Marketing Wisdom Outlasts Fashions

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Scott Flood is the owner of Scott Flood Writing. Scott Flood is the owner of Scott Flood Writing.

Every time someone invents a new marketing communications channel, many of its proponents will cast aside what successful marketers already know, insisting that this one is really different, and that the old rules don't apply.

In time, veteran marketers will apply their time-honored tactics to the new channel and prove their worth once again. And the "innovators" will eventually discover those same tactics and learn lessons that their predecessors already knew. They could have saved some time and made fewer missteps by listening to those experts and paying attention to those lessons, but human nature got in their way.

While I hate to admit that I’ve spent decades in my field, it’s given me the opportunity to watch this phenomenon happen again and again. As technologies create new channels and methods for reaching customers and prospects, two things invariably ensue. First, the supporters of the new channel will declare that it renders all other channels hopelessly obsolete. Second, they’ll insist that those time-honored tactics are amusingly archaic and can’t possibly work with their shiny new toys.

I might believe that, too, if I hadn’t seen what really happens. Savvy marketers who are in the game for the long run recognize the new channel for exactly what it is: a new tool they can add to their toolbox. When you buy a new tool for use at home, you don’t declare that every other tool you own is now useless and throw it in the trash. Instead, you recognize that you now have one more solution you can apply when needs arise.

That’s why I find new channels intriguing. Here’s another way my clients can connect with the stakeholders who are important to their success. Often, we eventually discover that while the new channel may be helpful, it’s not quite as magical as its advocates promised it would be.

What’s lost in the excitement of the emergence of these new channels is the wisdom that tools are not at the heart of marketing. What is? The same thing that’s been there since someone in an ancient marketplace convinced his consumers that they should buy his olive oil instead of someone else’s: psychology and persuasion. Successful marketing comes down to being able to change someone’s way of thinking.

The fashionable marketers become so enthusiastic about their shiny new channel that they forget that it exists not to be a work of art or an exciting plaything, but as a means for delivering a relevant message to an audience. The ultimate goal for that channel is not to make that consumer jump up and say “gosh, this is really a cool way of receiving a message,” but to make that consumer take the desired action. Maybe it’s to buy something. Maybe it’s to set up an appointment. Or maybe it’s to change a long-held belief. That’s the objective. The channel is simply one more tool for trying to achieve it.

Young advertising creatives and marketing executives laugh off the advice delivered by legends such as David Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, John Caples and Claude Hopkins, brushing it aside as archaic. They brush aside the sales success of marketers like Joe Sugarman. Why, they’re so old-fashioned. They’re so dated. Look at how old their stuff looks.

Yes, it looks old, because it is from another era. But look beyond the artwork and the typography, and you’ll find messages that resonate with audiences. Read through their work and watch how skillfully they anticipate and deflect the objections that keep prospective customers from buying. They weren’t trying to impress their peers with oh-so-cool designs; their goal was to help their clients profit from increased sales. And when they moved into then-new channels like radio and television, they brought those successful strategies with them.

There’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom. It’s easy to gain knowledge, but much harder to earn wisdom. That’s because wisdom grows from experiences and lessons learned. It springs from failures and is nurtured by successes. It can be shared, but only if the recipient is truly open to acquiring it from someone who’s willing to share.

What we know changes constantly. Wisdom arrives and matures much more gradually. Marketers who jump to employ the latest and greatest channel without paying attention to the established principles that work in any medium are likely to be disappointed by the results. By all means, experiment and change, but never lose sight of what makes those efforts work.

Scott Flood is the owner of Scott Flood Writing.

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