Is Marketing Dead?

If HBR can use this headline as link bait, so can I.  The Harvard Business Review ran an article last week that I have wanted to comment on.  The article, listed here, spells out why Bill Lee believes marketing is dead.

His first comment: Traditional marketing — including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications — is dead.

The most disappointing fact about Mr. Lee’s statement is this: Marketing is not advertising.  Marketing includes product, price, place, and promotion (and partnerships and people, but that’s just me).  The work that goes into developing a strong brand includes developing the positioning for that brand, and focusing on a core target market to grow the brand.  While I agree that the roles of traditional marketers has changed, it is far from dead.  Marketing like other functional business areas as evolved into a data driven practice, where to be successful, marketers must be laser focused on all elements of the marketing mix, including leveraging social media and advocates to help build their brand.

Marketing is not dead.  It is far from dead.  It has just evolved to be more customer centric.  It has evolved to be more targeted.  It relies on professionals to position products and engage with customers like never before.  Looking at the top global brands from the BrandZ report, most are very powerful marketers.  Their brands are growing because they have increased their marketing investment, and have not reduced it.  Their marketing investment is just more targeted and more digital than it used to be.

I think a good example of a brand evolving their marketing strategy is Ford.  Automotive companies used to be very media focused, often relying on incentives or price and item advertising to increase their sales.  Ford has continued to grow their brand, but has evolved their marketing strategy to include customer engagement as a key focal point of their marketing investment.   Ford is now a highly targeted marketing machine, like most top brands today.

Ford still runs TV ads.  But they are more targeted than they used to be.  They have not advertised on the Super Bowl in a few years, forgoing the “most eyeballs” approach to an approach where they target the most “prospective buyers”.  They have sponsored shows like American Idol, where a young and engaged audience is perfect for their products focused on technology (Ford Sync System).  They even developed original programing, featuring social media influencers like @ijustine with their Escape Routes show as part of the launch plan for the new 2013 Ford Escape.  Do they do TV?  Yes.  Do they do TV like they did 5 years ago?  No.

Social media is also at the heart of everything that Ford does.  Led by Scott Monty, Ford has a very wide coverage on all social media channels, including Facebook, twitter, and even google +.  With 1.5 Million likes on Facebook, Ford can engage with an audience larger than local TV or radio ads at the push of a button.  As a comparison, GM only has 400K fans, showing that a brand that is committed to social media can grow their fan base by engaging with customers and tying it into everything they do.  Ford, like most brands, realize social media is not “free.”  It requires a team of dedicated professionals to bring the brand alive in social media.  It requires taking the brand experience from their stores, and from their advertising, to each channel to engage with customers.

Ford is just one example.  Apple.  Target.  Whole Foods.  Starbucks.  All of the top brands are still marketing, they are just doing it in a way that is very different than it was a few years ago.  And that is okay.  People who work in marketing thrive on change.  If you are not innovating, you are dying.

That’s my take.  I don’t think marketing is dead at all.  I think it has changed, and if marketers refuse to change, then yes, sooner or later, they will die.

Chris Lovett

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