Posted by SamuelScott
It’s October 26, 1985. The top song in the United States is Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love for You.” The top weekend movie at the US box office is “Jagged Edge,” starring Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges. And Marty McFly was about to travel back in time in “Back to the Future.”
(photo: Back to the Future Day)
Yes, for any Mozzers who do not know, Back to the Future Day—the exact date when Marty went to the future in the sequel to the original film—is today!
Also in the mid-1980s, the Internet was largely confined to the US military and large higher-education institutions. Most marketing at the time, of course, occurred via print, magazine, TV, and radio mediums and channels in what is now often called “outbound marketing.”
Why, then, is this relevant in 2015? One problem in digital marketing is that many digital marketers do not have much education or experience in traditional marketing and communications. If you mention the 4 Ps or ask about the promotion mix at most SEO conferences, you’ll probably receive blank stares in response.
It’s important to know what marketers did before the Internet because many of the strategies that had been developed and honed since the early twentieth century are still applicable today. So, to help the community, I wanted to give a high-level overview of traditional marketing and communications and then provide discussion topics for the comments below, as well as actionable tasks for readers to start integrating traditional marketing principles into their digital strategies.
By the end of this post, you’ll have a solid sense of the following:
- What is the difference between marketing and communications?
- What is the integrated discipline “marcom?”
- What are the 4 Ps?
- What parts comprise the promotion mix (within the 4 Ps)?
- When should I do outbound and inbound marketing?
- How do the Internet and digital marketing fit into all of this?
- What about SEO, social media marketing, content marketing, growth hacking, and linkbuilding?
- What actionable things can I do?
- Why did Marty McFly’s mom and dad not recognize him from the 1950s when he had grown into a teenager in the 1980s?
This post is related to an earlier Moz post of mine on the marketing department of the future—I will address the connection between the two essays below. I hope you’re excited! Where we’re going, we don’t need roads—just a little bit of time.
All “Back to the Future” photos are from the official site
The basic points to remember
Here are two of my favorite quotes in the sidebar of the blog of advertising industry veteran Bob Hoffman:
Marketing does not really change that much because people do not change—and anyone who says differently is selling something. Countless gurus, writers, and keynote speakers have proclaimed that “inbound marketing is the future,” “social media has changed everything (a parody of TED talks),” and “advertising is dead.”
But some examples from Hoffman prove otherwise: Traditional live TV viewing is not “dying” at all, and most people are not using DVRs to skip TV ads. Traditional “outbound” TV advertising is often still important enough that in one example, Pepsi lost a lost of money and dropped to third place in terms of market share when the company moved its entire ad spend from television ads to social media.
The point is that no marketing strategy or tactic is always best for every purpose, product, brand, or industry. Sometimes TV advertising should be a part of the promotion mix; sometimes not. Sometimes content marketing is the best way to go; sometimes not. Sometimes modern “inbound” methods deliver the greatest value; sometimes it’s traditional “outbound” ones. More on that below.
Here, I wanted to take us back—back to the past to show the future where we have been, why it matters, and how we should incorporate it into digital marketing.
A full list of resources is provided at the end for those who wish to learn more.
The marcom workflow
This flowchart is a high-level overview of the step-by-step process that I will describe in detail below. For those who want a quick summary, here is the workflow that marcom executives typically use:
- List all of the external audiences with whom your company communicates
- Remember that current and potential customers are just one of your audiences
- Determine the specific messages that you want to communicate to each “public” based on your audience research and buyer personas
- Establish product-market fit
- Decide on a pricing strategy
- Choose how you will prioritize direct marketing, personal selling, advertising, sales promotion, and publicity in your promotion mix in general and then allocate your resources accordingly
- Determine which online and offline communications channels you will prioritize within your promotion mix and then allocate your resources accordingly
- Create the needed creatives, sales collateral, and marketing content
- Transmit the marketing materials over your selected channels to your audience
- Measure and audit the results
- Return to steps 3–8 as necessary and adjust to attempt to maximize revenue, sales, ROI, or any other metric based on your business and marketing goals
Marketing vs. communications
Traditionally, marketing and communications had been entirely different functions that each had their own departments. Marketing focused on issues such as customers, sales, and brand awareness. Communications (often called public relations or external relations) dealt with everyone else in the outside world with whom the company interacted, such as the government, community, media, and financial analysts.
In other words, communications (another word for PR) as a whole is the act of communicating with any relevant external group of people. Obviously, companies would usually not want to say the exact same thing to customers, influencers, the media, the government, and the local community.
