Marketing is Dead, Long Live Marketing

Recently the Harvard Business Review posted a blog article by Bill Lee titled “Marketing is Dead”.  The article created tremendous buzz on LinkedIn, but it turns out the headline was a bit misleading.  Upon reading the content we learned that marketing is not dead, but that many traditional approaches to marketing such as advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications are dead because customers are getting their information through word-of-mouth and customer reviews on the internet and social media.  But the headline had the desired effect: Lots of people read the blog post.

The article points to CEOs’ dissatisfaction with their CMOs as proof that marketing is dead.  Lee advocates that a company use community marketing, find customer influencers, help influencers build social capital, and get customer advocates involved in the company’s solutions.  This is what has replaced traditional marketing, according to Lee.

First, I would argue that traditional marketing is not dead.  Many people still get their information about products and services through traditional marketing.  These may not be the vehicles of choice for 20 and 30 somethings, but they are still valuable in reaching large segments of the population that do not use or trust social media.  I recently bought a new refrigerator and found all the customer reviews and ratings more confusing than enlightening.

And frankly using word of mouth and influencers to help market products is not new.  The fact that this can be achieved electronically, rather than personally, is fairly new.  So the technique is the same, the medium is different.

Lee’s blog post should have been titled “Marketing is Dead, Long Live Marketing”.  Like the proclamation when a king dies and is replaced by the heir, the death of traditional marketing (if you believe it has died) does not mean marketing has died.  It means that marketing is shifting to different ways to inform and influence people.

Effective marketers understand and adapt to change.  For years we read that television advertising was dying or dead.  This usually referred to the Big Three or Four networks.  But what really happened was a shift from mass TV to specialized cable programming that targeted specific interests.  Likewise, direct mail is being replaced by email, which will probably be replaced by something else in coming years.   When web sites were becoming more popular for business-to-business marketing back in the 1990s some people thought all they needed was a great web site and they could get rid of their sales force.  Now a web site is a commodity, the price of entry.

Lee’s article reminds us that there will always be someone who pitches a new or repackaged approach to marketing, usually as a replacement for an existing tool.  Before you jump in, think about how the alternative would impact your customers and prospects.  And even if it seems like something that would benefit your customers, test it before abandoning marketing tools that are currently working.  It may be the new approach is another arrow to add to your marketing quiver, not the only arrow in your quiver.

The part of marketing that will not die is learning customers’ need and wants, and then communicating how your product or service meets those needs and wants.  The media to deliver that communication will be influenced by what your customers and prospects trust.  This will constantly evolve as new media appear and others drop out of favor.   So the next time you hear “marketing is dead”, the best response is  “long live marketing”.


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