What the PETA activists have in common with CMOs…

There is growing concern among the most experienced marketers in the world about the future of marketing. These marketers have well north of 30 or 40 years of industry experience – which makes them the most experienced digital marketers, as they’ve had 25 years working in online channels.

Recently, I’ve been reading the brilliant book Calling Bullshit, by Carl T. Bergstrom & Jevin D. West. It debunks much of the big data B.S. in our industry. In it, they share a story which is an excellent analogy of the marketing industry’s concerns.

We once had dinner with a zoo director who faced repeated challenges from PETA, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. He wanted to know how he could engage in a constructive dialogue and possibly even persuade them that his zoo plays a valuable role in conservation efforts. We explained how their views were entangled with their identities in a way that his were not. For example, if they were to convince him that keeping elephants in captivity was unethical, he would still be a scholar and zoo director. But if he were to persuade them that keeping elephants in zoos was justifiable, they could not retain their identities as PETA activists. These issues of identity made his task vastly more difficult.

If you replace the PETA activist with Chief Marketing Officer or Marketing Director, you start to understand the issue. There is a generation of marketers that have only worked in marketing this century. Their focus and expertise is almost solely in digital channels. Many have none or very little experience in any other media, such as TV, mail, radio, print, catalogues, telemarketing et al.

And now that the tide is running out on digital, due to poor performance, high cost, changes to cookies, fraud, programmatic uselessness – the list goes on – they are unsure what to do. They are talented in the digital realm – they’ve built their identity and reputation in the digital space. They’ve preached digital-first, often at the expense of the proven channels.

The digital conundrum

But, confronted with using media other than digital, or to justify digital channels, many are refusing to do so – because it conflicts with their identity. Just as the zoo director could destroy the PETA activist’s reason for being, so too could moving away from a digital-first position affect how these marketers see themselves.

Rather than embrace the proven channels in the same way they chased shiny digital objects, they’re holding back for fear of the unknown. They also don’t have experience within their teams, so cannot rely on them. Evidence of this lack of experience is appearing regularly.

A clear example was produced by Optus in the channels the marketing team used to reach individual customers following the data breach. SMS and opt-in email are two of the most distrusted channels by consumers. 45% distrust SMS, while 26% distrust opt-in email. These were the two channels the scammers immediately started running scams in when the data breach was announced. But Optus used them at the same time as the scammers.

Eventually Optus mailed a letter to customers – it was a clear demonstration of how not to write a personal letter.

As you can see, it is addressed to the individual customer by name. But the salutation is “Dear Customer”. The body language of the salutation says we don’t know or care who you are.

Even worse is the signatory. This is a personal letter, and it isn’t signed. Instead, it finishes with “Your Optus Team.

Teams don’t send letters – individuals do.

The letter should have been signed by the CEO.

There was no personalised QR code or PURL linked to a landing page, while the language made the letter sound like lawyers wrote it. Should the Optus marketing team be blamed, or as one suspects, are they just not experienced with direct mail?

The marketers that will succeed in the near future are those who are willing to work across all media channels, without bias. They’ll focus on getting the small data correct, rather than play around with useless big data. And they’ll invest in understanding customer value, not vanity metrics.

I’m also willing to bet that those organisations who invest in providing locally based humans in customer service, rather than force customers into DIY mode on useless websites and apps, will leap ahead of their competitors.

The future of marketing is to get back to basics

Strip away the layers of computer automation, AI and algorithms that are keeping customers and prospects at arm’s length. Put humans back into the customer relationship – understand customer value. Use media that customers use, not what marketers believe are fashionable. The fact that roughly 2 Billion people, a quarter of the planet’s population, have downloaded advertising blocking software should be a hint.

Those marketers who are unafraid of their identity and move to embrace innovative thinking will succeed over their competitors who stay in denial. And hopefully they’ll give confidence to those who are rightfully concerned about the industry’s current direction.

© Malcolm Auld Direct Pty Ltd 2022 | Commercial In Confidence

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