How “Ad hoc” Marketing Could be Causing you to Miss Your Marketing Goals
Three reasons you should be wary of 'ad hoc' marketing services
There's a Latin phrase for just about every occasion and situation.
As we all know, quidquid Latine dictum sit, altum viditur (everything sounds more impressive when said in Latin). Maybe that's why lawyers and physicians began using Latin; because it helped them make their "sorcery" as impenetrable as possible. Or so that they could charge more. Well, they're not the only ones who do that.
It could be said that search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing (SMM), and a host of other services have done great good for the age-old art of marketing. It's through this alphabet soup of "things" that many small businesses (and some larger ones) began to recognize the need for specialized tasks - especially as all marketing shifted into digital mode.
The world of digital marketing didn't launch until after people start thinking about optimizing websites for search engines. It was shortly after 1997 that I first heard the term "SEO." I was there - working with early and very clumsy tools - trying to thread the needle between effective PR and other emerging technologies like social media, content management systems, et al.
The conundrum over what to do with swelling audiences on Twitter, Facebook, et cetera, didn't really hit until around 2003. That was when schools like San Francisco State University began offering a certificate in social media marketing. The problem is that some managers are still stuck with the belief that such services are so specialized that only special people can provide them. Thus they acquire them ad hoc (L: as needed) and separate from their total marketing program.
I agree that there was a time when this approach was warranted, when methodology and effectiveness were still debatable; when metrics were in short supply. As for the present time, I argue that we're well beyond that point. These services (and others like them) are vital tasks in any marketing campaign. Moreover, none of them are so unique that only unique people, with unique training can provide them.
Here are THREE reasons that make me pause when a client tells me to use an 'ad hoc' approach for their marketing:
- Ad hoc marketing lacks perspective. You may already have a rather complete picture of what you need, but when your marketing program is based on specialized services, it's really difficult to get everything working together as one campaign.
- Ad hoc marketing tends to be self-serving. Experts will prattle on about you how much you need whatever they specialize in delivering. They make you think that you're losing money without them. They will tend to put their best interests BEFORE yours.
- Ad hoc marketing lacks central planning. Ad hoc is the opposite of central planning. You may see a complete picture of what is necessary for all aspects of your marketing program, but what will you do to get them to mesh and work together to achieve your goals?
I'll say something else about the "ad hoc" that will sound pretty harsh. Most DIY marketers use these services to spin up separate cogs in the hopes that at least one of them will do something productive. There's nothing wrong with them—per se—as long as you operate with a comprehensive marketing communications strategy that includes everything you need to do to design your brand, create messaging that resonates with your target audience, and you've activated a plan to get your message out. If you have a grasp on all of these points, or if you have assigned ONE person or agency and put everything under ONE plan and ONE perspective, then great, you're on your way, vade ad Deum. If you don't, this article was written for you.
The Basis of Bias
Of course, I'm biased. I have a degree in public relations and I am a career marketing communications professional. I don't care how much bias I express in the assertion that the singular "expert" of one tiny aspect of marketing is simply does not have the skillsets to bridge this interconnected, asynchronous, multi-channel world. If you don't have expertise in a wide range of marketing functions, you lack perspective. Period.
In an ironic way though, marketing is a victim of its own bias. eMarketing methodology was launched by the "dot com" era. New service providers sprang up as more questions arose about traffic and audience flows; means of attracting attention with or without advertising; keyword usage and eventually keyword relevance, performance indicators, and so on. First, we needed people to communicate the benefits of "online" and its power. Then we needed special tools to tackle the new challenges. Not long after, we needed experts who had unique experience using the tools. Before we knew it, the tail was wagging the dog as the tools themselves were codified into separate marketing processes. Suddenly, and without fanfare, everyone's attention was drawn away from 'old school' ways of marketing.
Like the time was when people went absolutely crazy about the need for "desktop publishing experts" when really all they needed was someone who was well-versed in graphic production and could use the new tools of publishing. Then there was the mad dash to grow "Webmasters" - which thankfully never went anywhere. Nowadays, I'm no longer just a writer; I'm a content creator - as though all those years of writing for the Business Journal was... not content?
As far as the world of marketing is concerned, the more things change, the more you realize that nothing changes. Markets still create need. Target audiences still want information. Marketers still have to communicate. The tools have advanced our understanding of certain aspects of consumer behavior, but the fundamental tasks remain. Look past the bias (that we need new stuff to cope with changes) and all that's left is the core job: sell stuff.
The Age of the eProfession
The big question then is, do we really need specialty eProfessions to make marketing work? eGod I hope not.
I found this article on Huffington Post that issues a late warning about getting a 'degree' in social media. Peter Shankman (www.shankman.com) had a real problem with people who called themselves "social media experts" very early on. He posted this gem:
Being an expert in Social Media is like being an expert at taking the bread out of the refrigerator. You might be the best bread-taker-outer in the world, but you know what? The goal is to make an amazing sandwich, and you can’t do that if all you’ve done in your life is taken the bread out of the fridge.
Other professional marketers have also recognized the problem with social media marketing. A series of surveys conducted by Ascend2 showed that business marketing professionals were evenly split on the opinion that there is not enough high-caliber skilled professionals who can deliver results from social media campaigns and, therefore, unable show return on investment for their activities. In my humble opinion, it's never been a good idea to measure ROI from one type of activity.
One of the oldest of these eProfessions is SEO. to whit blogger Brad Urani (www.techli.com) boldly claimed that it had become a scam.
It wasn’t always a scam, it just stopped working on April 24th, 2012. That was the day Google released an algorithm update dubbed “Penguin” that unquestionably and permanently sealed their fate as victors in a 14 year war between them and those who tried to rank higher by gaming the system. While many lament its death, SEO really was cheating, and it was bad for consumers. The Internet is better off without it.
I think calling "SEO" a scam is a little heavy-handed. There are good SEO tactics (even post-Penguin, Hummingbird). Many SEO tactics are based on common sense approaches to marketing communication. There will always be plenty of impatient people who want to scam the search engines, but the best results come from strategies that look well-beyond any single task. Imagine if you were so focused on getting the ingredients make Peter Shankman's sandwich that you never get around to making the sandwich? Seems silly, doesn't it?
Your need for specialized eProfessionals should be weighted against all the other needs from your marketing program. No matter what kind of "tool" the expert offers and the promises for success he offers, remember that a successful campaign has many other tasks that must be engaged. Compare and evaluate carefully - and measure the return on investment accordingly.
Beware of Jargon (and Latin)
Jargon – no matter how smart or trendy – is the master of nothing. I can impress the hell out of you with all the Latin in the world and never once explain how I'll actually accomplish anything. "Expert" tools alone do not surpass the arts with which they are intended to serve. I know this sounds elitist, but it's really common sense. I have no problem with people learning and working all things SEO and SMM. I have no problem if somebody does a lot of that kind of work. But when we surrender to the ‘mystery’ of the tech and allow the jargon (and tools) define the ancient art of marketing, we lose vital perspective on the actual task at hand.
Again - I'll say - purchasing key marketing services "ad hoc" is not effective nor sustainable. You should consider each specialization as you would any tool. Find someone who can weld them effectively and integrate them into a robust plan that includes research, planning, implementation, evaluation, and a program for content creation, digital marketing, and - most important - a way to convert all of those interactions and engagements into sales.
Effectiveness is enhanced when all activities are aligned with a common goal. Efficiency is gained when all processes follow a purposeful communication strategy. By all means, be one with digital marketing, but don't expect much from a piecemeal approach. Capisce?
Now then... Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware!
Updated April 25, 2016