Today, however, more and more companies are combining Marketing and Communications under a single department (often called “marketing communications” or “marcom”) to become more efficient and ensure that all messages are consistent among all audiences and across all channels.
The key to understand: Publish and transmit unified, integrated messaging on and across all online and offline marcom channels including websites, social networks, advertising campaigns, online content, news releases, product brochures, and sales catalogues.
SEO pro tip: When relevant, include your desired keywords—using natural language rather than keyword stuffing, of course—in your messaging everywhere (for the co-occurrence benefits; websites seem to rank more highly for search terms when links to those sites appear on pages that also mention those terms!).
Communication is one person speaking with another. Marketing is one type of communication.
The 4 Ps in traditional marketing
In a unified marcom strategy, all of a company’s audiences need to be included strategically. However, because Moz’s readers focus mainly on marketing rather than PR, I will focus the rest of this essay on “customer relations” (or “marketing”) specifically.
After creating the overall marketing messages that a company will communicate to current and potential customers, the next step in traditional marketing theory is to focus on the 4 Ps: product, price, place, and promotion. (Note: This process is not set in stone. Sometimes the 4 Ps will be determined before the overall marketing messaging is decided.)
Not a bad product!
Product strategy, according to Study.com, is essentially maximizing product-market fit—the degree to which a product or service satisfies the demand for it. In the modern, inbound world (and most specifically in terms of SaaS products), product strategy has been rebranded as “growth hacking.” For those who are interested, Ryan Holiday goes into more detail in “Growth Hacker Marketing.”
The process generally follows these steps:
1. Create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), traditionally called a prototype.
2. Get a core set of early testers/users to establish product-market fit. Show them the MVP and quiz them on what they like, what they don’t like, what would be more useful, and what is not necessary. Revise the product and get more feedback, revise the product and get more feedback to have a product that is constantly improving.
3. Incorporate sharing and growth naturally in the product. Push new users to refer friends for a discount. Put social sharing buttons inside the user dashboard.
4. Experiment with the different ways to get “traction” to see what gets the most users quickly at the lowest cost. It could be advertising, organic traffic, media coverage, or any other potential marketing strategy.
Once you have established product-market fit, how will you communicate the value that the product provides on all online and offline marcom channels, including websites, social outlets, advertising campaigns, online content, news releases, product brochures, and sales catalogues?
Thankfully, this ended up not happening.
Pricing strategy is not only a purview of the finance department—it is also a part of marketing. If, for example, a company wants to earn $100 in revenue, it can sell one “widget” for $100 or 100 “widgets” for $1 each. Each tactic requires a different marketing strategy.
A high price communicates high value and rarity (think about the high prices of diamonds, which are essentially shiny, useless rocks marketed to rich people) while a low price shows affordability and availability (think about Walmart and its value-based marketing to the less-rich Everyman). In a marketing context, the pricing strategy will also need to take into account items such as the size of the market, the cost to produce the product or service, the level of competition, the economics of the target market, and whether the company wants to market itself based on quality or value (or perhaps both).
Once you have decided on your pricing strategy, how will you incorporate that element into online and offline channels, including websites, social outlets, advertising campaigns, online content, news releases, product brochures, and sales catalogues?
Distribution (how Place is now known) is the decision on how to transmit a product to customers. It might be setting up a lemonade stand on the corner, using franchisees, or mass producing widgets and then selling them to intermediaries, who then resell them.
In the Internet Age, when products and services can distributed, purchased, and consumed or used almost immediately from anywhere, this traditional part of the 4 Ps is becoming less important.
One way to promote yourself is to get in the mass media.
Promotion is “raising customer awareness of a product or brand, generating sales, and creating brand loyalty.”
Promotion is also the most complex part of the 4 Ps because of the decisions that marketers make when deciding which methods are the best ways to achieve those three goals. The promotion mix has always consisted of five elements: direct marketing, sales promotion, personal selling, advertising, and publicity. Based on the product, industry, goal, and target audience, each element is given a different weight and priority both online and offline.
The promotion mix
For a second, forget about “SEO,” “content marketing,” “social media marketing,” and the other terms that are frequently used among digital marketers. Here are the five elements of the traditional promotion mix described in specific detail.
I will use specific definitions from my old MBA marketing textbook (“Principles of Marketing” by Philip T. Kotler and Gary Armstrong) because, as I will explain below, how we define our terms greatly affects our marketing success.
