Marketing is Dead, Long Live Marketing

Well, “traditional” marketing is, at least. It’s still fighting hard for survival, but its days are numbered.┬áIt isn’t going down easily because it has become an enormous machine over the past hundred years or so.

Small Business MarketingWind the clock back about 150 years, when the industrial revolution was still in its infancy. There were lots of small, local businesses around – everything from hotels to blacksmiths. They probably never even heard the word “marketing”. They may have had a sign above the door and that was about it for their ad budget.

They didn’t buy radio ads or TV spots (obviously), and they didn’t have thousands of fliers mailed out at random. They focused on providing a good product at a good price, backed up by good client service. They couldn’t afford to alienate current customers and say “we’ll just get new customers instead” because there were no new customers. Towns were still small and word of mouth was just as effective as it is today. They had to nurture their clients – not consume and discard them – and they had to earn the business of every new person that came through the door.

We’re slowly coming back to that organic form of people-driven marketing. After the industrial revolution and the rise of corporations, businesses started marketing at people. They didn’t care about existing clients because there was a seemingly endless supply of new ones. They used a spray-and-pray approach to marketing by spamming everybody with pamphlets and untargeted TV ads in the hope that one or two percent might take the bait – quantity of marketing rather than quality.

The rise of the internet has seriously undermined that foundation. Not only can a small business can have a presence far greater than its marketing budget would have made possible only 20 years ago, but the emergence of social media brings us back to that centuries-old tradition of plain old good service. Back to the time of the vendors in Rome’s Forum and beyond, that was the cornerstone of acquiring (and keeping) customers. Now that a single person – with a tweet or Facebook post – can demolish a business’ reputation in mere seconds, the power has shifted back to the people. They want to be spoken to, not talked at.