“The next station stop will be our last and final!” the train conductor cries out, using the redundant terms to ensure that any remaining passengers understand the gravity of the situation. For similar effect, we use the same phrasing in today’s headline. We’ve had plenty of “last” posts before, but never a “final.”
Our parting thoughts end up much longer than a typical blog post, rather like an essay. This will be certain to give us a lock on the Guinness Record for “the blog with the all-time highest bounce rate.”
It’s a coincidence of timing that our topic is about the future. Yes, it is a new year, perfect for “Five Predictions for Marketing in 2014.” We’re here to tell you, however, that train of thought is bullsh*t on a stick. Because we’ve seen the future, and it looks like the past. 2014, 2015, 2016 and on; each looking pretty much the same.
With a nod to Thomas Friedman, we call our theme “The Future Is Flat.”
This runs 180-degrees counter to every other Marketing article and blog post, of course. By design, in order to drive clicks and reads and shares, they must be extremist. Such and such old-school marketing thingie IS DYING. Such and such media channel IS DEAD. Conducting some marketing activity via such and such old-school process IS OVER. This is THE YEAR of such and such (Happy 8th Birthday, by the way, to “The Year of Mobile”). Do such and such new thing OR DIE. OR PERISH.
Yet, here Marketing is, in early 2014, looking pretty much like it did in early 2004. Sure, there are a couple of new form factors for digital media devices. And some pretty sexy labels to tart up stuff that already existed (see, for example, Big Data). But, fundamentally, not much has changed. Marketing is still focused on influencing customer attitude and behavior. It really hasn’t become more complicated than that.
Not much has really “died” in the past ten years, and not much will in the next ten, with the exception of a ton of digital start-ups. Yet, what has continued to amaze us throughout it all is the way marketing professionals have sponged up all the extremist guidance, paid good money to learn it, and invested countless hours to implement it.
Yet the common truth wins out. Not the extremes.
Let’s start from the customer perspective. Take the overwrought admonition that “consumers are now in control of your brand.” They are armed with all-knowing, real-time data on their iThing and are gunning for you. They want the highest quality at the lowest price while demanding that you are 110% transparent and 150% socially responsible and 200% sustainable.
Meaning, as a marketer, you are now essentially helpless (except for what the author of such folderol is selling), and should simply drop your pants, bend over, and take what the consumer gives you.
Yet here are some common truths about your customers as reported by The New York Times in a recent article from its running series on “The Great Divide.”
- Nearly 40% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line
- Only 10% of those in poverty live in extremely poor urban neighborhoods
- Two-thirds of those below the poverty line are white
- The U.S. poverty rate is approximately twice that of Europe’s
- Half of all American children will at some point reside in a household that uses food stamps
Remember those data when some a$$hole touts new research that says 84% of U.S. shoppers “showroom” inside Best Buy with a smartphone. Or this laughable, recent nugget from Pew Research, which claimed that nearly ONE-THIRD of U.S. Internet users have UPLOADED A VIDEO to some public place on the Web.
Next, let’s turn to some of the DEAD or DYING old-school media channels.
Direct mail? Dead. Gone. To the proverbial waste basket in the sky.
But, wait. Here are some real data that the extremists conveniently ignore:
“Twenty percent of checking and savings direct mail in the first eight months of 2013 was from direct banks, compared to only 4% in 2012, reports Mintel Comperemedia…Five banks – Ally, Capital One’s 360, Discover, State Farm and USAA – were largely responsible for the growth…”
Get the irony? Direct banks are ONLINE-ONLY banks. But they are using DIRECT POSTAL MAIL to acquire new customers.
How about television? And the 30-second TV commercials long scorned by the digerati? Dead. Gone. To the proverbial cord-cutting bin in the sky.
But, wait. Those extremists would have to ignore record-setting viewership for [fill in the blank] original cable series. For movie and music awards shows. For sports.
To wit: the NHL had record viewership of the New Year’s Day Winter Classic game. This year's NFL Sunday Night games trounced last year’s viewer numbers. (Just to show that it couldn’t care less about the so-called legion of TV cord cutters, the NFL just announced it would allow FREE LIVE STREAMING to any device for the third consecutive Super Bowl.)
