Digital and Social: The Emperor’s New Clothes of Marketing

Technology and digital media have an important role to play in the marketing mix, however there seems to be a

This expert article was written by Charlie Trumpess who is a Marketing Consultant and Freelance Copywriter.

In 2014 I found myself looking for a new job. However, finding a new marketing role wasn’t as straightforward as I’d anticipated. Today it seems there is no demand for marketing generalists. Instead, employers want a new breed of so-called digital marketer. It’s a bit like showing up to a nightclub wearing jeans and trainers. If you haven’t got the right digital credentials you’re not getting in. Suddenly social media and digital marketing are the new panaceas for all business ills. Of course, the problem with marketing shortcuts and quick fixes is they have a nasty habit of proving to be nothing more than costly detours and worthless dead ends.

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Les Haines, King George Third, Weymouth, Dorset, Creative Commons
Courtesy of Flickr, Les Haines, King George Third, Weymouth, Dorset, Creative Commons

Who really benefits from digital?

Certainly I believe that technology and digital media have an important role to play in an increasingly complex marketing mix. But I’m also a little dumbfounded that so many business people and marketing professionals can be slavishly led into adopting new digital platforms, media and advertising formats that only seem to benefit the vendors.

There seems to be a huge contradiction at work within marketing. On the one hand, businesses want proven social media gurus and digital marketing experts. On the other hand, few of my marketing peers can actually demonstrate any discernible success in the social or digital arenas. Curious, isn’t it?

Inevitable, unquestioned progress

Mike Molesworth, Principal Teaching Fellow in Marketing, University of Southampton, suggests: “The main thing being sold to marketers is the idea of digital marketing as inevitable, unquestioned progress. That digital marketing is always new and better, just like the latest fashion.” It’s interesting to see that our cousins in the United States will spend around $50 billion on digital advertising this year according to the Wall Street Journal. At the same time the industry knows that something like 30-50% of all web traffic is machine generated, and much of it is fraudulent. It seems ad stacking and click farming is alive and well.

Banners are dead, long live  banners

I think the majority of us in marketing would agree that online banner advertising is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Nonetheless it remains a thriving industry generating tens of millions of dollars in the U.S. alone. And we’ve seen a continual doubling of mobile ad spend in recent years. But really, when was the last time you clicked on a mobile ad because it was so engaging? More often than not we click on mobile ads because we’ve got big thumbs.

It seems even Fortune 5000 digital marketers are happy to admit they’re blindly following the herd. After all, in a 2014 Millward Brown survey half of the respondents said that digital held promise for brand marketers, but for all its promise, it has never delivered. 94% of those very same people went on to say they intended to increase their digital branding budgets in the coming year. Surely that’s insanity. You know it doesn’t work so you increase your spending.

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Let’s be really annoying

Personally I have had some success with Google Adwords over the years. It’s a useful tool when used appropriately. That doesn’t change the fact that 7 out of 10 Google Adword campaigns fail to deliver. Retargeting is another great idea until it’s not. Who doesn’t love those creeply little ads that follow you around the internet like a bad smell? Well, some research by Inskin Media suggests that online ads become annoying and intrusive after just five appearances. When the same ad is shown ten times or more we become angry. The negative result of repeated online ad views is that 55% of consumers are less likely to make a purchase. In fairness, their research also shows that the more relevant the ad is to the website it’s displayed on the better chances of a positive outcome.

Courtesy by Flickr, Pugh Pugh, Robot Devil, Creative Commons 2.0
Courtesy of Flickr, Pugh Pugh, Robot Devil, Creative Commons 2.0

A devil’s bargain

Surely Mr. Zuckerberg and the social network revolution have been gifts sent straight from marketing heaven? You’d like to think so, but your faith might be misplaced. I’m perfectly happy to use Facebook, LinkedIn, tumblr and Pinterest. I still use Twitter and occasionally Google+ but my interest and their utility have faded. But using these social platforms is really a devil’s bargain. That’s okay if you’re realistic about them. They are in business to make money. There is no altruism at work here. Using these sites for business is known as digital sharecropping.

Lose the farm

Subsistence farmers do all the work but own nothing. Google, Facebook and all the others are the feudal landlords of the digital world. They can make changes to their platforms that negatively impact your business at any time. Facebook, for example, let you carefully cultivate an audience then changed the rules so you now have to pay to ensure that your followers continue to see your content. They call it the promoted post. I can think of less flattering things to call it. Today, maintaining a Facebook page for your business is a completely pointless exercise without your spending money on advertising with them.

Of course, the landlord might decide to up sticks and retire to Spain. What happens then? They sell the real estate to someone else. What if they go out of business? What happens to all your years of hard work? It’s far better that you own the digital real estate yourself. Sure, use these sites but think of them as waystations not destinations. You’ve done the hard work, you should own the customer relationship and you should benefit. More importantly, ask yourself should you really be spending any time, money and energy on social media. Are you seeing a return? Be honest now.

Biggest business lie since magic potions

Social media strategist, author and public speaker Jay Baer is great at debunking many of the social media marketing myths. He suggests that brands are only really tolerated on social media because it keeps it free for the rest of us. He goes on to reveal a very uncomfortable truth about the big numbers we profess to reach with our social media activity. The impression figures we wave at our bosses to secure our budgets are usually potential impressions (theoretical reach) not actual impressions (reliable reach). Jay Baer says: “The difference between potential impressions and actual impressions in social media is the biggest business lie since magic potions.”

When Mike Molesworth from the University of Southampton asked smaller business-to-business companies about their views of social media he was told that they struggled to think of much value in committing people and time to producing content for this audience. The overriding view was that those most likely to ‘follow’ are other firms trying to sell the company something, or competitors, not their clients and customers. That’s because it’s a social media. People use social platforms to interact with other people and small groups. They don’t want businesses trying to muscle in and spoil the party so by and large they ignore them. In Gallup’s 2014 State of the American Consumer study 62% of respondents said that social media had no influence whatsoever on their purchase decisions.

Peak of inflated expectations

Every year the lovely people at Gartner produce around a hundred different reports on the transition cycles of technologies, industries and countries. These reports are known as the Gartner Hype Cycle, and one of them covers digital marketing. Right now digital marketing is at the Peak of Inflated Expectations. However, soon the party will be over and it will descend into the inevitable Trough of Disillusionment. Which platforms, firms and marketers will survive the ride and emerge onto the Plateau of Productivity remains to be seen.

What do you think?

Have you had searing digital marketing success or blown your budgets with little to show? Share your experiences, leave your comments and have your say now.

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