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Is traditional marketing dead?

It might sound like a provocative question, but it’s a real question I was asked at a recent speaking appearance. The hard part about answering such a question is that it’s a matter of perspective. Digital marketing is certainly on the rise, but it depends on your company whether that means that traditional marketing is dead, merely sick, or A-OK. Like any good consultant, I know it is annoying to answer a question like this as “It depends” but you’re a lot better off knowing how to think about this for your own business than hearing some apocalyptic pronouncement about marketing in general. None of us does marketing in general.

So, ask yourself what kind of marketer you are.

If you have never been able to to do a good job with traditional marketing, then of course it is dead, but that had nothing to do with the Internet. It was always dead to you. If you are a B2B company whose marketing consisted of what brochure to bring to the trade show, it’s safe to declare traditional marketing dead, because the effective and affordable choices online dwarf whatever you could do elsewhere.

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Likewise, if you are a local small business whose big decision in marketing was once “half-page or full page” when approached by your Yellow Pages rep, traditional marketing was already dead to you, even if you might not have known it. I mean, it’s not like you sat around pondering your marketing–you probably didn’t give it much thought, which is exactly how much attention it deserved. Now, you are probably thinking about marketing a lot more because digital marketing offers affordable choices that might prove effective.

For these kinds of companies, it’s not so much that traditional marketing is dead as it is that marketing itself is now alive. Marketing was dead to them because it offered few choices that allowed success, while digital marketing, if anything, offers too many choices.

But what if you are a company for whom traditional marketing worked very well? Is it dead now?

Hardly. Toyota and Geico would be idiots to eliminate traditional marketing. It clearly works, even today. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t devote part of their huge marketing budgets to digital efforts, possibly even substantial amounts. But TV and radio, outdoor, coupons, and plenty of other traditional techniques continue to work (almost) as well as ever. It’s hyperbole to say that these things have stopped working and that traditional marketing is dead.

However, it’s not an exaggeration to say that some marketers have found these older techniques to be less effective than they once were, as people block and pay less attention to intrusive messages. It’s not an overstatement to say that digital techniques can sometimes improve campaign results at a fraction of the traditional price. And it’s also smart to realize that younger consumers spend far less time with the mainstream media that underpins traditional marketing than their older counterparts do.

So, for some companies, traditional marketing was always dead (or at least very sick). For others, it might not remain the be-all and end-all that it once was, but it’s still important. It’s important to remember who you are when thinking through your marketing mix.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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