Is traditional marketing dead - or just developing new traditions?

White Papers | August, 2016

The days of marketers talking to consumers are over. The advent of more interactive, personalized messaging channels has favorably positioned marketers to now talk with potential and current customers—transforming the traditional marketing model into a truly dynamic exchange.

As new digital marketing formats and data analytics capabilities made it possible to form a deeper, more consistent connection with consumers, in recent years, marketers’ roles have changed. Today, marketing professionals are true technologists, acting as information conduits and gatekeepers, deftly disseminating and examining customer behavioral patterns and projections.

For organizations to effectively convey their brand proposition, they need to structure a team of experienced marketing professionals who possess a mix of data interpretation skills; leadership and management faculties; the capability to adapt along with new marketing practices—and the ability to address customers in their preferred setting, in the right tone.

This white paper will examine which tools and techniques have advanced in the past few decades; how chief marketing officers define the new model of marketing; how they’ve worked to execute it and what skills marketing professionals should possess to see success in today’s environment—and remain effective in the future.

Technology’s Timely Progression

The Digital Age has had a lasting impact on the way consumers communicate with businesses—and each other. As a result, its effect on conventional marketing practices has been no less profound.

Before the rapid technological changes of the last half-century occurred, efforts to reach customers focused on broad outbound marketing messages that marketers worked to pointedly place in front of a wide audience, using TV, radio and essentially any other distribution channels they could.

Although marketers began toying with a quantitative and behavioral science approach in the 1950s, according to research from two Notre Dame professors, William L. Wilkie and Elizabeth S. Moore, advancements in computer technology over the following four decades propelled marketing analysis endeavors to a new height.

The progression was heavily influenced by what the Pew Research Center identifies as three distinct digital revolutions—involving a steady rise in internet users, mobile connectivity and social media use—which ultimately changed the way news and information are received.

Social media sites and other new media outlets have provided marketers with unique passive and active promotional opportunities that weren’t available two decades ago.

Through the use of metrics-based technology, a.k.a. big data, marketing professionals can also now obtain additional insight to drive their strategy.

The increased ability in recent years to cull and analyze customer behavior-related data has helped identify smaller subgroups of an overall audience, enabling marketing teams to more effectively address consumer needs.

An Evolving Marketing Model

The new venues and tools at marketers’ disposal may have altered the playing field; the game, however, in many ways remains the same.

The fundamentals of marketing haven’t necessarily changed, according to Denise Karkos, chief marketing officer for TD Ameritrade; it is the convergence of science and technology—which essentially merged the brand marketer and direct marketer role—that has given marketers a profound ability to target audiences like never before.

“Twenty-five years ago, the marketer held the keys to the kingdom,” Karkos says. “They could use persuasive techniques and bombard [consumers]; but then the narrative changed and became about customers being in control with social media. The customer now has a very loud voice.”

The marketing industry, in turn, has been an attentive audience, utilizing today’s data analysis techniques and enhanced touchpoints to form an ongoing conversation with consumers.

“It’s a beautiful matrix of communications,” Karkos says. “It completely respects the customer and what they’re looking for. It’s rare that you’re just persuading them, which is what you used to do.”

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The new combination of tools and techniques has helped marketers better understand customers so businesses can better serve them, according to Mark-Hans Richer, former Harley-Davidson senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

“Marketers have a lot more ingredients to cook with in the kitchen,” Richer says. “You’re still bringing ingredients together on behalf of the business to deliver value to the consumer base—that has not changed in any shape or form. [But] we have an exponential ability to understand customers on a more individualistic level.”

Much like cooking, modern marketing practices often involve a blend of several components. Richer doesn't eschew including the traditional promotional venues used in the past.

“There’s still a very strong viewing among many demographics of television, radio and print,” he says. “TV media is nowhere near dead yet; it’s just morphing—and yes, we’ve seen a long-term trend in newspapers, but they’re adapting, as well, and becoming multimedia.”

The way both customers and marketers use those venues, he says, is just changing and has been for more than a decade. He cites an example from 2006 when his team partnered with Google to include search in a Pontiac TV commercial. The ad ended with a search bar suggestion to prompt viewers to seek additional information.

“Google was very excited because it wanted to measure how a suggestion on TV would turn into a behavior online,” Richer says. “The answer was seconds.”

With considerably more mobile devices, and more mobile device users, the response the ad received 10 years ago would be exponentially greater today.

“There used to be ‘lean forward’ and ‘lean back’ media; lean forward was supposed to be engaging media, [for someone] in front of a computer or phone, and lean back was the TV experience: letting it all waft over you,” Richer says. “That was never really true—especially as soon as it became very easy, if you’re intrigued by something on TV, to learn more [because] a desktop computer was just 10 feet away.”

