“Marketing and innovation produce results,” wrote Peter Drucker, “all the rest are costs.”
Sadly, in a world where over half of all digital advertising—an industry expected to hit $75.6 billion by the close of 2017—won’t be seen by an actual human… that assessment no longer stands. At least not when it comes to marketing.
The symptoms are everywhere.
Ad blockers, fake traffic, and bots (oh my). Toss in plummeting consumer trust and the skyrocketing cost of getting your message seen and, apologies to Mr. Drucker, but marketing is most certainly a cost.
The question is: What’s a business to do?
The thesis of Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose’s new book—Killing Marketing: How Innovative Businesses Are Turning Marketing Cost into Profit—offers a shocking answer:
“For the last 60 years, we’ve been operating marketing the same way, despite all of the disruptive changes that have gone on around us with digital, mobile, and everything the internet has brought.”
“What if everything we know to be true about marketing is actually what’s holding us back from being successful? And what if killing it was the best way forward?”
To find out why you should kill your marketing, I sat down with Joe and Robert. Turns out, getting away with murder comes down to three steps.
1. Audience is the asset
At first, killing marketing can sound revolutionary. And in many ways, it is. However, at its core stands one of business’ eternal truths: It’s not about you; it’s about them … your audience.
“Today,” says Joe, “there are no barriers of entry to building an audience nor for reaching whoever we need to. Because of that, it’s time to start looking at marketing in a different way: the possibility that marketing itself can be a profit center.”
Unfortunately, rather than take advantage of the new digital landscape as a direct access point, most brands still rely on the “gatekeepers of traditional media.” The result, in Robert’s words, is “interruption advertising on rented land.”
As Joe puts it, “Most marketing and communication experts are still running marketing as a disruptive force to generate sales for the current products and services they offer. This means revenue is dependant on one or two streams and ROI is wholly a matter of money spent versus money earned.”
Ironically, that assessment applies just as much to television commercials and print advertising as it does to pre-roll ads on YouTube and retargeting campaigns on Facebook. Regardless of the form, product-centric marketing stops the flow of an audience’s true pursuit and pays other companies for the privilege of that bothersome access.
Killing the old model starts with displacing products and services as the center of your marketing and replacing them with your audience.
“Amazon,” says Joe, “is a really good example. They sell a lot of different things, they’re getting into almost every industry on the planet, and they’re doing it by building a loyal audience first. Once you understand their needs, there’s no limit to product sales, service sales, running our own events, or launching our own media properties. You name it, we can do it.”
However, developing your audience means investing the right way in one of today’s most misunderstood buzzwords …
2. Content is the product
Content is a squishy term. Thanks to the online proliferation of all things written, visual, auditory, and interactive, it’s not exactly popular. But within that tension, as Killing Marketing reveals, lies a paradox: “As the production and distribution of content has become more commoditized … the value of original, high-quality content continues to increase.”
What separates good content from bad?
Treating content as the product meets your customers where they are. It begins with their needs, wants, problems, and desires. Rather than divert attention, good content capitalizes on it. A small but impressive minority are embracing this new model.
Netflix started as a DVD rental service and now has 104 million monthly subscribers. Soon, more than 50% of Netflix’s content will be original productions. Not to be outdone, Amazon plans to spend roughly $2.6 billion on original content in 2017 alone.
Or consider Starbucks who, through a partnership with former Washington Post editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran, invested in a series of TV and film documentaries centered on social issues. The classic example is Red Bull who evolved from an energy drink into a lifestyle magazine into documentaries, a TV series, live events, merchandising, and a music studio.
Of course, that’s all well and good for entertainment and product companies, but what about B2B services and ecommerce?
While not mentioned in the book, iQ by Intel is a shining example of just such a content-driven B2B initiative. Led by Managing Editor Deb Landau—a former investigative journalist—“the key,” says Deb, “is knowing the difference between a thing and a story.”
“Companies want to sell things. But things aren’t that interesting unless they mean something to people. You have to make a connection between what’s meaningful to your company and what’s meaningful to your audience. Things become interesting to people by telling stories about people.”
Good content creates an audience, and an audience leads to customers. But this symbiosis also offers something else important for long-term growth: data.
“Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter.com,” notes Robert, “reaches 23 million visitors a month and even though you’ll find sponsored ads from other companies, you won’t find a Johnson & Johnson product.” Instead, J&J uses the site to cultivate their audience and collect data, data that tells them everything from when new mothers start planning their baby’s birthday to what new products they want to which marketing messages resonate best.
At every step, content is the vehicle. The goal, however, is anything but content for content’s sake …
3. Profit is the goal
Good content provides value that both precedes and is distinct from traditional products. Unlike marketing, that content doesn’t interrupt your audience with a pitch, it serves them with an experience (one they already want).
All this takes time, investment, and energy. But does that mean content costs? Maybe not.
“Marketing forces you to rent an audience’s attention on someone else’s land,” Intel iQ’s Head of Publishing, Luke Kintigh, told me. “Tactically, content may start with paid distribution and retargeting, but it retains an audience through subscriptions, so you can harvest them on land you own.”
That harvest is precisely where Killing Marketing offers its best insights. Joe and Robert plot ten separate revenue streams available to brands not only as a result of content, but through content itself.
Interestingly, even organizations committed to content often overlook the immense value in two of those streams. First, premium content: creating and selling guides, ebooks, traditional books, webinars, and training. Second, advertising: opening up your outlets to other company’s marketing efforts (e.g., Johnson & Johnson as well as branded-content powerhouses like The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Thrillist).
In fact, profit cuts both ways.
While many of the businesses noted above are product companies who became publishers, publishers are also proving how lucrative products can be. Buzzfeed sells the Tasty One Top, The Chive’s ecommerce stores account for one-third of its revenue, and Mashable—at the risk of getting meta—sells online courses in everything from cryptocurrency to programming to (gasp) online marketing.
Plotting your marketing’s demise
Killing marketing is a big idea. One that can get you in a lot of trouble in organizations where campaigns and immediate ROI still reign. So, where should you start?
“The first step is to take the first step into an owned media experience,” says Robert. “What can you do to make a change, start to build direct access to your audience, and provide for multiple lines of value? It’s not about throwing everything out. It’s about investing now in a process that will pay dividends years from now.”
In other words, the worst thing you can do is try to dismantle marketing overnight. Far from being a wrecking ball, treating (1) your audience like the asset, (2) content like the product, and (3) profit as the goal can begin humbly. Regularity and consistency, no matter what medium you select, matter a great deal more than cinematic flash and excitement.
Just remember Robert’s final words: “There’s an evolution taking place and if you’re not in process of evolving, you’re in the process of dying.”