Direct marketing is “direct connections with carefully targeted individual consumers to both obtain an immediate response and cultivate lasting customer relationships.” Direct marketing “includes catalogs, telephone marketing, kiosks, the Internet, mobile marketing, and more. “
Advertising is “any paid form of non-personal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods, or services by an identified sponsor.” Advertising “includes broadcast, print, Internet, outdoor, and other forms.”
Personal selling is “personal presentation by the firm’s salesforce for the purpose of making sales and building customer relationships.” Personal selling “includes sales presentations, trade shows, and incentive programs.”
Sales promotion is “short-term incentives to encourage the purchase or sale of a product or service.” Sales promotion “includes discounts, coupons, displays, and demonstrations.”
Publicity is “gaining public visibility or awareness for a product, service, or your company via the media.”
To learn more about publicity, read “The Father of Spin,” a biography on the person who essentially invented the practice in the early-twentieth century. As described in Amazon’s description, he did “publicity campaigns for American Tobacco, Ivory Soap, United Fruit, book publishers, manufacturers of eggs and bacon, and the platforms of presidents from Coolidge to Eisenhower.” (Marketing can be done for good or evil ends—I will leave the choice up to the readers.)
For a modern example, see this Kickstarter campaign to build a miniature version of the hoverboard that was shown in “Back to the Future II”:
Perhaps inspired by the Kickstarter, Lexus is also releasing its own hoverboard and getting a lot of publicity as a result. How much brand awareness and how many links and social shares and followings do you think they have gained as by-products?
Creating the best promotion mix
The chart above presents an overview of the uses, benefits, and drawbacks of each element of the promotion mix. Answering some of the questions below can help to determine which of the following are relevant to one’s marketing goals and show companies to allocate resources to each element appropriately.
- I need to introduce a new product to a new market (advertising)
- I have a product that’s under attack by competitor’s products, and I need to retain my current customer base (sales promotion)
- I have a product that is highly specialized, technical, or expensive (personal selling)
- I need to correct false impressions or counter false claims made about my product (publicity)
- I need to create greater brand awareness of my product (advertising)
- I need to communicate new features to increase consumption by present customers (direct marketing)
- I have a product with a long sales cycle (personal selling)
- I need to generate more “buzz” or word-of-mouth business (sales promotion or publicity)
- I need to build a new image and reposition my product (advertising)
Companies will generally allocate different weights to each part of the promotion mix based on how they answer these types of questions. Here is an example from the Edward Lowe Foundation, a US non-profit organization that helps to encourage local entrepreneurship:
Whichever elements you choose, how will you incorporate them into your desired online and offline channels, including websites, social outlets, advertising campaigns, online content, news releases, product brochures, and sales catalogues?
Don’t get distracted by buzzwords
Now, I have been discussing external communications, the 4 Ps, and the promotion mix—all of which have been used by traditional marketers since before the Internet had even existed. But why is this important to digital marketers today?
In my earlier Moz essay on the integration of PR and SEO (from when I was working for an agency), I explained the traditional communications process in this manner:
Here’s what I had written at that time:
A sender decides upon a message; the message is packaged into a piece of content; the content is transmitted via a desired channel; and the channel delivers the content to the receiver. Marketing is essentially sending a message that is packaged into a piece of content to a receiver via a channel. The rest is just details.
The Internet is just a new set of communications channels over which marketing promotional mixes are executed. As Kotler and Armstrong note in my old textbook (emphasis added):
As noted earlier, online marketing is the fastest-growing form of direct marketing. Widespread use of the Internet is having a dramatic impact on both buyers and the marketers who serve them. In this section, we examine how marketing strategy and practice are changing to take advantage of today’s Internet technologies.
“Digital marketing” is really just doing direct marketing, sales promotion, personal selling, advertising, or publicity via a specific collection of communications channels that we call the Internet.
The myth of “social media marketing”
I think I see Friendster and Orkut in there.
There is no such thing as “social media marketing” as a thing unto itself. (Please notice that I put that phrase as a whole in quotes.)
- Take the Lexus Back to the Future hoverboard’s Facebook page. All of the posts that are gaining likes, comments, and shares are not examples of “social media marketing”; by definition, it is “publicity” (via an online channel) because it is “gaining public visibility or awareness for a product, service, or your company via the media.”
- If I export a list of people who mention “widgets” on Twitter and then tweet to each person to sell them widgets, that is not “social media marketing.” By definition, it is doing direct marketing (via an online channel) because I am establishing “direct connections with carefully-targeted individual consumers to both obtain an immediate response and cultivate lasting customer relationships.”
