“The internet has changed everything” – We have heard it for many years, and we still hear it a lot. Or perhaps you have heard something like this – “the development of the internet means things will never be the same again”. These are big dramatic statements that may on the surface appear to be true considering the impact the internet has had on how we live our lives in the modern world. No doubt it has changed a lot, but has it really changed everything?
Marketing in particular, is an area which these statements are used to suggest that everything that was done in the past is no longer valid in today’s new dynamic market place. “The arrival of the internet has killed traditional marketing”, or “leading companies will no longer be able to compete in a modern world unless they change their marketing approach”.
Again, big statements, and depending on your interpretation perhaps can be true to some extent, – but then again, perhaps not.
What is absolutely clear, is that how marketing is perceived by companies and consumers both in B2C and B2B has changed and there is a perception that everything should now be focussed on utilisation of digital technologies and tools, many of which are internet based.
This widely held perception gives the impression that Internet Marketing is in fact a competitor to traditional marketing strategy and companies must decide on one direction to take or the other. This can also be perceived from the terminology used within companies, such a “Digital Transformation”. The word transformation indicating we must change from one thing to another if we are to be successful or otherwise we will die.
Let’s consider there is another way, not a transformation, but rather an evolution. Marketing as a function has evolved with the introduction of the internet because the internet provided a powerful new channel on which to execute marketing strategies in order to gain a much wider market reach, at a speed that was unthinkable in the past.
This in theory is a marketers dream, – imagine being able to reach as many people as you want, in an instant, in any location and at any time and be able to convey any message you want. And furthermore, if you decide the change that message or provide a new message, you can do that also, and all that, at a relatively low cost.
If this is true, then you can understand why companies want to utilise the power of the internet to transform their marketing success, so why then is it that even today, many companies, especially B2B are still only talking about this, when the internet has been around for more than 3 decades, and in most cases even marketing budgets are still heavily biased towards traditional marketing tactics?
I would suggest that this is due to 2 key factors – Competence & Customer
Competence – an internal barrier?
Traditional companies that have mature or complex technical products, typically will have highly skilled marketers, with lots of experience in the products and in marketing who have been around for many years, but are not ‘native’ to the digital world. As such, these teams rely on traditional marketing methods that have served them well historically, and although they may have an interest in the digital or internet possibilities, their lack of training, or true knowledge in how to use these creates a barrier. This may mean that another department may focus on internet initiatives, such as a communications team, and the competence may sit there.
Alternatively, it can be the case that a decision is made to recruit ‘digital savvy’ employees to drive internet or digital marketing initiatives, and although these have the right competence in this area, they may not have the core marketing skills or competence, and so once again a barrier is created, (also see the article on [how] B2B communications is evolving [Link: https://www.marketingweek.com/2016/06/15/b2b-communications-is-evolving-pr-and-marketing-need-to-keep-up/ or http://bit.ly/2gvEzUd ])
Of course this is not case for all companies, but it would be fair to say a great deal of companies may face this challenge today, and as such there is a ‘gap’ between the old and the new, and a perceived competition between traditional methods and new digital methods is created.
Customer – an external opportunity?
The customer is the most important factor in any business, and the use of internet marketing has created an entirely new dimension in terms that customers have now become an integral part of the marketing strategy of any company (see: The internet’s impact on integrated marketing communication [Link: https://ac.els-cdn.com/S221256711200192X/1-s2.0-S221256711200192X-main.pdf?_tid=d010fb60-c10e-11e7-b30d-00000aab0f6b&acdnat=1509765682_525c7679e234288febbf55194a18ccc0 or http://bit.ly/2xYsCiQ
] ). Not only as the receiver of information, as has been the case in years gone by, when marketers would channel their message through media, magazines, advertising, telemarketing and even direct sales, but as an active participant in the promotion, or critique of a company brand, product or service, through sharing their own personal views, and feelings with friends and colleagues and business partners in a very open and transparent way. This real time response and the introduction of the ‘personal and emotional’ aspect from the customers, means that marketing teams no longer have to think about only the message they want to project, but they have to think about how to respond to customer engagement and how to inspire the customer on a whole new level in order to secure their loyalty ensure the customers marketing message is a positive one to their network.
This was the part of the internet that was unforeseen. The idea to communicate with customers or to extend your reach for your marketing message was indeed a dream for marketers, but the development of two-way communication was completely new.
The creative message and strategy devised by the marketing team and sent into the market place was no longer one way traffic, like in a bowling alley, hitting the target market with precise strikes and knowing with a degree of accuracy what was going to happen. Now this had changed, because instead of bowling, the interactivity and interconnectivity created between customers on the internet meant the game was now pinball (as Hennig Thurau et. al state in their article “Marketing the Pinball Way” [Link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259143423_Marketing_the_Pinball_Way_Understanding_How_Social_Media_Change_the_Generation_of_Value_for_Consumers_and_Companies or http://bit.ly/2lP8MoB ]), and once the message was sent into the market, there were endless possibilities of what could happen, as information bounced around as customers share, comment, recycle or even change the message conveyed to suit their own needs and wants. Very quickly a marketing tactic can be catapulted to great success, or just as quickly dumped right back where it came from.
As such a whole new approach is needed to understand the customer’s needs, and the customer’s behaviour, and how to adapt to the very personal nature of individuals. This is quite new for most businesses, who are used to the traditional ‘one way’ marketing, and being in total control.
The opportunity is great, but specific strategies, resources and competence are needed that understand this new environment, and complement the basic marketing strategies that have served so well in the past.
Be brave and embrace the change
So, in answer to the question I posed in the title of this blog– Are traditional marketing and Internet marketing competitors?
The answer is a resounding no.
B2B marketing and communications is changing fast, and the internet is contributing to much of this change, through the speed, reach and interactivity that can be created, but the underlying marketing principals of old, such as the marketing mix 4P’s – Price, Product, Place, Promotion, still remain as strong as ever. These are the basic principles of marketing and without these there is no Internet marketing – there is only internet.
As such, all marketing strategies include Promotion, and the Internet provides an exceptional channel to market that can transform the impact of a marketing strategy if applied effectively.
Many B2B marketing departments can find a truly competitive advantage by being brave enough to invest in these new digital channels. This alone will not make them unique, as most companies today realise the opportunity in front of them, however being brave enough to Invest in competence, and resources within their organisations and to bring it together and fully integrate this competence into their already established marketing teams as a core pillar, rather than an additional department added on, is key to leadership in this area.
It must be noted, that although Promotion remains as a key foundation for successful marketing strategy, the new environment has changed the execution tactics. The blurring of communication lines between personal and business, through the use of social media, and directly connecting information between colleagues and friends, and family means that marketers must also appeal to the emotions of their customer base, and inspire their targets in a way that not only makes them do something specific, but makes them feel in a positive way and creates a connection with them as individuals.
The customer is king. The internet has given the customer a voice. Embracing the feedback is part of the customer experience, and ability to do this, takes customer centricity to a whole new level and will give companies willing to adopt this into their business model a huge competitive advantage.