Marketing Fairy Tales and Delusions
Imagine you are a child once again. Do you recall the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin? Once upon a time, the German town of Hamelin was infested with rats. So, the town’s leaders hired a flamboyantly dressed rat-catcher who used an ultrasonic pipe to drive the rats away. Like many politicians, the town’s leaders then reneged on the deal, and refused to pay the Piper his fee. The Piper retaliated, using his trusty pipe to lure the town’s children away forever. It’s a morality tale of broken promises, bad decisions and their consequences.
Big numbers, small audiences
Today, instead of magic flutes and fairy tales we have the Internet. Incredibly, 90% of all the data on the Internet has been created since 2016, according to an IBM Marketing Cloud study. In 2017, 4.3 billion Facebook messages were posted daily, 500,000 tweets generated every minute, 22 billion texts sent every day, and over 4 million YouTube videos watched every minute. At the same time, we are told that the average human attention span is shrinking. In fact, at eight seconds, humans now have a shorter attention span than your average goldfish, which is nine seconds. So, who is watching, reading and listening to all this content? Well, estimates seem to vary. However, for social media platforms such as Facebook less than 2% of your audience will see your content without you are paying to promote it.
With vast quantities of digital content being produced every moment of every day, you have to ask yourself who, if anyone, is really paying attention. Surely, as the content blizzard intensifies the ability to see or hear anything is reduced. Interestingly, if you Google the search term “debunking social media” you will find exactly the same content repeated by numerous digital media, marketing and PR agencies. Of course, the content debunks nothing. It’s just a shallow, lazy attempt to sell you social media marketing services.
Repetition mistaken for the truth
Unfortunately, much of the content that is on the Internet is of questionable quality and provenance. The news story that exclaimed humans now have a shorter attention span than the average goldfish was widely repeated. In reality, human attention spans vary depending on the subject under observation and many other complex contributory factors. Similarly, the goldfish’s weak memory is just another fairy tale. In fact, scientific research suggests they possess good memories, and can retain salient information for months, possibly longer. Perhaps the abysmal quality of digital content is the real reason most people only give it a few seconds attention before swiftly moving on.
Fraud and fairy tales
Many aspects of the digital landscape have become minefields for marketers, advertisers and their clients. In recent months, we have seen Facebook remove a staggering 1.3 billion fake accounts from its platform. That’s 17.5% of the world’s current population. We have seen the Cambridge Analytica PR disaster, the influencer marketing scandal and publishers lose a billion pounds a year to click fraud. Although research shows that many influencers continue to buy fake followers, marketers plan to spend huge sums for questionable results. Credibility and authenticity seems to have taken a back seat to clocking-up numbers. With so much fraud going on, it surprises me that 36% of marketers reported their influencer campaigns as being effective. Surely, another fairy story.
Marketing is a strange discipline. Like the Pied Piper’s magic flute, marketing seems to have the ability to transform intelligent, rational people into gullible chumps and mindless followers. Over the years, I’ve seen numerous marketing technologies, techniques and theories that promised much but delivered little. Today, it seems content marketing pays the piper and calls the tune for childlike marketers everywhere.
Lies, damned lies and statistics
The Content Marketing Institute has been publishing the results of its annual survey for six years. The 2018 review of the UK’s content marketing landscape makes interesting reading. The report tells us: “75% of respondents characterised their organisation’s overall content marketing approach as extremely, very, or moderately successful.” That looks like an endorsement, right. But their own results clearly show that 75% of marketers only found content marketing moderately or minimally effective. True to form, 50% of the respondents said they don’t actually measure ROI of their content marketing activities. Nevertheless, half of them plan to spend more next year. Before we get too anxious about the state of British marketing, it is worth noting that the sample size was just 117 respondents. Hardly representative. Over half of those polled work for marketing, technology and consultancy firms, and so have a clear bias.
I’m not sure why marketers are so quick to abandon critical thinking and rush to adopt the latest gimmick without proper research and planning. Social media, pay-per-click, mobile and content marketing are all useful media and tactics. They should be deployed, where appropriate, as part of, not instead of, a clear marketing strategy. Your marketing plan should be built on your business plan. You need to understand what your business wants to achieve, who your customers are and how this will benefit them. How much do you know about the category, marketplace and competitive environment? There is little point in blowing your marketing budget on publishing a torrent of case studies, white papers and eBooks if your audience seldom gets the time to read, and prefers to attend trade shows and conferences anyway.
Delude yourself that anyone cares
Of course, marketers are not alone in the self-delusion that our customers and prospects really give a rat’s arse about our company, products and services. They don’t. This delusion, left unchecked, can be extremely dangerous. Excessive optimism, group think and competitor neglect are at the root of many failed enterprises. For marketers, it pays to remember that you are competing against everyone for your audience’s limited attention, not just your direct competitors. The fact that you live and breathe the brand means nothing to your customers. The idea of “brand love” is another ridiculous myth. Certainly, consumers have brand preferences. However, brand preference tends to be a weak emotional and psychological connection that enables quick purchase decisions requiring little thought. These preferences can be easily undone.
Keep yourself honest
The moral of this story is that we can all be easily led into making bad decisions. Organisational pressures, over-optimistic forecasting and competitor neglect often lead us into exaggerating the benefits of a project, product or service while ignoring the pitfalls. In terms of marketing, it pays everyone to take an objective, disciplined approach to strategic planning and tactical execution. First, do your market research. Develop clear definitions of your target market and brand position. Study your competitors and the wider business environment. Create a detailed marketing plan and the specific tactics you intend to use. Workout the budget you will need and metrics to assess ROI. Finally, be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Keep checking your perceptions, beliefs and assumptions. After all, our brains are extremely lazy, biased and easily influenced, just like the rats and children of Hamelin.