5 shifts in modern marketing

Posted by kdow on Sep 22, 2016 2:16:54 PM


Over the last 5 years the phrase ‘the marketing playbook has changed’ has been rolled out so many times that I think that playbook that broke 5 years ago has come full circle and has re-surfaced as the playbook. Because marketing boils down to some simple concepts.

The main concept I notice these days is that marketers attempt to do one major thing at the start of a buyer journey: shovel as many fucking leads into the top of that funnel as you possibly can. After that, you just automate the living hell out of the funnel until a sales rep closes some deals on your ill-gotten “MQLs”.

I reckon the whole playbook thing is broken in & of itself. Mainly because there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all playbook in a business. Not even two SaaS companies can say that copying each others’ approach to acquiring customers is the same.

So, I figured I’d collate 5 things that I’ve noticed and note them here. Yes, a listicle. Fuck me, when did I become Larry Kim?!

1. Video is hard, but easily consumed

For the average internet denizen, reading is less enjoyable than watching videos or listening to audio. Medium is not as big as YouTube. Even when it comes to b2b education, or all the way down to getting some entertainment, video is easier to consume.

To amplify this, users are so lazy that Facebook has to build annotations on videos to explain what people are saying in a video because people can’t even be bothered to click on a moving video to hear the audio!

But producing video content can be costly. You need equipment, something to do in the video and you need the time to edit & craft that video into something worth watching as a consumer.

To ram this point home, Nicola Mendelsohn (Facebook’s head of operations for EMEA) reckons that Facebook’s timeline will be nearly all video in the next few years, with zero text. And looking at my timeline today in 2016, it’s hard to argue with that logic.

Shift: Not producing video content for your audience will hinder your ability to build a value proposition for prospects.

2. Bots

Bots are a super helpful and often useful feature in some people’s lives. Back in the heady days of my IRC usage when I was a teenager, we wrote bots to do really stupid things like troll people. But sometimes we wrote nefarious ones that did things like share warez on demand(which is basically the distribution of illegal software; pre-torrents). And then other times we wrote entertaining bots that had magic 8 ball functionality.

Those initial IRC bots never evolved into useful AI that would fetch a recipe, taxi or anything truly meaningful. The logic in a magic 8 ball is more or less the same logic featured in bots today on Facebook or Slack. There’s just more power available to them with big data API’s around to give the bot good, relevant data. Programmers of bots aren’t clamouring for data, they’re clamouring for relevance and logical decision tree structures.

But marketers are bastardising what bots are for. If I meet a person who uses a bot to subscribe to a newsletter or become some sort of lead in a funnel I will punch them. And I’m the kind of person who’s never been in a physical altercation in my life! I’m very confident that internet denizens are not going to use bots to satisfy some section of Maslow’s heirarchy of marketing (content, leads, sales — yes, I just made that up). Marketers who invest the time & effort to make a marketing-orientated bot don’t understand who’s going to use the bot in the first place. It’s not even millenials. It’s generation alpha people; who are in their teens now. Much like when I was a teen playing with shitty magic 8 balls, that same immature audience will use this new wave of bots to do things for convenience like recommend a good app, order pizza or hail a cab for them.

Bots will replace nothing. They’ll just augment some of our daily tasks. They will not be a big part of your funnel, unless you’re targeting kids.

Shift: Bots are a super useful utility but not yet something marketers need to invest heavily in.

3. Ephemerality

SnapChat introduced the word ‘ephemeral’ to most millenials. But the idea behind it is simple: data expires. This, just like my IRC example above, isn’t new. Data inputs are often useful, but most of it is complete trash moments after it’s input to a system.

An email is useless after it’s read (though the receipts about the activity aren’t), a photo on Instagram is useless after enough new photos go into a feed. A tweet is useless a few seconds after 100 new tweets pop into a timeline. Etc.

I think we’ve now been trained enough to understand that a lot of the marketing messages we publish online are so ephemeral that you basically only have a few moments of relevance, especially on social channels. These social messages don’t ‘hang’ online for all to marvel at for very long. They’re a flash in a very large pan, and unless someone is looking at their screen at the exact moment when a message is posted, you’re going to miss a huge swathe of audience.

Shift: Know that your audience doesn’t ❤ you. They’re not visiting your profile page, but consuming you as part of a wider shitstorm of messages. Catching people’s attention is harder & timing is key. Kind of like real life.

4. Marketers consume most digital marketing

A lot of online marketing seems to be tailored to marketers, which is infuriating to watch from afar. With the exception of companies like HubSpot, Buffer or Intercom, it’s hard to see why some companies write their copy, craft their images or do other things with their marketing that seems to be entirely aimed at other marketers.

It’s like content writers or digital marketing ninja rockstar guru wankshafts are in a massive, global, online-exclusive circle jerk. And instead of thinking about who would consume this, or who their target persona is for the content or product they’re hawking, they try to impress each other.

I remember seeing a slide a few years ago that described people’s perception of marketers. It was a picture of Don Draper. Which is generous. Marketers are likely seen as time wasters who just take up precious space online or on billboards. Obviously marketers are smart, hard working and intellectually curious folks in a lot of instances, but when you take the median s-curve of intellect and creativity in marketing, the curve sags to the bottom of a very, very deep toilet bowl of misery and hatefulness that’s then regurgitated by some PR agency receptionist on LinkedIn.

Shift: Focus on the persona you want to target. No one else matters, and in most cases no one else cares about your message.

5. Automation is not the silver bullet

Alright, you’ve got lots of leads. You need to nurture them. The best, most cost-effective and result-driven way to do this is to automate the process with various swimlanes of activity (mostly emails, to be fair). But this isn’t a silver bullet. And lots of marketers seem to confuse automation with letting the software do all the work.

The point of automation should be this: use some powerful software coupled with meaningful data to augment your nurturing campaigns. But make sure the humans doing the work are making sure that the messages the prospect/customer gets feel human. No one wants to feel like they’re in a marketing list that’s nurturing them up to a sales connect call. They want to feel like someone wrote a nice email with good information that solves a problem just for them.

Shift: Automation means way more than just pouring leads into some mythical bucket. Use it wisely & it will return ROI. Don’t, and you’ll just fade into obscurity drowning in emails triggered by pricing page visits.


Okay, all of that can be read through a thin veil of cynicism. But I am Irish, so that’s my nature. I could have written 25 things that have changed, and that need to continue to change. Marketing, as an industry, is going through a shift. All of those “smart marketers” that invested time and effort into a digital marketing diploma and bought software at their company are no longer at the cutting edge of relevance. I would argue non-marketers are better marketers than actually qualified marketers.

Sure, this post (and a lot of my opinions on marketing) are unabashed and quite critical. But I’ve spoken to and met more idiots in marketing & sales than I have smart marketers over the last few years. By virtue of you reading this post, you’re of the smart variety. At least we know you can actually read.