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Since I’m very much of the belief that people who don’t learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them, I’ve been going old skool recently and taking a trip down memory lane.

I’ve been reading a lot about past marketing and advertising masters. People like Bill Bernbach, Philip Kotler, and David Ogilvy. I’ve been learning how they, and people like them, were able to build a following.

They made us care.

Their inherent understanding of human behavior enabled them to create personalities and aspirational attributes to otherwise mundane products like automobiles, soft drinks, or soap powder.

Looking back at some of those campaigns, many with twee jingles and naïve taglines, we can think to ourselves we’ve come a long way. But if we remove the technical limitations of the day, can we really say consumers buy stuff in a different way today?

Rose-Tinted Spectacles: Marketing In The Old Days

In the old days, the cost of entry to a market was, by and large, astronomical. In the pre-internet days, the only real way for your business to get any real form of sales traction was from marketing. And that meant employing the services of an agency.

As consumers, our content consumption habits at the time were pretty narrow. We went to work at 7.30am and came home at around 6.00pm. We watched 3 TV stations, listened to the radio, and read newspapers and magazines. That was pretty much it.

As a result, the paths for brands to communicate with their audience were clearly laid out for all to see. You’d run TV or radio advertising spots. You’d print billboard, newspaper, or magazine ads. The people you’d want to see your message would, by and large, see your message.

For established brands, all of this was pretty easy – it was simply a question of money. Companies like Coca-Cola, P&G, Budweiser, and 1001 others were able to dominate their markets. New brands looking for a piece of the pie had to spend serious wedge to buy mindshare.

Has The Buying Decision Process Really Changed That Much?

Yes, it’s true that today we have a gazillion TV stations, online advertising, social media, and all the other things that weren’t around in the Mad Men days. Such latter-day technical innovations have provided increased consumer choice and enabled a more informed buying decision.

But have the underlying drivers really changed that much?

Yesterday we asked people who we knew for opinions or recommendations for products or services. Today we still asking people to help us decide. It’s just that our reach is that much wider, and further.

Perhaps human behavior hasn’t changed from Don Draper’s day after all.

How The Internet Leveled The Marketing Playing Field

Marketing used to be more about understanding consumers from the point of behavioral analyses, socio-economic drivers, and psychologic reactions. This was the kind of thinking that brought us the era of creative and iconic campaigns from brands such as VW, Guinness, or Levi’s.

Then the internet came along, and changed the game forever.

The old game was about big brands spending big money to dominate a small selection of channels. The new game gave everyone the same potential – a level playing field. All of a sudden two techies in a spare bedroom could create and launch a product. All without a marketing maven or ad guru anywhere in sight.

A good idea, coupled with the technical know-how to bring the message to the masses, was enough to win. Instead of big-ticket marketing budgets, savvy technical know-how was the new cost of entry. Coming up with amazing marketing strategies, stunning ad campaigns with poetic copy and orgasmic visuals played second fiddle. The new world order was one built on optimizing the tech. A world of spreadsheet fields, SEO, and growth hacking.

Marketing Technology Only Gets You So Far

Which brings us to the present day. Today, the technical aspects of marketing and, increasingly, advertising still dominate the trade press headlines of the day. But what happens when we all have the same tech potential? Surely we’ve now reached the point where, in a world where everyone has the same tools and data, such tools no longer present a competitive advantage?

Tactics such as SEO and CRO are great, and remain extremely important as part of an organization’s marketing plan. But apart from keeping up with standards and best practice guidelines from Google, Bing, and the rest; we’re pretty much treading water here.

As fast as search engines continue to update their algorithms to better reflect search intent (rather than content matches) to remain relevant, consumers are moving away from the ‘traditional’ information search paradigms (i.e. desktop search). That doesn’t just mean mobile. It also means to other non-traditional search portals such as YouTube and (of course) Facebook.

And these are the types of channels where, if we’re lucky, we may see marketing coming back to its roots.

Marketing In 2018 And Beyond

What I think (or maybe hope) we’ll see is the best of both worlds. A combination of many technical and marketing disciplines that come together as a whole.

First, we have the data scientist. But not the kind who’s a pocket-protector-wearing nerd, shooting queries to databases to make nice-looking pivot-tables. Instead, it’s someone whose defined the appropriate and valid metrics (probably with outside assistance) to create meaningful and relevant customer data points.

Then we have the marketer/communicator. Their job is to create engaging stories from their understanding of audience segments and market influences. They’re the ones finding and creating stunning visual, textural and/or audio content for publication across relevant channels – digital, traditional, social, whatever.

Of course, we also have the brand storyteller. This is the person who creates the words that start with an uppercase letter. They’re the people who give brands Meaning, Purpose, Identity, Movement. They’re the ones who can create things that make grown men cry. They’re the people behind stuff like this.

Get A Marketer On Board. PDQ.

So what’s the takeaway here? It’s pretty simple: unless your business is marketing, don’t think that you can start/grow your business without a marketer. One who knows what they’re doing.

If you’re a startup, make sure you get a decent marketer on board early. How early? Ideally, before a single line of code has been written. I’m not joking.

Post-Mad Men marketing isn’t anything that Don Draper, David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach or even Steve Jobs would recognize. It’s combining what naysayers have always seen as separate (even opposite) disciplines. Having technical and analytics working with creative, planning, and even production. Yin with yang, oil with water.

It’s Martech, Jim. But not as we know it.