button. Google’s Gmail even pre-sorts promotional emails so the consumer doesn’t have to filter through the advertisements.
Instead of controlling the message consumers receive and perceive, brands and marketers now have to give the public a message worth sharing.
Brands must answer the question: How do we create a product or service that is actually worth talking about? Not only do brands now have to offer products that actually work and services that actually add value, brands also have to treat people well so that the brand is received in a positive way. Heaven forbid, right? But, I love this about the digital environment: gotta be real, y’all.
Today, more accountability is required of brands – which is a good thing. They must tell a story that is true.
With digital marketing, you can measure and track where your money is going within the marketing ecosystem.
For example, say you put up a billboard 20 years ago. You can guess how many cars will drive by that billboard and how many impressions it will get. But say after you put up the billboard, your sales increase. Can you attribute that jump in sales to the billboard? What if you put up a bunch of billboards? How do you know which billboard drove consumer behavior? This kind of advertising doesn’t provide closed-looped data. This is an attribution dilemma: what specific performance can we attribute to specific outcomes? What inputs drove which outputs?
On the other hand, with platforms like Google AdWords, you know exactly which advertisements drove what behavior. We know how many people saw an ad, exactly how many people clicked on it and how many customers signed up or purchased after clicking on the ad.
The introduction of digital marketing means data and ROI isn’t a guessing game anymore. We know what ad is driving what behavior for a business through closed-loop analytics. That’s what’s fun about digital marketing — you can adjust where to spend your marketing and advertising money to ensure a return on your investment. There were some ways to do with traditional, but it was largely, as Eric Schmidt says, the “last bastion of unaccountable spending in corporate America.”
Digital marketing also provides tools for effective split testing. You can launch two ads, split the traffic split and then understand whether the ads worked.
You can put up two billboards on two different highways. Your sales increase. Which ad drove customers to your store? How do you know which billboard caused that spike in sales? Because there isn’t an effective way to vet success in an “open-loop” environment.
With digital marketing, you can see what messaging, design or call-to-action incentivized your target customers toward your product. Marketers can test several types of messaging without having to climb up to the billboard and tear it down.
We’re Not so Clever
We left the age of advertising in the ‘90s – marketing is no longer just creative messaging and ad campaigns.
Marketing is a listening and refining exercise and less of an artistic exercise. This paradigm shift highlights the necessity for brands to be productive in creating interesting, valuable content that draws customers to them.
Marketers in the digital age speak into the company – and speak for the company – in ways that were never imagined even twenty years ago.