Bill Lee, president of Lee Consulting Group, wrote in a blog post for the Harvard Business Review that traditional marketing does not work anymore because of how it is currently practiced.
Digiday interviewed Lee about this move from impressions and click-throughs to engagement marketing, which he claims is a necessary shift. According to Lee, community-oriented marketing is more effective over the long term.
Your article elicited a lot of backlash, probably because it said “marketing is dead” rather than “traditional ways of marketing are dead.” Is there a nuance you think some have missed?
I think you just nailed it. What I meant is that traditional marketing — as currently practiced — is dead. As a Fournaise study pointed out, something like 3 in 4 CEOs and decision-makers pretty much agree. Marketing and marketers themselves are not going away. What I meant in that article is that marketing and the way that it is practiced must change. Increasingly, marketing will move towards peer advocacy and peer influence. And I think the message is resonating. The last I checked, 4,000-plus people had recommended the post on Facebook.
Is it “marketing” or “advertising” you think is in peril?
A lot of people asked me that. I meant marketing in general. We can take the classic four Ps: product, pricing, promotion and placement. Just off the top of my head, I’m seeing a lot of companies bringing customers into at least three of those. But in a short blog post, I just addressed the most visible P (promotion), and also the one where a lot of the marketing budget goes.
You describe moving from marketing based on impressions and reach to something often described as “engagement” marketing. The problem we hear is marketers are set up for the former and not the latter. What needs to be done to change this?
The point I was making is that whatever your marketing communications and marketing promotion channels are, whether via digital or traditional, the message and its source need to change. When you look at a lot of websites, they are all about us, written by corporate writers and agencies, and are not very effective. But companies now like Salesforce.com are doing it well. Their website is much more heavily focused on customers and communicated by customers, particularly using customer videos. They show how customers are seeing great results. So if you are looking to buy from them, you are able to see how customers like you have achieved success with the help of this product. So when I say that marketing is changing, I mean it’s changing across the board, regardless of the channel.
Is too much made of the traditional versus digital divide? Some digital marketing is pretty old school.
Digital looks suspiciously like taking the old approach and translating it onto a social media site. To me, a lot of people thought the message of my post was that social media is taking over. But social media is still evolving. The distinction I am making is to move away from marketing yourself, and move toward letting your customer market and sell for you. So when you see traditional advertising in airports by Salesforce.com, the ads are about their customers. One ad celebrates the success 1800Flowers has seen as a result of working with Salesforce.com.
What brands most impress you with how they’re doing marketing?
Salesforce.com, obviously. But also, SAS Canada completely reversed a worrisome decline in customer-retention efforts. Instead of a traditional marketing communications effort, they engaged loyal customers — called “Customer Champions” — to do this for them. Because of how SAS Canada went about it, these customers were enthusiastic about forming an executive committee, putting on live events, participating in an online community and e-zine. And as a result, retention rates went right back up. Dell is another great example. After the company got creamed on social media with the “Dell Hell” experience, it did a great job embracing this and figuring out how to interact with customers in this new world.
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