Digital explodes on the scene, marketers get addicted: Excerpts from a new book series on the rise of post-modern marketing

Paradox: Feeling Machines and the Rise of Post-Modern Marketing

Each month The Drum will publish a chapter from 'Paradox: Feeling Machines and the Rise of Post-Modern Marketing’. The second chapter, Modern Marketing, begins with the rise of digital marketing and carries on through the development of social and mobile, marketing technology and programmatic buying–to today.

The world wide web burst into the public eye in 1993, giving birth to a new form of digital marketing that went on to challenge and displace existing business models, media and marketing approaches. Thinking about that time, marketers describe “holy crap” moments when they began to realize the enormous potential digital marketing measurability made possible.

Consequently, as of 2016, 27% of marketing budgets in companies with more than $250 million in revenue went to marketing technology (martech) – quite a bit more than the 22% that went for paid media, according to Gartner’s 2016-2017 CMO Spend Survey of marketers in the U.K and North America.

First came the information revolution

Even before marketers addicted themselves to digital marketing’s measurability, though, there was an information revolution. In the words of one web media pioneer during the very early digital days, “People won’t have to send around brochures anymore in the mail. They’ll just click on a link in an ad.” Marketers could send people information instantly over the internet instead of physical mail. At the same time, the “people,” too, figured out that they didn’t have to wait for information to show up in a magazine or on TV.

This simple fact set in motion enormous shifts in customer-brand relationships, led to the decline of print media and enabled web sites and online media to proliferate.

Marketers’ voracious demand for measurability

Pre-Google, startup invented paid search ads and syndicated them to the major portals of the day. At the time – the late 1990s – the incredible targeting and efficiency of those early search ads caused marketers to say 'I want that everywhere'.

"It was like crack. Marketers wanted more of it – more of the measurability, more of the scalability, more of the instant gratification,” recalls Ted Kohnen, managing director of Stein IAS Americas and Asia.

It wasn’t long before the dotcom bust, in combination with Google AdWords, exploded Kohnen’s “I want that everywhere” epiphany to the wider marketing world. Between the need to justify every dollar of digital marketing spend in the wake of the bust, and the availability of AdWords to do so, the idea of extremely relevant, targeted, efficient and measurable marketing spread at insanely fast velocity.

“Suddenly, in marketing organizations all over the world, digital marketers were bringing their CMOs reports on how many people they drove to their website, the cost per visitor, and – if they had any kind of transactional business – the cost per order. All with very precise data on the return on investment they’re getting. That then led a big shift in the marketing mix to directly attributable programs,” says John Ellet, author of the CMO Manifesto and former head of Dell’s North American marketing organization.

Digital marketing becomes a creative ‘crutch’

Unfortunately, modern digital marketing brings with it many challenges, many in the form of skews away from marketing best practices based on what early digital tools were – and were not – capable of doing. Perhaps most important to correct is the lean toward measurability and away from creative that touches human souls, carried further and further by the relentless introduction and adoption of new marketing technologies.

The lure of measurable digital marketing is so immensely powerful, that to a significant extent it has become a crutch – a substitute for thinking hard about creating great experiences. After all, who needs brilliant creative when modern marketing delivers ROI regardless?

Chapter 2: Modern Marketing, can be reviewed or downloaded in its entirety here. Coming next month: Chapter 3: Post-Modern Marketing Emerges.

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