Advertising is Failure

Day 214 - White Noise by FadderUri
Day 214 - White Noise by FadderUri

Digital guru Steve Rubel interviews Jeff Jarvis, author of “What Would Google Do?“, who makes an interesting point that I suspect many marketers are going to have in the back of their minds when the economy ultimately turns around and they reassess their marketing strategies and measure the results of their responses to the meltdown.

Mr. Rubel: Are customer service and peer-to-peer advocacy the new advertising? And if so, how does that change the ad industry?

Mr. Jarvis: Advertising is failure.

If you have a great product or service customers sell for you and a great relationship with those customers, you don’t need to advertise.

OK, that’s going too far. There is still a need to advertise — because customers don’t know about your product or a change in it or because, in the case of Apple, you want to add a gloss to the product and its customers. But in the book, I suggest that marketers should imagine stopping all advertising and then ask where they would spend their first dollar.

In an age when competition and pricing are opened up online and when your product is your ad, you need to spend your first dollar on the quality of your product or service. If you’re Zappos, you spend the next dollar on customer service and call that marketing. If the next dollar goes to advertising, there has to be a reason — and if the product is good enough, that reason may fade away.

A lot of people think advertising and marketing are synonymous, but they’re not. The former is only one component of the latter, as Jarvis implies in his reference to Zappos. My favorite definition of marketing comes from Investopedia:

Marketing is everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them. Even the small tasks like writing thank-you letters, playing golf with a prospective client, returning calls promptly and meeting with a past client for coffee can be thought of as marketing.

This multi-faceted concept of marketing has been lost on a lot of companies, resulting in a poisoning of the well, a deeply ingrained lack of trust that, as Seth Godin points out, is now an enormous obstacle to overcome:

Marketers have spammed, lied, deceived, cluttered and ripped us off for so long, we’re sick of it.

Which means that even if you have a really good reason, no, you can’t call me on the phone. Which means that even if it’s really important, no, I’m not going to read the instructions. Which means that god forbid you try to email me something I didn’t ask for… you’re trashed. It’s so fashionable to be skeptical now that no one believes you if you attempt to do something for the right reasons.

Selfish short-sighted marketers ruined it for all of us. The only way out, I think, is for a few marketers to so overwhelm the market with long-term, generous marketing that we have no choice but to start paying attention again.

Publishers have been complicit in helping create this lack of trust, especially the mass consumer and B2B publications whose entire business models are built around serving the needs of marketers.

For a lot of companies, though, advertising is a luxury and one of the first areas to be cut when profit margins come under pressure. Beleaguered marketers have responded to the recession in three ways: strategically, stealing market share from competitors who cut their marketing by increasing advertising; cautiously, making minor cuts in an attempt to ride things out; and meekly, focusing on the short term and cutting back drastically across the board.

The first group are unfortunately the exception, despite the approach historically being very successful. The other two groups are the majority, effectively kneecapping the magazine industry over the past 6-12 months, and if they manage to weather the storm without taking too much of a hit, a lot of those cuts simply won’t be reinstated next year.

The next question will be where to invest what remains of their advertising budget, in print or online, and in what proportion, since the bloom is officially off the online advertising rose as the smoke has finally started to clear.

Interestingly, min reported on a new study yesterday that found magazine ads to be more effective than online advertising:

According to a new study by McPheters & Company, conducted in tandem with Condé Nast and CBS Vision, TV and magazine ads are far more effective in delivering ROI and consumer recall than Internet ads. This lends further fuel to the notion that TV, and especially magazines, as advertising platforms should not be counted out by marketers in favor of the hotter digital realm.

Is it a coincidence that Condé Nast’s latest round of layoffs centered on their much ballyhooed and recently restructured Digital group?

Print advertising definitely is not dead, but it will need to evolve, and, as I’ve noted previously, publishers, agencies and advertisers are going to have to hit the reset button on their digital initiatives and refocus on the most important part of the equation: the consumer.

Consumers are the most valuable piece of the entire media ecosystem. Ironically, their interests are rarely brought up in discussions about the future. But their influence will only grow because technology is introducing more choice and voice. David Meer, chief research officer at WPPs Enfactico, told me recently: We need to stay grounded in high-level theories of what customers want, how we can meet their needs profitably, and how we can communicate to motivate them. And we must do this in a world where consumers control the conversation.

In many niches, advertisers have become direct competitors to the publications they advertise in, creating websites that offer similar, sometimes superior, content in a more engaging context, eliminating the need for the middlemen who make much more sense in print than they do online.

The $1,000,000 Questions for publishers then are: What can they do to ensure they’re not being filtered out of the conversation? How can they become more deeply embedded in that conversation than their advertisers, for whom the Internet has leveled the playing field?

And, finally, how can they develop a truly integrated platform that advertisers can’t, and won’t want to, compete with?

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