Similarly, social media has added an inexpensive way to distribute information, with consumers’ help, because, Richer says, of the “now hugely scaled and instantaneous ability of people to talk to each other en mass.”

“Social media is about interconnectedness; it’s about people, not about media,” he says. “It’s not a silver bullet; but it is a more advanced way to connect a brand story with and among consumers, where you’re not paying full retail to get that message out. It is also more persuasive if it's authentic.”

Antonio Lucio, global chief marketing & communication officer at HP, believes that despite the abundance of new practices and promotional outlets, the basic objective of marketing should remain the same: to build brands that can withstand the test of time.

“Several things have changed,” Lucio says. “The customer or the consumer, depending on what that would be, has more options to engage with information than ever before; they are completely wired. The challenge is [to not send an overabundance of irrelevant information].”

Marketers now face an abundance of options—but also, the need to simultaneously address an audience that is both global and local.

“That has added a lot more complexity, in terms of my role,” Lucio says. “The areas of responsibility have expanded. There are demands between communication and marketing; there is a plan between marketing and sales; a stronger link between marketing and product development.”

Modern marketing campaigns involve a significantly larger number of players, ranging from local and global managers to traditional agency partners, plus additional assets like Google, Twitter, Facebook and similar sites.

“It has made the traditional role as brand steward and guardian and architect, if you will, almost much more of a general manager,” Lucio says. “Any project you’re managing is a major undertaking. It involves having the ability to orchestrate and coordinate; those are skills that are required more than ever before.”

New Practices; New Proficiencies

In recent years, as conventional marketing methods have given way to more data-based techniques, the composition of companies’ in-house marketing teams has also changed, according to Karkos.

“Ten years ago, the buzz was the relationship between HR and marketing, as it relates to building brands,” she says. “Now it’s really about the chief technology officer, because marketing is going to be grounded in tech. The CMO has to be steeped in analytics.”

In the past, a research department may have sorted through massive amounts of information; today, marketing teams often include members with a strong analytical discipline to spearhead the work.

“Having more, better data, in real time, to understand customers as best you can—and how to do more, better things for them—is absolutely a good thing,” Richer says. “You have to have people who know how to get big data, create insight and use that. Having the information doesn't necessarily make a business smarter; it’s no good if you can’t use it.”

Karkos, who has a fairly new team in place—most members have spent two or less years in their role—focused on bringing in professionals with best-in-class analytics skills.

“We’re an online company, for all intents and purposes, and we are able to harness a lot of transactional data,” she says. “I really invested in staff with data analysis and research [capabilities]. I built a large muscle, and it paid off in spades.”

Analytical experience can be a sought-after qualification in today’s industry. Candidates who are also able to innovate, however, may offer an even stronger return, according to Lucio.

“We look for balance—left brain, right brain,” Lucio says. “Deep analytics need to be there, but aren’t enough. What are your creative credentials? How do you use that wealth of data to create value propositions?”

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A well-rounded marketing position candidate can also adeptly address your intended audience, according to Richer.

“It is a skill to know how to work with these tools and use them correctly; there are cultural norms around how you speak with customers that, on Snapchat, are very different from LinkedIn,” he says. “At some point, you have to have people who are good at the touch; not just understanding the technology of it—you believe the person gets it and can deliver the company strategy through those forums.”

Social media proficiency can be a selling point; however, Richer cautions against focusing solely on that, or any other one skill.

“At some point, they’re going to run out of career runway,” he says. “To really be a marketer, with a big ‘M,’ it’s not about one thing; it’s about how that connects to everything else.”


Today’s digital environment has produced a new dialogue between companies and consumers.

The landscape may contain some elements of its previous form—but it looks vastly different; and with new technological capabilities premiering on an almost constant basis, chances are, the marketing industry’s tech-inspired transformation is far from over.

However, despite the new techniques and developing communication tools available to promote products and services, the objective of any marketing effort should still be tailored to providing the best possible user experience, according to Lucio—which can be a challenge, given the orchestration involved in executing campaigns that resonate both globally and locally.

“The biggest fear is fragmentation,” he says. “You end up not making a difference or being able to clearly establish a purpose to prove to your customers that you’re having an impact in their lives—and you aren’t able to build an emotional connection.”

Marketing may now involve considerably more targets and components—and, as a result, additional complexities—but to Lucio, that’s part of the thrill.

“I love the fact that there are many things about my craft that I have to find out and experiment [with],” he says. “You just have to be very focused so you can deliver a compelling experience. It’s never been a better time to be a marketer—I’ve honestly never had as much enthusiasm as I do now.”