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A Triple A Rating For Marketing

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

I have sat through many presentations in which people have told me how the web changed everything, so let us take a quick look at marketing before the web and see how everything has changed. The first products were not packaged, so the birth of modern marketing could be said to come about with packaged and, more to the point, branded products.


Why? Because a brand is a promise. You want consumers to understand your brand offers something above and beyond generic products primarily and then above other brands. Think about that because we will be coming back to it.


Without widespread literacy, brands were predominantly pictorial. Now, because of domain URLs, they are predominantly textual. The improvement in literacy and print led to advertising and direct marketing via catalogue and the emergence of mass media. Then came broadcast, Radio and TV, and so after maybe 100 years the marketer in the 1960s and 70s already had in his in tray the same conflicting pressures we all know, how to construct the marketing mix to deliver both brand equity and conversions.


The ability to reach consumers in their millions through mass media does not convey an advantage if you need to qualify out the majority of the audience, so targeting becomes important. The trend towards accurate targeting has historically been the main thrust of Marketing. When I sold TV advertising in the 80’s we had spurious socio-demographic classifications. How useful was that? I guess everyone reading this is ABC1, so you can see it was not exactly scientific targeting. In the 90's we had a massive growth in direct or database marketing. How accurate was that? The mantra for marketing has not changed, “the right message to the right person at the right time”. What has changed is the granularity of the audience and the ability to target effectively. So the first “A” rating is Accuracy.


Metric Rules


Back in the day, of course, most marketers would have had to rely on a wholesale/retail distribution chain, so they would not have access to the data they needed on conversions. Nor would they have access to accurate data on Audience, Impressions, Frequency, Coverage, Cost per Thousand an all the other metrics we now take for granted. They relied on services such as Nielson, ABC, Jictar and Jicrar. If you could not afford those, or even if you could, marketers relied on intuition and lunches. All those stereotypes about Ad Men, from, “Mad Men” to the Saatchis in the 80’s came from the fact you relied on persuasion rather than results.


Nothing New Under The Sun


But what it did not mean was there was any lack of initiative, entrepreneurship or innovation. Examples of all so called modern marketing tactics can be found decades, even centuries ago. If you were an unmarried army officer out in India during the days of the Raj, you had the 1870s version of eHarmony or Match.com, the mail order bride. If you wanted to disrupt the insurance industry in the ‘sixties then the Man From the Pru was the forerunner of Direct Line, which was the inspiration for Beagle Street or any other Financial Services eCommerce pureplay. Which? magazine is a combination of price comparison and peer review sites like Money Supermarket and Bazaarvoice wrapped up in one. Dollar shave club is the Gillete safety razor and Gold Toe Socks reinvented. Do you know “Gold Toe Socks”? US Pioneers of the “Till Countermanded” subscription model years before Amazon Prime. Think Wowcher is a new idea? Coupons and direct response advertising are well over a hundred years old. A/B splits have been around for decades, they were called “blow-ins” in magazine advertising. Amazon is a department store. All these concepts existed, they just relied on the data capture and processing and logistics of their day. The web has delivered speed and interactivity, but those are changes in degree. We have had branding, direct response, mass media and mass customization for years. They were already there, they just got faster. The most important thing the Web has delivered for marketers is Accuracy, and that will only increase. Measure your marketing against the benchmark for accuracy and you will have achieved the first of your “A” Ratings.


And that brings us to the second “A” Rating of modern marketing, “Accountability”. If you have accurate data you can be held accountable. You can also take control of your own data and use it for your own benefit. That means you no longer have to rely on what your advertising agency, retailers and wholesalers are telling you. You can sell direct and create extra margin. You can be tactical. You can allocate smaller amounts of money into testing different approaches. Incidentally, if anyone here still thinks they “own” the customer, you don’t.


The successful businesses of the fourth industrial revolution, Amazon, Google, all rely on analysis and interpretation of their data to drive the business. Not very long ago, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Larry Ellison were the wealthiest men on the planet. These guys all knew about technology, but they have been knocked off the top slot by big data businesses and names like Larry Page, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Why did they not see it coming? Because every new war is fought using the technology of the last battle. Businesses set up to do one thing cannot easily change to do another. Accountability is great for giving you a new direction, but it cannot overcome inertia. Google Analytics is Radar, not Autopilot. Knowing where to point the supertanker is one thing, getting it to turn is quite another. So to achieve your second “A” Rating you have to set up metrics and benchmarks and you have to give them checklists, processes and systems which make your people and your campaigns accountable.


The Real Deal


The third A is something different again and it comes back to the whole concept of branding. Post web, a lot of things have changed in the media marketplace. Print media audiences are declining rapidly. Broadcast media audiences are disintegrating. It is not useful anymore to think in terms of mass media the way someone would have used the phrase in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Consumers are choosing their own channels and creating their own playlists. As a consequence, they are, to some extent, choosing their own reality.

The #MeToo campaign, Ocean clean-up, the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit Referendum, are examples of this new tribalism. If you don’t read a newspaper any more and you get your news from Facebook, then capitalism decrees that is where the politician and the marketer will find you. As Marshall McLuhan said in the sixties, “The medium is the message”. It used to be the job of a PR consultant was to construct a message which would pass through the filter of a journalist. Now the journalist is being removed from the process, so there is a new contract to be made with the consumer. One which tells them, “we empathise with your values”, or, more accurately, “tell us what your values are and we will tell you we empathise with them.” As Groucho Marx said, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them I have others”.


There is a soft message which is part branding and part promotion which every modern marketer has to understand and embrace. It is the third A: Authenticity.


You can choose to view it in a cynical way and add a green message to your content and promotions, but I think a business which does so runs the risk of getting found out and hell hath no fury like the wrath of a duped customer base. To be in it for the long haul you have to have to understand what your audience wants from you. We don’t have promo girls in bikinis at trade shows anymore, not just because of the media backlash, but because most people think it wold be inappropriate and offensive. Think about the #MeToo campaign. Do you believe it could it have happened in a world where the media was run by Rupert Murdoch? Me neither. Marketers have always needed to appreciate the zeitgeist, but nowadays it moves so quickly you cannot follow it, you have to ride or preferably lead it.


Combine Authenticity with Accuracy and Accountability and you will have the Triple A rating for your marketing. All you have to do now is select your channels, choose your metrics, implement, measure, analyse and adopt a dialectic strategy process. Piece of cake, marketing, isn't it?

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