(aka ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’)

Marketing Week has just been redesigned (for non-UK or non-marketing readers, it’s a magazine and of course a website). That got me thinking about how much things are changing in marketing right now.

A few years ago I wrote a book about marketing. Here is a short extract. (well it’s my blog after all).

“The marketing world is changing fundamentally…Direct Marketing, Sales Promotion and Advertising can never again be viewed as discrete, non-overlapping disciplines…marketing communications must, in addition to being creative, also be relevant…this requires targeting…individuals can supply information about themselves which assists the advertiser’s efforts to direct relevant messages.”

I was arguing that general (‘image’) advertisers could learn from the DM people as regards to creating a dialogue with the audience and using data intelligently to target appropriate marketing communications.

A far more illustrious author, David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy and Mather and one of the original ‘Mad Men’, once wrote in the same vein (but more succinctly):

“One day all agencies will be direct marketing agencies.”

Since the great man committed this to paper, there has certainly been a massive change in marketing, namely the arrival of the internet. After the ‘false start’ of the first internet boom, marketing on the web, online, digital, call it what you will, has come back big time, as was inevitable. For marketers, it offers many of the most powerful features of traditional TV, press and radio advertising, combined with the convenience of being able to make an immediate response without the need to clip a coupon, post back a reply card or even reach for the phone (this inherent responsiveness was one of the key qualities of DM which Ogilvy admired). A response can be immediately rewarded with relevant additional information. DM people used to dream about such media! Today’s online display advertising can include rich media, with the user in control of expanding the banner, playing the film, and turning the sound on or off. i.e. this is something like TV advertising with a supercharged remote control. But we’re not just talking about buying ‘space’ on websites. Indeed, the new social media are offering fresh marketing opportunities which are currently little understood. And as we carry around increasingly powerful computing devices in our pockets, mobile marketing is looking likely to be the ‘next big thing’.

These changes have already had structural repercussions for the marketing industry which are not over yet. Client companies have created ‘Head of Digital Marketing’ roles. Specialist digital agencies have grown up, profiting from the ever-growing ‘niche’ that is digital marketing. Traditional agencies, some moving a little more slowly than others, have tried to get into digital by parachuting in digital ‘experts’, with varying degrees of success. All are reviewing their business models. They are aiming at a moving target, since digital marketing is itself changing at a bewildering rate. How can a Marketing Director decide what % of the budget (already under massive pressure from the CFO and CEO) to invest in Social Media? Or Virtual Worlds? Or Mobile? Has Twitter peaked? What will replace it? Or is it the new Facebook? Some technologies and brands will fall by the wayside; others will prosper. How to select the winners and subsequently demonstrate ROI from each element of the (digitally enhanced) marketing mix, separately and in combination?

Agencies of all colours will naturally seek to present themselves as the clients’ counsellors, offering to guide them through the changing media landscape; but will the clients believe they are indeed unbiased expert advisers? Meanwhile the technology keeps moving forward. There are new developments seemingly every week and no-one can afford to be left behind (or even to appear to be!). We are living in interesting times.

Yet in many ways things haven’t changed that much. As of old, agencies love to introduce labels, in order to carve out a specialism which affords them the closest they can get to a (hopefully profitable) USP. Hence today we have specialist digital agencies and even specialist SEO, Affiliate and Mobile agencies. Many are thriving, even in the current climate. Clients on the other hand, are generally less excited about how their agency tags itself and more concerned with getting the job done. Same old same old…

People are talking (recently) about Integrated Marketing . But of course this isn’t new either; (see my quote above). It’s always been the Marketing Director’s job to orchestrate integrated marketing; the challenge today, as always, is how to achieve this. As ever, there is a range of possible solutions. There is undoubtedly room for ‘full-service’ digital agencies (AKQA has just launched a media department). There is also a role for specialist Search, Affiliate and Mobile consultancies. Digital agency Glue London is now doing some ‘above the line’ advertising for its clients. Traditional media, although under pressure, still accounts for more than 50% of most marketing budgets. In today’s digital marketing world, there’s still room for a range of agency specialists in offline and online disciplines so long as they respect each other’s roles and work together for the greater good of the brand.

Let’s just pause to remember why we are spending clients’ shareholders’ money on marketing communications: two giants of 20th century marketing were in no doubt:

David Ogilvy told his staff: “we sell – or else.”

and Raymond Rubicam, founder of Young and Rubicam, famously said:

“The only purpose of advertising is to sell. It has no other justification worth mentioning.”

If we replace ‘advertising’ with the broader term ‘marketing communications’, I suggest this is still a useful mantra for today’s marketers. Maybe not immediate sales. But soon. And of course we can only sell effectively if we are targeting the right people with engaging messages; indeed digital marketing increasingly offers powerful techniques to enable us to serve the right message to the right person at the right time (see behavioural targeting)…

Both Ogilvy and Rubicam preached about the need to define what your brand stands for: i.e. establish its brand essence (or USP, the ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ first articulated by Rosser Reeves) and then communicate this to the defined target audience: creatively, confidently and consistently over time. Easy to say and challenging to deliver: no change there either.

So Good Luck to Marketing Week (and of course marketingweek.co.uk). Today, more than ever, marketers need to keep up with the news and to share best practice. As marketers, we all believe in strong design in order better to communicate high-quality content. As many famous long-lived brands (including Heinz, Nescafé, Kodak and Brylcreem) are well aware, this requires periodic refreshment. And of course there are lots of new things for us to learn about- especially in the digital space. Today’s digital marketing certainly requires a raft of creative and developer ‘craft skills’ unknown to David Ogilvy and those sharp-suited, immaculately Brylcreemed ‘Mad Men’.

However: just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it’s any good; or right for the brand, or a better use of budget than ‘old’ techniques. So let’s embrace digital, reaching and engaging our target audience in their increasingly online lives BUT let’s not allow these wonderful and exciting new technologies opening up seemingly every week to dazzle us and to distract us from the fundamentals of branding and marketing as espoused by Messrs Ogilvy and Rubicam. These principles are unchangingly valid and will still hold good when we have at our disposal marketing channels we can’t even imagine today.