At first glance, it sure seems like digital is complicating marketing, and ruining things for marketers. One only has to run into the beleaguered marketer on the nearest street corner (isn't that where they hang out?) to evidence the profound impact technology is having on the marketing function - that crazed stare, those bloodshot eyes bearing stark testimony to an unending flow of information to be absorbed, an unceasing deluge of content to be written. Operating on the front lines of digital transformation, one wonders how this intrepid marketer, and those like him, is able to keep it together at all (cocktails, but that's a different story). Now for the ironic twist: even though it may be making life hell for marketers, digital is actually simplifying marketing, at least on a broad strategic level.
Here's how the argument goes:
1. As digital technologies continue to advance, digital adoption more deeply permeates all levels of society.
2. As consumer adoption of digital becomes more widespread, consumer proficiency with digital becomes more sophisticated and its use more habitual.
3. In time, society reaches a tipping point where the preponderance of individuals develop a seamless relationship with digital technologies, at which point the relevant distinction between online and offline marketing officially blurs. Let's have a bit of fun and call this phenomenon General Marketing Convergence (GMC). When we reach GMC, marketing is made simple.
GMC: Integration of Online and Offline
Here's why. GMC represents the functional integration of online and offline marketing, the happy marriage of a brand's physical, or offline presence with its online presence. GMC reflects an environment in which the projection of a brand's values, goals, voice, positioning, messaging, and sales efforts are seamlessly integrated, creating a unified whole that is greater than the sum of its constituent parts.
Recent advancements in internet, social, and mobile technologies have laid the groundwork for GNC. For the sake of brevity, let me illustrate by giving just one key example. Recent improvements in natural language processing, machine learning, and semantic recognition have allowed companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook to develop highly sophisticated search engines that recognize conversational language and understand basic context. In other words, search engines are beginning to think more like humans. Given this, it should come as no surprise that Google's periodic algorithm updates (culminating in Hummingbird) have increasingly favored high quality, contextually relevant content over context-less keyword stuffing.
For Google, this kind of rich content creates a virtuous cycle:
1. It helps Google's fledging (childlike but evolving) artificial intelligence (AI) search engine "learn" more quickly, thus making it more "intelligent" and humanlike, ensuring more accurate search results.
2. Accurate search results provide more value to the user and enhance the customer experience.
2. A happy customer = a returning customer, which = more search traffic for Google.
3. More search traffic for Google = more interest from businesses to market and advertise on Google's search engine, which = more $$$ for Google (they really profit twice; most obviously from ad revenues, but also from the data they can aggregate by crawling all of the organic, contextually relevant content that businesses and marketers upload onto websites and share on social platforms every day. In the digital world, data = information, and information = $$$).
To Be Online is to Be Human
As much as the evolution to AI search engines represents a watershed moment in the history of computing technology, it is also hugely important for business and marketing in general and for GMC in particular.
In another massively ironic twist, as internet and social search engines progress in their ability to think like humans, (e.g. using humanlike thought processes, such as context and relevance, to assign value to online content) they create an online environment that is, for lack of a better term, more "humanlike." Parallel advancements in other areas of digital, such as video, audio, mobile, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) are serving to further enhance the humanlike nature of the online world, transforming it from a static and stilted (remember dial-up?) two-dimensional experience to a dynamic and flowing, multidimensional environment that continues to pervade our own offline world. In this way, cutting-edge digital technologies like AI search, AR, and mobile are erasing the barriers between the online and offline worlds, paving the way for GMC.
GMC: Marketing Made Simple
For many of you, a humanlike internet may not sound simple at all, in fact, quite the opposite. Admittedly, the online world has become exponentially more complex for marketers on the nitty-gritty tactical execution side of the equation (design, implementation, and analytics), but on the big picture, conceptual, broadly strategic side of things it has greatly simplified the marketing function. How, you might ask?
