The Challenge of Unconventional Marketing

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On his Logic + Emotion blog, David Armano writes:

“…after having some exposure to large organizations, it occurred to me that there is a desire to do more ‘unconventional marketing’ but the machine which is in place is actually ‘conventional’—all the things that have been done in the past. And so as I think about how times are becoming more unconventional—with unpredictable financial markets and political change in the air, I can’t help but think that it’s more important than ever to get serious about what it takes to do these types of initiatives right.  It just doesn’t look like conventional marketing—it’s different. And unconventional times call for unconventional tactics.”

My take: David’s absolutely right — there is definitely a desire among large organizations to do more unconventional marketing. And yes, the machine that’s in place is the conventional machine. But I don’t think David is nailing the real issue on the head here: Unconventional marketing tactics don’t exist in a vacuum.

Marketers who have deployed unconventional marketing tactics — like word of mouth, viral videos, Facebook pages, etc. — talk about the success of those efforts in terms of reach, exposure or hits. And they often compare the cost of the unconventional tactic to what it would have cost to achieve the same reach with conventional tactics. (Example: “The local TV station ran a 2-minute segment on our $10 giveaway. So for the $2,000 we gave away, it would have cost us $20,000 to get that kind of exposure.”)

What’s wrong with this?

1. It doesn’t measure the incremental impact. In other words, we don’t know, of the people who saw the viral video or friended the Facebook page,  how many of these people did not already know about the company or were not already inclined to purchase from the company.

2. There’s no context. Congratulations for signing up 1,000 friends on your Facebook page. The real question is: Were these the right 1,000 people? In other words, are they part of your target market? (You have defined the market you’re going after, right?)

The reality here is that it’s not an either/or situation. Large firms’ desire to do more unconventional marketing doesn’t mean they can (or even want to) completely stop doing conventional marketing things.

While David is right that marketers must “get serious about what it takes to do these (unconventional) types of initiatives right,” there’s an even bigger challenge to meet: How to integrate unconventional tactics with conventional tactics, and determine the right mix (or balance) between the two types.

In his book Word of Mouth Marketing, Andy Sernovitz challenges the effectiveness of traditional forms of advertising (like TV), and highlights Southwest Airlines as a firm that gets WOM right. But this is the same firm that has run a series of memorable TV commercials in which it ridicules other airlines for nickel-and-diming customers to death with fees. So while Southwest has embraced WOM marketing, and perhaps other unconventional tactics, it clearly isn’t throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Bottom line: The marketers — and marketing services agencies — that will be the most successful won’t be those that just get unconventional tactics right. It’ll be those that integrate the unconventional with the conventional (to the point where the unconventional is no longer unconventional) and measure the effectiveness of the entire set of marketing efforts — not just the one-off experiments.

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