Everything Old is Marketed as New Again

An image of two cans tied together with a piece of string, representing a rudimentary communications device.

Music, fashion, fad diets – and marketing strategies -- they all come around over and over again.

With students returning to school this week, it's intriguing to see which fashions have made the grade. I'm having a huge sense of déjà vu as much of what's being worn now wouldn't have looked out of place back in the late 80s/early 90s (as such, I predict a return to grunge wear is next. I'm buying shares in flannel...)

When it comes to marketing and communicating a message, we see the same type of patterns: behaviours and beliefs come in and out of vogue. But it's all just window dressing.

The most successful companies are the ones that don't get all bent out of shape about the delivery; instead they focus on the fundamentals. And from there, everything will flow naturally.

In many ways, our marketing hasn't evolved in function, though the form has changed. Back in the day, marketing was limited to standing on a street corner, shouting about your wares. It's only been recently, with the rise of social media, marketing has taken on a much more interactive approach. Until recently, marketing was about broadcasting.

Print ads, radio sponsors, posters and billboards, television commercials... those were just modern version of the town crier. Even early Internet marketing (which continues to this day) was focused on outbound marketing – banner and tile ads, popups, and PPC programs all focused on putting out your message to an audience, in the hope of bringing you (either physically or virtually) to a location.

Now, the buzz is all about terms like "inbound," "social," and "integration." They've replaced "push/pull" "customer orientation," and, to a large degree, "relationship." But regardless of how you push the sizzle, it's the steak that matters. It doesn't matter if you're buying a million flyers or buying a million Facebook 'fans' -- it won't do you any good if the end experience is less than satisfactory.

No matter how you market, no matter what tools you use, the end result is to have customers enter your establishment (either through bricks-and-mortar locations or virtual versions), purchase your products and services, and enjoy them enough to become a regular customer.

There are those that will argue that social media has added a new layer through brand advocacy, but that component has always existed. Word-of-mouth has always been an extremely powerful tool – social networks just make it easier for you to amplify your voice.

For many businesses looking at a digital strategy, it can be overwhelming. It can be compounded by soothsayers, sages, and gurus who try to sell you solutions that don't meet your needs or interests. The most effective tools are always going to be the ones you use.

That's why it's important to not get hung up on what the "next" Twitter or ensuring you're at the vanguard of whatever catches the early adopter Zeitgeist. Smart businesses know that a solid product and solid content strategy will always shine through.

I like to use the metaphor of a house. You can always paint the façade to whatever the style of the day may be, but if that façade is supported by a cracked foundation, has a leaky roof, and is riddled with sloppy construction, then it really doesn't matter how flashy the outside looks.

It's the same for your marketing and communications efforts. You can be as flashy and dynamic as you want; you can develop the most influential and shared social experience of all time... but if customers hate your product or your content doesn't answer the essential question of "What's in it for me?" then it won't make a difference.

No matter how many times music and fashion cycles, the basic need for entertainment and clothing is always there. Although the function remains the same, it's the form (how those items are delivered) that changes.

It's the same for business communications: today's smartphone may very well go the way of yesterday's pagers, but if you focus on building a solid foundation of product and content, you'll be able to quickly, easily, and effectively adapt to whatever comes in the future.

I used the image of two cans tied to a string to illustrate this post for a reason. Simply put, no matter how simple or complex the message delivery system may be, the message – your products and content – is what truly matters.

Your thoughts? Comments are open. I'd love to read what some of you grizzled vets think, as well as those newer to the industry? Does everything that's old become new again? And why, oh why, are kids embracing the neon of our youth? Some things are better left dead and buried.

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