Because it finally slays the conceptual bugbear holding many a business owner/marketing executive captive - the idea that there are two distinct and mutually exclusive worlds to navigate and market to:
1. The real world - A tangible, sensible place where rational business processes and marketing concepts are in play, where businesses can do the normal things businesses do, like interact with customers, pitch products/services and, of course, sell stuff.
2. The online world - An esoteric, whacky place populated by strange, ungainly sorts, like socially awkward, misanthropic tech geeks and socially deviant, pot-addled D&D gamers. A virtual environment littered with keyword-stuffed brochure websites and teen-heavy social media platforms. No place for real business to be done, this internet realm...
Thanks to GMC, business owners and marketers can drop the blinders and see the world as it really is: an integrated, digitally driven marketplace where what you say and do offline is (and by all rights should be) mirrored online.
Let's simplify and codify this notion further by providing some general guidelines, in commandment form (why not):
The 7 Commandments of GMC
1. Whatever you do offline, do online (physical limitations aside).
2. Whatever you say offline, say online.
3. Whatever you believe in, value, subscribe to, or hold dear offline, " " online.
4. However you define your brand message, essence, voice, value, etc. offline, define online.
5. However you pitch your product or make your argument offline, do so online.
6. Whatever you would showcase offline, showcase online.
7. Whoever or whatever you are offline, be online.
*** Importantly, these rules hold true in the converse: i.e. whatever you would not say offline, don't say online, etc.
GMC helps businesses throw off the perceived tyranny of digital and embrace their online selves once and for all, to become truly whole, perhaps for the first time. It gives businesses and marketers peace of mind, providing a clear lens through which to view their digital efforts, a familiar approach from which to define and establish their online presence. Perhaps most importantly, the GMC perspective allows businesses to keep it simple, to stay focused on marketing fundamentals such as connecting with and converting prospects into customers, and turning customers into long-term brand advocates.
GMC: A Self Diagnosis
Not sure if your brand is down with GMC? Here's a quick self-diagnosis exercise:
1. Take a few minutes to make a list of your principal target audience(s), i.e. your ideal prospects and customers.
2. List out all of the questions they tend to ask with respect to your product/service. If possible, try to focus on actual questions past or existing prospects and customers have asked. Write down your best answers to these questions.
3. Make a list of the primary wants, needs, problems, desires you perceive your audience is trying to resolve with respect to your product/service. List out the reasons your company is best suited to resolve or address each one.
4. Write down your go-to sales pitch, the pithy elevator speech you always fall back on to describe what you do and why you're the best at doing it, i.e. why people should use your product/service or go with your brand.
5. Finally, write down your story - a brief summary of who you are and why you are doing what you do.
Here's the important part: make sure all of it, this entire list of assets that comprises the essence of your business, is included in your online presence (e.g. reflected on your website, social media platforms, online content, etc.)
If it's not, you need to fix it. If it is, you're fine.
GMC is Here to Stay
Someone once told me that the hardest thing in life is to have a clear perspective, to see things as they really are. Once you have perspective, you can formulate a plan, set goals and objectives, and execute.
By dispelling the artificial conceptual distinction between marketing offline and marketing online, GMC offers perspective. It provides an overarching framework to achieve strategic clarity, a fast-track to tactical execution.
GMC is already happening. The sooner you accept this, the better. There is, in fact, a parallel, virtual world that exists alongside our own which we know as the internet, online, or digital. It's not going away. Quite the contrary, with each passing day the online and offline worlds are becoming more deeply enmeshed. Just as technological advancements are making the digital world more humanlike, more actual humans are turning to digital resolve real-world wants and needs.
This represents an unprecedented opportunity for businesses and marketers that embrace GMC, for those intrepid souls who understand that to successfully market in a GMC world, what you say and do offline must necessarily integrate with what you do and say online. It's really that simple.
Now execution, well, that's a different story. Just ask the beleaguered marketer on the nearest street corner...