The Need to Constantly Change in Marketing


There’s a quote that I really like from one of Christopher Isherwood’s early novels, The Memorial:

“Men always seem to me so restless and discontented in comparison to women. They’ll do anything to make a change, even when it leaves them worse off. […] Whereas […] we women, we only want peace.”


Removing the sexism from this quote (it was written over 80 years ago…), gives you something like the following – I’ve removed all of the brackets etc, to make this more readable:

“Some people always seem to me so restless and discontented in comparison to others. They’ll do anything to make a change, even when it leaves them worse off. Whereas others only want peace.”


Now I think this quote applies to an awful lot of people and situations, but this is a marketing blog, so why is it relevant here?

If you step back and look at the ever-changing world of marketing methodology, and look at it over a timescale of years, and really, decades, then the one obvious feature is the constant change in the methods recommended and used over this period. Some examples known to all of us:

  1. The Internet and digital media. I still remember the first time I saw a website address advertised anywhere, on the back of a Björk CD. At the time I had no idea what to do with it (I didn’t have a computer on the Internet) but I know I was impressed. Now of course, over the last 10-20 years, a marketing strategy which doesn’t involve a website and other elements of web presence would be laughed out of the room.
  2. The death of print media. Apart from the very occasional experiment, we haven’t used print media for advertising at Red Gate for at least 10 years. Again, when I was a kid, every video game, bit of software or hardware would buy quarter, half or full page slots in various print magazines and newspapers. This was expensive and, as an advertiser, you had no idea whether it worked or not. In contrast to digital media, a campaign based entirely on print media would struggle to be taken seriously today.
  3. Banner ads. Getting in to something more specific, banner ads are I think the VHS recorders of our generation. It is a “technology” that has both risen and (almost completely) fallen in our lifetimes. Obviously it grew with the growth of the Internet as a medium and was the obvious like-for-like swap for quarter page ads in print media (just scan in your print ad, and send it over to the magazine to put on their website!). But it has the same problems (lack of feedback for the advertiser) and, as we all know, nobody likes or clicks on them. There have been some advances in recent years (using pay-per-click banner ads through Google Display Network), but banner ads are now rarely at the centre of any campaign.
  4.  Adwords. Again, a medium which as grown with the rise of the Internet and Google specifically. Google make an incredible amount of money, almost exclusively from Adwords, and their whole machine is set up to promote Adwords as a necessary and wise choice for the modern marketer (have you ever seen a Google blog post titled “How you could spend a lot less on Google Adwords”?!). Ten or more years ago, the individual who looked after marketing at our company at the time saw how it could be used to massively reduce our marketing spend (compared to print media) and still get the same results (as well as the benefits of knowing what’s actually worked). This was something that was instrumental in the early success of Red Gate, particularly on a limited budget. But could the same be said today? Is Adwords still the most cost-effective way of generating leads, easily outstripping all others? What sort of future does it hold? I’d suggest the jury is out.
  5. Content Marketing. As I’ve written before, hard to find a marketing blog that doesn’t hail content marketing as the new messiah. One group in particular who were very early to recognise its value were the people who run marketing automation companies…
  6. Marketing Automation. The natural progression on from blind content marketing is the use of marketing automation tools to apply that content in the most relevant scenarios, measure the results, then adapt based on feedback. This is an area which is still in its infancy I believe, simply because of the hurdle to getting started (you have to install and setup something like HubSpot, Eloqua or Marketo – no mean feat).

There are many other methods of course that have had their ups and downs – mobile advertising and social media are also current fashions but the general point is that like everything in the world of marketing these things come and go.

But, there’s another important thing to note here – there are people who recognise the importance of the new marketing approach before others and are therefore, arguably, more likely to get the full benefit of using that new method first. Björk has always had a great reputation in the world of digital media (her latest idea – Biophilia, a sort of multimedia collection “encompassing music, apps, Internet, installations, and live shows”) is once again at the forefront of what can be done with digital technology (and its great btw!). Bowie is another who was always at the forefront with – its changed many times over the years, but was a pioneering site for fans in the early days.

Which brings me back to the Christopher Isherwood quote. There are marketing people who, because of their need to always be doing something new are more likely to find the new things that could be valuable for your business. They’ll always be on the lookout for the new trends, what’s coming up in the future and so on. In contrast there are also people who will stick to what they know, and will struggle to try out new things. Each of these approaches has pros and cons – there is a danger, with constantly looking for the Next Big Thing, that we can fritter away our time on endless trends that go nowhere when that time could have been better spent just getting the Adwords campaigns right.

But the danger with the reverse position – of always sticking to what you know, and ignoring the world around you – is that you stick with something long after its valuable and never fail to capitalise on the new things coming along (in the early days, when you can have most impact). I interviewed someone for a marketing role 2-3 years ago who said “There’s nothing wrong with print media – have you considered going back to that?”. It’s not about whether he was wrong or right, it’s that this exhibited an approach to marketing that I would have really struggled to work with.

I’ve no idea what the next big trend will be of course. I think there’s another phase in the content marketing/marketing automation marriage where we’ll soon be able to auto-create content for customers based on their very specific needs (imagine a situation where articles could be automatically created from pre-defined blocks of copy, pieced together based on our knowledge of the customer – an article for a large, late adopter pharmaceutical company would be subtly different to that for a small, early majority financial firm), though a lot of these things will require some real, solid output from the Big Data/Hadoop community. But who knows? The point is unless you’re looking for these new trends – or rather, employing people who yearn to find these new things – then you’re almost certain to miss them till its too late.

Read More