- If I respond to customers who are asking questions on Facebook or Twitter about how my company’s product works, then I am not doing “social media marketing.” Obviously, I’m doing customer support.
“Social media” is not a marketing strategy. Social media, just like the telephone, is a communications channel over which marketing, PR, customer support, and more can all be performed. After all, there’s no such thing as a “telephone strategy.”
Why words matter
As a former journalist, I take pride in being very precise with language because it is always important to communicate ideas 100% accurately, fairly, and objectively. Within the articles that I contribute to the digital marketing community (and sometimes in the comments on others), I often discuss the definitions of terms because being precise with our language is the best way to help all of us do our jobs better.
If you want to integrate traditional and digital marketing—or, to be more accurate, if you want to market over digital channels—here are some examples of what to do:
- Stop studying “social media marketing.” Start studying the best practices in “direct marketing,” “customer support,” or any other desired activity and then apply those ideas whenever you use social media channels. In the coming years, publicists, customer support representatives, and others will naturally incorporate social media into their existing functions. “Social media” is not going to be a job unto itself.
- Stop studying “linkbuilding” and “doing content marketing to earn links.” Start studying the best practices in “publicity” because 99% of natural, quality, and authoritative links come as natural by-products of getting the media, bloggers, and people in general to talk about you online. The same principles of publicity apply regardless of whether I am using the channel of the telephone, e-mail, or social media when communicating with the media.
- Start studying the best practices in personal selling and sales promotion, and apply those principles whenever you do personal selling or sales promotion over digital channels.
Selecting the channels for your promotion mix
What channels would the makers of “Back to the Future” use to market the film in 1985 compared to 2015?
After you have decided upon your communications messages, determined the 4 Ps, and selected your promotion mix, only then is it time to select your channels by answering these questions:
- Can our audience be best reached online or offline (or some degree of both)?
- Based on the answer to the first question, which channels within each category should we use? (For example, the offline channels of TV, radio, newspapers, or magazines, or the online channels of advertising networks, social media, or online communities?)
The rule of thumb is to “go where the target audience lies”—whether it’s online or offline or both—but it’s more complicated than that. Channels themselves have their positives and negatives. Here are some examples based on executing the promotion mix online or offline:
- Advertising: The results and ROI of traditional offline advertisements are difficult to track precisely, but people generally pay more attention to them. Online advertising is easier to track, but the industry is rife with alleged fraud (a Moz essay of mine), and more and more people are using ad blockers.
- Direct marketing: Is it best to grow an e-mail list, to run searches on Twitter to isolate groups of people who are interested in what you offer, or to send a sales catalogue and track who purchases products? The answer will be different for everyone based on the audience.
- Personal selling: If you’re selling, say, diamonds or expensive enterprise software, fewer people might buy following a Pinterest campaign compared to using the telephone or even meeting someone in person.
- Sales promotion: Offering quick discounts needs to convey a sense of urgency, so it’s important to use channels that will reach audiences immediately. Therefore, it makes more sense today to use mobile marketing over snail-mail, for example.
- Publicity: Traditional and digital PR are increasingly two separate entities. As I explained in a Moz post on PR 101 for digital marketers, publicity in the past has focused on writing pitches, creating media lists, and pitching reporters and bloggers on a story. However, gaining attention for a company today may require using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks to ensure mass exposure to a creative campaign.
Now, I understand that Moz’s audience is focused almost entirely on digital. But digital is not always the answer. Take this question from Hoffman, the retired ad agency CEO:
First, I want you to think about your refrigerator.
Think about all the stuff that’s in there: The cheese, the eggs, the juice, the jelly, the butter, the beer, the mayonnaise, the bacon, the mustard, the frozen chicken strips…
Now think about your pantry. The cereals, the beans, the napkins, the flour, the detergent, the sugar, the rice, the bleach…
Now answer these questions:
Do you “share branded content” about any of this stuff?
Do you feel “personally engaged” with these brands?
Do you “join conversations” online about this crap?
Do you ever “co-create” with any of these brands?
Do you feel like you are part of these brands’ “communities?”
Now answer me this: If you don’t, why in the f—— world do you believe anyone else does?
The specific product and industry is important to keep in mind while selecting channels. Big consumer brands usually benefit the most from traditional channels. After all, Pepsi lost a lot of money when it moved all its ad spend from TV to social media. SaaS products, in one example, might be completely different. Again, the key is to test to see what works.
