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It's Advertising, not Accounting

DATE PUBLISHED: September 09, 2010
The marketing world, it is a changing. We have been hearing this particular drumbeat for years, and recently it has become even louder. Tools are getting more accurate, data is getting more real-time, and response information is becoming deeper? So all should be good in our little marketing world, right?

Granted, this entry is a bit of a continuation from last week, but today is more about the forest than the trees. And what triggered it was some comments from the good folks at Accenture. In a recent article, Accenture concluded that customers have been affected in "substantial and lasting ways" and about three in five execs believe the marketing function will "fundamentally change during the next five years" because of the battering consumers have taken in the economic downturn.

Now, I know that companies like Accenture exist to find paradigm shifts, sniff out tectonic changes in markets and identify change agents. They certainly do not get their clients to cough up the big money for their reports if the answer turns out to be "everyone keep doing what you were doing." I can accept this approach, but sometimes the courageous and more beneficial move is to not fall for "sparkly objects syndrome" and realize what hasn't changed.

There is a danger in falling in love with the clever new machines, and the fabulous new data. The danger is we start thinking that the data is the customers. What got me all bothered about this? It's a little subtle, and based on some admittedly biased past work experience on my part. Years ago I worked for one of the first marketing software companies, Digital Wake. Our suite of software was one of the first that aggregated campaign data from past efforts, ran business intelligence on top of that data to find trends and insight, and then predicted future results based on that. It was quite extraordinary for the time, to the point where many agencies scratched their heads and couldn't make heads or tails of it. The clients loved it, but we constantly had to push back on one thing.

They would ask the following: Could we use this to create our campaigns? Our answer was always no. No matter how great our software, we were firm believers that you could never create "marketing in a box." You can't drop a quarter in the slot and get a direct marketing campaign. This is not the movie "Wargames" where we can take the men out of the loop. Our software was never intended to replace agencies or creative. It was meant to plan, aggregate and report the results of campaigns in the field.

The problem with quotes like the one above is they start to sound like we are taking the men out of the loop. That the machinery of marketing is taking over from the humanity of marketing. That it is turning into accounting, where perfect rows of numbers and balanced general ledgers tell you all you need to know about your company. This is not where marketing is going. This is never where marketing is going.

So what is the courageous call in this situation? Relevance. It is the understanding that although many things are changing in our industry, we can't lose focus of the things that haven't. I know this isn't as much fun, but it is as relevant. And this is where we need to push back from the "sparkly objects syndrome." Forty years ago the challenge for marketing was to move the consumer from awareness, to consideration, to purchase. And forty years from now it will still be the same.

Many people don't like that last word, "purchase." They would prefer we embrace the sparkly objects and make it engagement, or conversation, or some similar word. But as an old agency veteran once told me, "don't ever forget, our job at the end of the day is to help our clients sell stuff." Well, he used another word that starts with "S" instead of "stuff," but you get the idea. So when I hear from someone how the marketing world is going to "fundamentally change during the next five years," I get nervous.

You want to prove to your clients that you have not fallen for the sparkly objects? Here are three things to think about. First, do you know how your client sells their products? Not how they market it, how they generate revenue. This will inform your media plan more than any date can Second, don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. There are going to be things your client does that do actually work. What can you leverage? What can you re-use, re-purpose, re-deploy? Some things don't need to change. And third, don't spend all your research and competitive work figuring out what has changed. Also figure out what has not. What brand truths still resonate? What brand promises are still being fulfilled? Sometimes, you need to back to realize that the path is moving forward. Sometimes, the world has not changed as much as you think.

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