The Next Big Thing in Marketing is to Stop Worrying About the Next Big Thing
I started my digital marketing career in 2008, as the Web 2.0 revolution was well underway. MySpace was on life support, Twitter was in its infancy and Facebook was still figuring out how to be a profitable business.
The practice of marketing was evolving in real-time and no one knew for sure where it would ultimately lead. It made the work exciting. You felt like you were in the right place at the right time getting to do things that had never been done before.
But then it got weirdly fanatical. I admittedly, like a lot of people, got a little swept away in all the excitement. And at some point we started to conflate big, transformative changes, with shiny, short-term distractions.
It was a perpetual case of the boy who cried wolf. Everything was a big deal with big, game-changing implications. All of it (not coincidentally) perpetuated by platforms that thrived off attention and headlines.
If you worked at a digital agency around this time, part of your job was to be hyperaware of all these changes — from the meaningful to the minute — and help your clients to make sense of them.
The problem was that many of us with ‘digital’ in our title, did not have the foresight or the objectivity to tell the difference between the two, let alone know how to put them into context.
As a result, a lot of stuff was developed for no other reason than a new feature or technology made it possible. A lot of resources were wasted trying to be everywhere in pursuit of meaningless metrics. And a lot of tales were spun to make the results look better than they actually were.
In the midst of all the shiny newness, another shift was happening.
Strategy was becoming the inconvenient, afterthought. Something that was retrofitted to justify whatever the latest new brand imperative happened to be.
And just for context, I’m not even talking about the 6-months worth of qualitative research to inform the strategy, kind of strategy. Just the simple, revolutionary act of first considering why we were doing something and how it would meaningfully benefit the brand.
Ten years later and it feels like ancient history that we were falling head over heels for Foursquare and desperately ISO more inopportune places to stick a QR code.
And given the recent hysteria around a certain audio app, it seems doubtful that the past decade has taught us much of anything.
The predominant marketing narrative continues to be defined by tactical, reactive thinking and hyperbolic headlines. While the most potent drivers of effective marketing, like the need for great products anchored in good positioning and messaging, seem to have fallen further out of style.
Maybe because they take too long. Or make us think too hard. Or because we can’t directly attribute a metric to them, we assume they don’t really matter.
But it’s worth remembering that the the proliferation of new tactics didn’t suddenly negate the need for good strategy. If anything, it’s only made it stronger.
As tactics become cheaper and more commoditized, the value of strategy increases. As does the opportunity for those businesses willing to earnestly embrace it.
So maybe the next big thing in marketing is as old as marketing itself.
It’s not likely to make any headlines, but in an era of shiny newness and short-term hacks, may be the most disruptive thing you can do.