Campaigns vs. Content Marketing: A Relationship View

By Andrew Frank | December 10, 2013 | 1 Comment

Last week my colleague Jake Sorofman wrote of The End of the Marketing Campaign, a view that I’ve since heard echoed in a few places. Here’s another perspective.

I think it’s clear that digital is changing the nature of almost every stalwart of traditional marketing. At the same time the time-honored objectives and language of marketing – customer acquisition, branding, cross-sell and upsell, loyalty and retention, advocacy, and so forth – endure in a world of changing tactics. Which begs the question, what is the new equilibrium of marketing tactics that we’re all approaching in the digital world?

I’d like to propose the hypothesis that the ultimate goal of digital marketing – in fact, of marketing in general – is to establish a more natural relationship between brands and individuals. Yes, the real goal is to sell, but this is best accomplished in the context of a relationship that echoes our primordial instincts to do business with people we know and trust and to be wary of offers from strangers. This forms the impetus for content marketing and brand storytelling: these are efforts to establish a familiar, natural role for brands in the digital marketplace of human interactions.

So does this mean campaigns are becoming outmoded? This depends on how you define “campaign.” If a campaign is any sort of planned, time-bound concerted effort to make or change an impression – at scale - then I doubt they’ll ever go away. Here’s why: when individuals seek to form or modify relationships, clearly their interactions take different forms. A first impression is a one-time opportunity, and people are motivated to make it count. Whether it’s dating, a job interview, a major speech, a big sales presentation, or a marriage proposal, we all strive to make the most of our big moments. Brands are no different: whether it’s a new product launch, a shift in direction, a seasonal special or even an attempt to answer for a disaster, there will always be moments in the life of a brand that call for “campaign thinking” – that is, preparation, orchestration, and careful measurement – and maybe, in the digital world where messages reverberate and take on a life of their own, these moments are more important than ever.

Time in the spotlight has long-term implications – in many cases, defining brand perceptions for years to come. On the other hand, the quotidian world of casual communication is also a key aspect of natural relationships within communities and families. The theme of continuous storytelling supports this long-term analog of natural social relationships (at much smaller scale). To excel at communicating, people need to be adept at both forms of communication, and so do brands. If your branding practice is trying to use the machinery of campaign management to drive your daily dialog, you may well need to rethink your approach. But as you do, don’t allow the burdens of real-time presence to obscure the opportunities to think big. Small talk is no substitute for planning a few special moments for people we care about.

1 Comment
  1. 10 December 2013 at 3:56 pm
    Martin Kihn says:

    Well put Andrew — I think there’s also an economic argument in favor of campaigns. Consumer brands often launch new products, line extensions, etc., and the most efficient way to do so at scale is via mass media (e.g., TV, homepage takeovers, big Facebook campaigns, etc.). Such media are simply too expensive to continue indefinitely (“always on”), so they’re used in bursts, which we call campaigns. On the other hand, culture still features big events such as bowl games, Oscars, New Year’s Eve, back-to-school — and these events are better served with custom creative, also usually called campaigns. So even if all mass media go the way of the car phone, there will still be time-bound, event-driven advertising.

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