Blog post

The End of the Marketing Campaign

By Jake Sorofman | December 05, 2013 | 8 Comments

digital marketing

As marketers, our time and effort is often organized and oriented around campaigns, which are concentrated, time-bound, and largely promotional prosecutions designed to move the needle for the business. Campaigns represent the combination of air cover and ground support required to catalyze demand and to direct selling motions.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this way of thinking. After all, we’re all in business to sell stuff. But it’s a concept that has the potential to collide headlong with the ethos of content and social marketing, which are disciplines that, in their most effective forms, tend to bet long on the customer.

Perhaps paradoxically, content and social marketing—very modern marketing disciplines—seek to acquire customer loyalty the old fashion way: by earning it.

It’s got to make you wonder whether the campaign construct is maybe a bit outmoded.

Also, campaigns are often activated to shape demand patterns in very specific, product centric ways. But in the age of brand storytelling, it’s about engaging with audiences with a broader corporate narrative. As a company and as a brand, it’s often less about your individual products than it is about sum of your parts.

It’s about what you stand for, not the products you seek to peddle.

That’s why, while I believe the campaign still has a role to play, its role is diminishing. The ascendancy of content marketing will match the gradual decline of the campaign.

In its place will be continuous storytelling. These stories, of course, may be organized around themes that vaguely resemble the campaigns of yore. But rather than focusing on driving short term gains in units shipped, they’ll focus on driving lifetime value, loyalty and advocacy.

So, as you begin your 2014 planning, consider whether you should trade campaign thinking for a longer bet on the customer. Because it’s often the patient investor who yields the greatest returns.

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  • Andrew (@mccauley_andrew) says:

    Jake – love the thinking here but I wonder if this concept of storytelling and idea of a long-term continuous commitment to content / social marketing will end up backing marketers into a corner when it comes to the inevitable “return on ___” conversation. While it is noble to state a case for building loyalty and brand value, how can marketers relate this back to a business outcome to justify future or on-going investment?

  • Thanks for the thoughts, Andrew. Yes, a shift to continuous storytelling doesn’t relieve us of the ROI burden. In fact, just the opposite. Digital marketers are under pressure to trace the thread from investment to outcome across all disciplines. Ultimately, I think we’ll see a blend of campaigns and storytelling (or sales- and engagement-driven strategies) to satisfy both the need for both generating and shaping demand, while also investing in long and loyal relationships. Campaign thinking isn’t going away, but it’s under pressure to change. Brands that don’t get this will find it progressively harder to find, engage, convert and retain customers during a time when their attention is as fragmented as marketing channels and purchase paths.

  • Jay Oza says:

    I agree but also it has to be told by everyone, from CEO to customer service reps, partners and customers.

    There is a big problem with this. Everyone is not good at telling stories. It is one of those soft skills that takes years to hone. I have written about this. I will refer to the blog I wrote while ago about Abraham Lincoln. titled,” Lesson From Abraham Lincoln on Becoming a Great Storyteller.”

  • Kiersten says:

    So who is leading the “ROI revolt”? What is the best way for Marketers push back without a punch in the nose?

  • Many drivers of the digital age support this thinking around “the end of the campaign.” Campaigns go out, response rates are measured, but marketers can’t differentiate between positive and negative response, or if it was shared. Some can’t even draw a line from the campagin to a final sale.

    But overall, I believe its the behavioral insight observed during the ebbs and flows of a traditional campagin (which is most often built on static segmentation data) that is changing things like pipeline managment.

    Perhaps we will migrate to a world of continuous marketing where we measure milestones and adjust in real time …. versus today’s launch, stop, measure, learn, launch again.

    Re It’s about what you stand for, not the products you seek to peddle.

    I find it interesting that product-centric companies are starting to realize this. Again, not new. Coca Cola, the ultimate product marketer, is also the ultimate brand marketer. But many consumer brands, formerly focused on products, are adopting this thinking.

    For example, some are migrating away from product marketing to lifestyle marketing; Nike is the one referenced the most (going from shoes and apparel to athletic performance).

    I also think the two concepts can co-exist. During Awareness Marketing you are telling the brand story (what you stand for); when you move potential buyers into an Evaluation stage, you tell product stories (through things such as comparative analysis marketing where you illustrate relative business case or cost-of-ownership studies where your product outperforms a competitor).

    This blog post reminds me of that age-old question, “What business are you in?”

  • Ryan Cote says:

    Storytelling is an excellent way to connect with people, build relationships and brand your business. It might take time to establish a rapport but it will definitely be worth the effort.

  • Hopefully if you make really amazing content there will be no end to your marketing campaign. Marketing can be endless if you make it amazing, it’s insanely hard to do but worth it! Think about all those classic commercials that still get searches on YouTube.

  • James Curran says:

    I think what you talk about here is spot on, the future of social is away from the networks and engaging people back on the destination site i.e business site. allowing businesses to see and understand who they are talking to, focusing their attention on engagement over network metrics. The return for any business is in the engagement.The social web is still in it’s early adoption and this means that marketers will try to add ROI’s to everything they do, but as we progress our understanding and where the real returns lie, we start to remove the rubbish that currently exists. Social networks are the connectors between people and organisations, the conversations need to happen back at home to drive sales.

    Good read!