Fully automated: what ’80s marketers can teach us today

If a group of marketers from the eighties was suddenly transported to present day, they would be shocked by how much the world has changed. Stepping into the office – aside from being ridiculed for the frizzy hair, shoulder pads and oversized cable knits – they’d quickly discover how little they knew about their profession. The digital age has changed almost everything.

But there’s one thing our eighties time travellers could teach contemporary marketers: the power of the brand.

In those days, it was all about television – the advertising you’d squeeze into episodes of Gloss, Queen Street and Cheers, or perhaps just after the audience took in another recipe from Hudson and Halls. It was a time when we were asking, could television get any better?

It’s true, in those days, New Zealand wasn’t rich in media choice, so a well-placed ad – like BASF’s Dear John campaign (“even the bad times sound good”) – really got cut through. Marketers were measured on how quickly they raised the profile of a brand, as the catalyst for sales. For manufacturers and importers, the follow-through was managed by channels, such as retailers and resellers. The marketing job was little more than a brand-building exercise, the rest was sales.

These days marketers have far more influence throughout the sales process. Even if products are ultimately sold through indirect channels, there’s still the ability to engage with customers throughout the journey, on websites, by email, social media and online advertising. Each step is personalised and measurable, offering a level of accountability that marketers have avoided for a long time.

It’s a healthy progression for marketers. For a start, it’s helping to increase budgets. In the latest Econsultancy State of Digital Marketing report, commissioned by Marketo, almost half of company respondents in Australia and New Zealand said their marketing budget was up this year on last, and for a third it has increased by more than 30 percent. Not bad in an economy where business confidence has been a little shaky.

Still, there’s a lot to be learnt. The survey shows that four out of five New Zealand marketers are still ‘experimenting’ with digital marketing. They are on a learning curve. So, it’s not just eighties marketers struggling – someone transitioned from just a few years ago could be equally out of touch, albeit with better fashion sense.

There’s a danger, though, that in the rush for accountability today’s marketers are ignoring the importance of brand. When asked how they measure marketing effectiveness, almost three quarters gave ‘increased traffic to the website’. Thankfully, increased sales was given an equal ranking, but less than half said brand recognition was important and about one in four listed brand reputation. It’s enough to make those eighties marketers shudder in their leg warmers.

How can this be? Why is brand so low down the list of metrics? It is of vital importance to marketers – it improves sales, helps you charge a premium and is your investment for future loyalty. Perhaps some marketers are making the fundamental mistake of focusing attention on what can be measured, rather than what works best.

I suspect some marketers who are immersed in digital have found themselves lost in their new-found data. They know more than ever about their audience’s behaviour – open rates, click throughs, post analysis – and those measures have become the guide to success. In truth, though, these are activity-based measures should be there to help guide and fine-tune campaigns. They should never be used as performance metrics in their own right.

For that, marketers still need to track top-line measures like sales, lifetime value and, yes, brand-value. Let’s hope marketers aren’t losing sight of the fundamentals. If you think you are, time to don the stubbies and revisit your eighties self. So you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

In the meantime, download the State of Digital Marketing report, to see how Australians and New Zealanders are adopting technology to address the transition to digital marketing.

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