Psst, wanna buy some used digi-advice?

Issue 29 | December 2013

Malcolm Auld, CEO - The Marketing Campus

In 1994 I ran my first e-marketing seminar, including some guest speakers from different organisations. Little did I realise at the time how indicative it was of the industry that was
to evolve to the ‘digital marketing’ one we know today. 

There was a presentation from a new joint venture called NineMSN. It was between Microsoft and the owners of a television network. A lady whom I knew from the marketing industry was suddenly their e-marketing expert, despite having no expertise. The presentation was slick and full of outlandish predictions about the information superhighway. Because the industry was still in gestation, the audience of marketers was extremely sceptical towards her claims – much like today’s worried marketers and business owners.

The most powerful presentation came from an email supplier who used a whiteboard to draw a diagram of how the internet worked and how computers connected to each other. He explained what it meant and the potential for what it meant. The audience lapped it up.

And the rest as they say is history. A whole industry was spawned. The “how to be an instant online marketing expert” industry.

Who’d be a marketing manager today? There’s so much digi-wind, so many digi-spruikers and cyber-hustlers, and so much digi-content to absorb. It’s like working in quicksand. The more you try to keep up, the harder it gets to stay on top. It’s even worse if you’re running your own business.

And if you’re like most businesspeople I meet, you probably feel overwhelmed, not sure where to go, or who to trust for the right advice.

After all, never in marketing history has so many self-proclaimed experts miraculously appeared as they have in the world of digital marketing. They’ve popped up like rabbits. If only we could find a digital myxomatosis* to eradicate them and restore the natural order.

You may have met some or seen their work. All manner of expert abound, from social and SEO to inbound and engagement. You pick the topic and you’ll find an instant expert. Publish a ‘white paper’ – you’re a content marketing expert. Tweet every day – you’re a social media guru. Use new buzzwords regularly - you must be an influencer.

Authors, digital marketers and even industry associations, confuse public relations and advertising with marketing. Some are trying to convince us that data-driven marketing is new. Binary-code programmers pitch themselves as marketing communications experts. Digital marketing consultants, whose only ‘expertise’ is with online channels, ignore much of what in fact is really digital.

Every day new buzzwords appear, accompanied by sweeping generalisations to allegedly prove validity. Opinions rule at the expense of facts. It’s online, so it must be true.

I’ve never understood why a marketer would seek marketing advice from someone who only claims to know something about a technology channel or software platform? Claim to be a digital marketing expert? You may as well claim to be a railway-station stairway advertising expert. Using their logic, maybe Ogilvy should reposition itself as the cathode- ray tube agency or JWT should be the pressed-metal type agency, just because they have expertise in a channel.

Why trust your marketing to someone with such narrow expertise as only the digital channels? Customers don’t restrict their use of media to one channel, so marketers need to work with people who understand all channels.

Where’s the digital dividend?

Consider this: can you now answer Lord Leverhulme’s often misquoted statement “I know 50% of my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which 50%”. Well given that all online advertising can be measured – open-rates, click- throughs, downloads, views, etc – then we can answer his question. We know which 50% is wasted because in the online world, we can measure behaviour in real time.

So if we can measure the success of every advertisement, email, blog, social media execution, or online promotion, the question has to be asked: Where is the digital dividend?

Why aren’t we reducing our marketing budgets? After all, we’re choc-full of more experts than ever before - they spill into our inboxes hourly with their “expert whitepapers” and “how to” downloads.

We know from testing, what works and what doesn’t with online advertising. So why aren’t we spending less to get the same result as previously, or getting a better result from the same spend as last year? Where are the massive market share movements thanks to digital and social channels?

The answer lies with the digital marketing experts. Many don’t really understand marketing, or aren’t interested in results, for fear the truth will be revealed. They’re more interested in marketing fashion than marketing function. In many cases they haven’t a clue – but hey, they know some buzzwords and move on in their jobs before they’re found out.

These so-called experts are making money by telling people how to make money online, or by creating fear that your business will go broke if you don’t have the latest digi-widget. Rarely does the acronym ROI get used to prove these alleged experts case.

Digital is just a technology platform with a number of different channels – print, email, websites, blogs, social, Apps and more. But they are channels that have grown rapidly in importance. Yet like all technology developments before, there is one crucial element that remains constant.

The most critical digital element

The most important element in the digital marketing world is the carbon-based life-form known colloquially as, a human being.

Technology changes - humans don’t. As Confucius said; “men’s natures are alike, it’s their habits that drive them apart.”

The emotional reasons that drive purchase behaviour are the same now as they have always been and always will be.

The only change has been the technology people use to make or research their purchase.

People have always gossiped; always asked family, friends or colleagues for advice when buying big ticket items; always sought referrals and been social creatures. Now they do all that faster with even more people online, most of whom they’ve never met.

And if for some reason you haven’t noticed it, marketing has always been social. Any shopkeeper who doesn’t engage their customers personally will go broke before they can open a Facebook page. Personal marketing messages are decades old.

We’ve been buying virtually for over 150 years via mail-order catalogues. And the reasons we buy online are the same reasons we bought and continue to buy from catalogues. In fact, the best retail websites mirror the way catalogues work – just look at Amazon. The pioneers of online retailing were the mail-order businesses.

And the marketing skill-set you need to succeed in the digital world is direct marketing. There are after all,
only two ways of marketing – mass marketing and direct marketing. The way of mass marketing started its decline in the 1980’s as it became more expensive and harder to reach mass audiences due to fracturing of media. At the same time the way of direct marketing started to increase as computerised databases and tracking of messages became more cost-effective.

The audience of one became real and now with the internet it is commonplace.

The four essential digital tools

Assuming you own a retail store or website, you really only need four things to succeed in marketing: your customers’ names; their postal address, their phone number; and their email address. With these four essential tools you can run a business without any social media, remarketing, Apps or other digi-channels, let alone the analogue media.

Once you’ve mastered these four, you can test the other channels and tools that in many cases are yet to be proven.

Unfortunately marketers love to complicate things and follow the herd. They forget the simple things are what build brands and keep customers coming back for more. Most misunderstand the two reasons (and there are only two) that people use the internet. They are: to save time or to waste time. That’s it!

Design your business to suit what your customers want - at a profit. In your online space, make it easy for them to save time or to waste time for example. Get the small data right before playing with the big data. And don’t ignore the channels that have always worked. You’ll be surprised how much money you can really make, digitally speaking of course.

If you enjoyed reading this, you will enjoy reading Malcolm’s blog at

*a disease that kills rabbits caused by the Myxoma virus 

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