How To Save Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is doomed. Why? Because unlike traditional marketing where there was a finite amount of inventory and price points to keep most people out of the market, digital doesn’t have such barriers. Anyone can open an AdWords account. Any website can advertise (in as many places as they like). Digital marketing is the wild, wild West!

The problem with that, of course, is that the constant advertising and broadcast messaging jades people to digital marketing. They think digital, like all other marketing, is about “get in my face and try to sell my something” when, in fact, digital marketing is much more than that. The “digital” in digital marketing is actually all about engagement. For the first time, digital empowers people to connect with organizations like they are just people. One-to-one, synchronous communication.

Only how many people are going to want to connect with an organization when they fear the worst: a sales message in reply.

Digital marketing is at a crossroads. On one side, it can continue down the same path as the traditional marketing upon which it is based and continue to talk “at” people instead of “with” them. On the other side, it can strike down the new path that digital promises and use it to engage with people and not worry about selling.

In short, digital marketing can be saved by organic selling.

The concept of organic selling isn’t new. It describes a condition in which the consumer is allowed to “sell themselves” on the product. Saturn automobiles was a perfect example of this kind of selling. Sales reps didn’t pressure buyers, they didn’t try to convince them of the superiority of their product, they didn’t hit them with clever messages designed to sway them psychologically. All they did was present an expert who was there to listen and discuss a consumer’s needs for a car. What did this do? It exemplified all 9 characteristics of relationship building that Kirby Wadsworth and I wrote about in Recommend This! Delivering Digital Experiences that People Want to Share. It built credibility and authenticity and trust and, and, and. It built a relationship. In most cases, people who visit an automotive dealership probably aren’t ready to pull the trigger that instant. They are researching, shopping, and testing. But when a sales rep can build a relationship (and it’s a quality product), to whom are they going to return when they are ready to buy?

The problem is that organic selling does not usually portend immediate returns (yes, there are some people ready to buy right away; it’s all about what kind of relationship they want with your organization) which flies in the face of measuring conversion and ROI that consumes so many businesses today. Organic sales requires a longer bake-in time, it requires more established nurture techniques, it requires not to “Always Be Closing.” I would argue anecdotally, of course, that long-term ROI is 10x greater for organic sales than short term ABC. Just look at some of the numbers around digital conversion rates like that the average click-through rate on banner ads is less than 1% and that, most recently, half of all video ads go unwatched. Using digital channels to push traditional marketing messages of “buy, buy, buy” isn’t effective even at volume.

Digital marketing has an opportunity to radically shift the way that organizations market to consumers. End of story. The problem is that it’s been co-opted as just another channel, just another way to tell consumers about a product when what it can become is a revolutionary new way of engaging with people and establishing relationships. But that will only happen if organizations embrace organic selling and employ those digital channels as a means to the ultimate ends: to develop relationships. Otherwise, I fear, digital marketing is doomed to the culture that brought us Glengarry Glen Ross.

Jason Thibeault is the senior director of marketing strategy for Limelight Networks. In this role he helps direct Limelight’s corporate messaging and positioning, develops whitepapers and e-books, blogs, and evangelizes the Limelight solution offering to audiences around the world. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine Honors Program and a M.A. in English, with distinction, from California State University, Northridge. Jason is the co-author of the marketing thought-leadership book Recommend This! Delivering Digital Experiences People Want to Share (Wiley), the middle-reader chapter series Marmalade (Dime Novel Books), and rethinkeverythingblog.com. He is an inventor on a number of technical patents with Limelight Networks. Follow him on twitter @_jasonthibeault.

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