I’m en route to the Marketing 2.0 conference in Paris, one of the most respected gatherings of marketing executives presenting and discussing the latest trends in their field. In a way, the story of the conference is the story of marketing itself. The somewhat yesteryear name indicates that a few years ago, when Marketing 2.0 premiered, it was conceived as a forum for pioneers who were early on embracing digital marketing and social media. Times have changed. What used to be at the fringes of the profession has moved into the mainstream, and both program and attendees of Marketing 2.0 reflect that. That’s not a bad thing. Digital marketing IS marketing, social media IS media. You would think..
According to data from eROI and eMarketing & Commerce (eM+C), US marketers spent 13% of their online marketing time on social media in 2009, the second-largest share of any tactic. And yet, a recent eMarketer article claims that social media is still not fully integrated into the marketing mix and in many cases remains an ad-hoc activity that is siloed in the organization and under-budgeted. The level of integration varies vastly depending on the tactic. The publication cites research from marketing management firm Unica suggesting that a majority of voting features, product reviews, user-generated content and RSS feeds are integrated with other campaigns, however, less so social networking sites, blogs, or micro-blogs. Paul Verna, eMarketer senior analyst, suspects (in an earlier report called “Five Reasons Why Marketers Need to Have a Social Media Strategy”) that marketers often neglect an integrated strategy because they – mistakenly – believe that social media is easy and cheap, ignoring that “much of the real cost of social campaigns is in the people-hours spent fostering and maintaining social conversations.”
The full integration of social media is only a matter of time, but the next frontier of marketing innovation is not yet on the horizon. In many ways, we still live in a marketing 2.0 world: marketing programs that leverage social networks, blogs, mobile, Twitter, real-time conversations, social content, viral memes, crowdsourcing, and so forth have become the norm. Just this week, I had a meeting with the online marketing team of a leading German automaker, and it is hard to imagine anything that would be news to them. They have it all figured out, really, as have almost all big-brand marketing departments. Most of the conversations I have with marketing professionals these days are around tactical issues – budgeting, staffing, monitoring, and, of course, measurement, which is a sure sign of a market-wide saturation. In Gartner Hype-Cycle speak: social media has reached a plateau, and it will soon reach the trope of productivity, as the enterprise-wide implementation of social media collaboration tools is on the rise. You will be hard pressed to find anyone these days who would deny the profound change social media presents for all customer relations; the new need for openness, agility, and hyper-sociality; as well as the call for “networked” (or “federated,” as Forrester calls it) organizations. David Armano (with Edelman), Francois Goisseaux from Beeline Labs (and his upcoming book on The Hyper-Social Organization), or Charlene Li and her Altimeter Group are just some of the pundits who have very succinctly articulated these themes.
But where’s the next hype? Looking at the usual industry augurs, Forrester has produced some good thinking on interactive marketing (with its ‘new 4 Ps of Marketing’: permission, proximity, perception, and participation), and BBH Labs clearly is the thought leader when it comes to the confluence of advertising, social media, and digital storytelling. But all that is an apt description of state-of-the-art practices rather than breaking new ground Augmented Reality and Transmedia may rise to the occasion, and there is the exciting possibility that the iPad finally enables brands to become full-blown publishers. And the whole notion of “Marketing with Meaning” has certainly introduced a new perspective, injecting the dusty CSR model with a more tangible and Millennial-friendly proposition of cause-driven social innovation. Chief Culture, Chief Experience, Chief Meaning, and Chief Convergence Officers and other variations are heralded as the manifestations of innovative marketing models, but at the end of the day all they represent was already stated – loud and clear – by the Clue Train Manifesto in 1999.
Notwithstanding the lack of new paradigms, the marketing function is definitely better positioned than it was a few years ago. It has benefited from the growing convergence of disciplines, media, and formats that shape today’s company-customer interactions: Product design firms are moving into advertising. Advertisers are launching product innovation offerings. Marketers employ design thinking. Design firms are adding go-to-market services. Innovation consultancies are selling iPhone apps. Interactive agencies take on mobile advertising. PR firms are offering branding services. And so on. While creative disciplines are converging, the modes of effective (digital) interactions are converging as well: the combination of real-time, social, mobile, location-based, augmented, and gaming elements are the secret sauce of almost every integrated program these days. Campaigns are becoming products (as just one example, look at AKQA’s recent launch of its Digital Products Group), and marketing innovation is evolving into marketing IT. Marketers, as the renaissance men of 21st century business, can be at the heart of this all, if they’re smart.
BBH Labs describes the tremendous opportunity ahead: “It’s not just the marketing organization that needs to reorient itself given the now normal digital age, but the company itself should consider how it reorients itself around its marketing organization. In most progressive companies, it is the marketing function that has most quickly and deeply engaged with the new interactive toolkit.”
Marketing is back at the table. Now it needs to demonstrate that it has the chops to innovate and really drive change in organizations.