[How ironic, also, that the same numb nuts who decry 30-second TV spots are the same people who boast that this will be the year of ONLINE VIDEO ADVERTISING – i.e., the same 30-second TV spots now shown intrusively and unavoidably right before a 32-second Weather Channel video of a guy getting hit by lightning.]
One more thing, while we are on the topic of online video (and the death of linear TV). If the future’s so bright, then how come the online music streaming company Rdio (yep, that’s how they spell it) just SHUT DOWN its on-demand pay-as-you-view video streaming service Vdio (ditto) before it could even get out of beta? We’re still waiting for the day that the SEC requires Google to split out YouTube’s financials.
Next, how about the extremists who recommend single-channel strategies? Last year saw the birth of the “Mobile First” nut jobs – i.e., develop your marketing strategy with smartphone and tablet interaction at the core. How f&cking stupid must they feel when they are faced with some real data like this?
“In March 2013, Adobe released its analysis of Web traffic to more than 1000 sites and found that 84% of all traffic came from users on DESKTOP or LAPTOP computers, 8% from tablets, and 7% from smartphones.”
“StatCounter, which tracks visits to websites via ad network data, found that desktop usage still dominates, at 76% [of traffic sources].”
We are astounded that people actually pay hundreds of dollars to attend two-day conferences, hear this groundless “mobile first” nonsense, and don’t rise up as one and slay the person on stage.
Back to the topic of brands for a moment. How we still love these dopey annual surveys of the best brands, eh? Here’s a recent one that slipped under the radar from a communications agency with the awful brand name of APCO. The firm used its “proprietary Emotional Linking model” to determine that among “The Most Loved” brands was Yahoo at #2.
We will repeat that. According to APCO’s customer research, Yahoo is the second most-loved brand in the world. A brand that accomplished a rare feat in 2013 – every single thing it did to improve the user experience was met with user blowback.
The invasive Google came in at #3. Sony, which is about a dozen yen from collapse, came in at #4. Apple, a perennial winner in many other brand rankings, ranked only as high as ninth, just nosing out...Lowe’s. That’s right, an imposing warehouse for wanna-be DIYers is the 10th most-loved brand in the world.
Coca-Cola, which has spent over $600 trillion on a global “happiness” social media campaign, could only reach #14.
At least the poll got #1 right. If all any marketer did was track what the Disney brand does day in and day out, he or she would be 1000% better by the end of the first week.
We end this diatribe from the agency perspective. Since 2004, we’ve been inundated with extremist “agency of the future” predictions, none of which have come to be. Part 1 has been the notion that the old fee structure will change, that clients will “soon” adopt a pay for performance compensation model. Never has, never will.
Part 2 is more interesting, the extremist prediction that digital agencies will win the race and become the long-awaited “one-stop shops” that clients (apparently) have been seeking like the Holy Grail. Yet, time and again we see stories like this very recent client-agency win announcement:
“Security company ADT Corp. has selected Arnold Worldwide for creative ad brand strategy duties and SapientNitro for digital chores after concurrent reviews…[earlier] MediaCom had been selected to handle media planning and buying…”
And even when it appears digital wins it all, one needs to read between the lines:
“WPP agency VML, known primarily as a digital shop, has been awarded creative agency of record duties for NAPA Auto Parts…The scope of work includes both analog and digital chores…VML will be responsible for all national creative duties for the client, including TV, radio, print, sponsorship activation and digital.”
Just how do you suppose a shop stacked to the ceiling with digital talent will accomplish the TV, radio, print and sponsorship tasks? By bringing in a bunch of freelancers. VML will need to rent out new space to accommodate them all. And when the NAPA work is done, the freelancers will be cut, um, free.
We have railed on and on here, since 2008, in a vain attempt to tell you to ignore the extremist predictions; to knuckle down on the right way to cover off on marketing fundamentals like customer research, segmentation, positioning, and performance measurement. What better way to sum it up than through the words of Blaise Pascal, the 17th century scientist turned philosopher:
“A man does not show his greatness by being at one extremity, but rather by touching both at once.”