Why Digital Marketers Shouldn’t Forget The Marketing Part

Why Digital Marketers Shouldn’t Forget The Marketing Part

In his latest post, B&T regular, industry muse and commentator, Robert Strohfeldt, argues in this rush to become digital marketers, some exponents of the art appear to have forgotten the marketing part of the equation…

Distinctiveness has become the topic with many leading marketing academics.

“Salience is the biggest part of the job. With the greatest respect to marketers, I don’t think most of them get it”, said Professor mark Ritson recently in Marketing Week.

And there is no argument with the vital role distinctiveness plays in successful marketing.

But like so many marketing basics, it is not new. The terminology has changed – we just love catch buzz words and phrases more than any other field I can think off.

Evidence based marketing is also a relatively new term, but any theory or argument cannot be supported by saying is happens “because”. Like so many supposedly new concepts, “evidence -based marketing is as old as the discipline itself. The volumes of data we have today were not available 30 years ago. But “data” was an integral component of marketing back then as it is today.

My first creative director, when discussing a creative brief, would always say “and make sure you brand the shit out of it.” It does not sound as “scientific” as “ensure distinctiveness”, though he was referring to the same. He would reinforce what he meant by saying “Without seeing brand name or logo, consumers should know who the advertising is for”

Brand assets is also used i.e. distinctiveness is achieved by the continued, repetitive use of brand assets. What are these terms referring to? Some common examples are:

  • Brand Name
  • Logo
  • Tagline
  • Mascot
  • Typography
  • Typeface
  • Slogans
  • Shape
  • Smell
  • Jingles
  • Advertising Style

Nike can be immediately recognised by the swoosh, the three-pointed star for Mercedes, the flying kangaroo for Qantas etc.

Any serious brand has a style guide, which will highlight the core brand assets.

Though the terminology may have changed, the importance of salience/distinctiveness/branding has always been Marketing 101. So why is it now becoming such a hot topic?

In his book seminal book How Brands Grow Professor Byron Sharp places distinctiveness above well differentiation in importance.

Year after year, study after study has shown that “awareness” is the main driver of purchase. Awareness is not achieved and maintained by chopping and changing core marketing assets.

One of the arts of effective advertising is saying the same thing, in a different way. And this is an art, not science. Advertising has, and always will be best described as “Where science meets art.”

The concept of USP disappeared long ago – consumers are aware that for most brands of a similar price, there is no real difference i.e. rarely does one brand out- perform the pack.

Difference is now being downplayed in importance. The only people giving most products/brands they purchase more than a cursory look are the marketers and agency people working on the brand. In so many instances, people purchase out of habit. Hence the importance of Salience.

It is fair to note that salience has not received the level of importance it plays in a brand’s purchase. But I am not so sure that salience over- rides difference by the ratio of 80:20 – a ratio often quoted by the marketing academics.

In many instances, particularly in high image categories, the difference is more esoteric than specific. Alcohol, fashion, and cosmetics are god examples where the image portrayed by the brand is one the purchaser associates with. Salience is still important, but it is the position/image that sells, not the brand assets. (Though they do play an important role in the product positioning and resulting image).

The irony is the purchasers of the different brands of such image- based products are the same. Researchers ask a series of behavioural questions and then segment buyers of different brands based on their responses. Rubbish. Another example is cars. Buyers of similar priced high-end SUVs don’t differ. People who buy Mercedes, BMW Audi and Porsche are the “same”. They chose a brand or model because they liked the look of it, received a better trade-in or a discounted price. They are more than likely to switch brands next purchase. BMW buyers are not “more environmentally concerned”, or Porsche buyers “more concerned about the image they portray.”. The people who do this research need to understand the difference between correlation and causation.

The debate of distinctiveness versus differentiation is not at issue here. Rather it is the loss of so many marketing basics in a digital world.

And therein lies the blame. Marketers today more readily state they are “digital marketer”, as opposed to “marketers”.

And the world of digital marketing has resulted in the evolution of a series of almost mutually exclusive silos. Digital is nothing more than another platform. Integration has never been more important. Any successful marketing plan involves a multi-discipline approach. But this is not possible if the people in the marketing department are one dimensional – they have no understanding of activities outside of their silo.

The term “digital marketing” has long outlived its usefulness. But still it dominates. Every business must become “digital based”. (This is just common sense. Not being online would isolate any organisation).

People describe themselves as digital marketers. Companies looking for marketers place more emphasis on digital excellence than marketing. Marketing is rarely deemed relevant unless it is preceded by “digital”.

One of my clients, a large retailer who is number 1 in their category, spent 4 months searching for a marketing manager. After six and a half years, the incumbent moved on to new challenges. She was not going to be easy to replace. A great operator, who moved effortlessly between traditional and digital – though they there was no division. Different platforms for different tasks.  Every candidate interviewed was a “digital expert” but knew fuck all about anything else. They all espoused traditional media was “dead”. Ultimately, they gave up looking and brought through a couple of the younger people in the marketing department. They will not be the last company to find there is a huge lack of people who are genuine marketers, not specialists stuck in a digital niche.

It still amazes me that companies spend a fortune putting videos on social media. Content is king they say. Yes, it is, but the content most watched is supplied by Free to Air TV, Foxtel, Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime, Kayo – the list goes on and will continue to grow as more and more streaming services become available. Yet many “digital marketers” believe that consumers will want to watch one of their social media videos.

Of course, there will be the odd diamond, but most of the “content” is rubbish. Subjectively, they will love it in the same way no one has an ugly baby. If they spent that money on TV, radio, print or outdoor, they would receive a far greater return on their on their.

Surely, we are past the days of “digital marketing” and online is treated as just another platform for consideration in integrated campaigns.

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Robert Strohfeldt

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