The rest of the marketing process
The 4 Ps, promotion mix, buyer personas, and channel research are only the strategic first-half of the marketing process. As I explained in my earlier essay on the marketing department of the future, the rest of the process consists of creating online and offline marketing collateral and content, transmitting it to the audience, and then auditing the results.
Examples of creatives
- Direct marketing: producing sales collateral to give to prospects directly
- Advertising: creating online and offline ads
- Personal selling: designing presentations and webinars
- Sales promotion: creating coupons, landing pages, and more
- Publicity: writing online and offline by-lined articles or capturing a publicity stunt on video
Transmission & audit
The next step is to transmit the creatives to the audience over the selected online or offline channels.
Once a full marketing campaign has been executed, it’s time to audit the results. A company might find, for example, that a combination of offline advertising, online direct marketing, and a combination of online and offline publicity works the best. Or it could be something else entirely. The only way to know is to test.
A hypothetical example
Here are four examples—one hypothetical and three real ones—of the different ways that traditional and digital marketing strategies can be integrated.
One comment I left a few months ago on another Moz essay on creating demand for products was this:
Moz sells, in part, “SEO software.” Say SEOmoz (as it was called in the beginning) had been launched in 1995. There would be little keyword volume for “SEO software” for this reason: No one knows that “SEO” exists in the first place, so there would obviously be no demand for “SEO software” specifically. Moz would probably have had only one customer—Danny Sullivan. 🙂
So, in such a scenario, if I were to sell SEO software in 1995, I would first do a PR and advertising campaign to generate awareness of SEO in general and SEO software specifically. I’d bet that search volumes would increase in due time. Then, once people know that both things exist, then you can start to capture prospects and move them down the funnel via inbound marketing.
“Outbound marketing” and “inbound marketing” will always be needed because outbound marketing creates demand while inbound marketing fulfills demand. In my opinion, studies that purport to show that inbound marketing is always better than outbound marketing only tell part of the story. If traditional, offline advertising is so ineffective, they why do I still see thousands of ads everywhere I go every day?
Three real-world examples
An American pizza restaurant
As I once explained in a BrightonSEO talk (see a summary with slides on my website), a small pizza parlor in Philadelphia got the best results—a lot of brand awareness, hundreds of high-quality links, and thousands of Facebook “likes”—by thinking not about “SEO” or “social media marketing” or “content marketing,” but rather good, old-fashioned “publicity” within the promotion mix.
The local business—whether intentionally or not—got a lot of local news coverage by allowing people to “pay it forward” by purchasing slices to give to people in need. The news coverage snowballed into national coverage in the United States and the business owner appearing on the talk show “Ellen.”
The pizzeria did not produce one piece of “content,” or even have a blog at all. For most small, local businesses (especially restaurants), I’d invest in a good, creative publicist over “content marketing” any day. Still, it’s crucial that one’s marketing toolkit contain every potential strategy and tactic because different promotion mixes work best for different companies and industries.
Pizza Hut Israel
Yes, I’ve got a soft spot for pizza.
While I was writing this post here in Tel Aviv, I received this e-mail and saw this Facebook post:
(That’s Pizza Hut Israel selling a pizza with a crust made of bite-sized pieces filled with cream cheese.)
Now, what is this? It’s not “e-mail marketing” or “social media marketing.” Pizza Hut here had decided to do a sales promotion via the channels of e-mail and Facebook. It was the company deciding upon a certain promotion mix (likely for the reasons described above) and then choosing to execute that promotion over the channels of e-mail and social media.
Logz.io cofounders CEO Tomer Levy (left) and VP Product Asaf Yigal (right) at AWS re:Invent 2015
In another example, we at Logz.io offer predictive error detection in our ELK-as-a-service cloud platform for DevOps engineers, and we have found that the best results for us come from a combination of personal selling and publicity.
The personal selling is when we sponsor and speak at conferences for DevOps engineers and system administrators; the publicity is when we publish and then publicize informational articles and guides in major publications and on our website. (For example, our CEO, Tomer Levy, wrote about different open-source DevOps tools on DevOps.com, we’ve published a guide on how to deploy the ELK Stack, and I discussed how to use server log analysis for technical SEO here on Moz.)
Again, every company and industry is different. It’s important to test every possible promotion mix to see what delivers the greatest ROI for you. Within the marketing industry, there are many self-interested parties that advise one promotion mix or another. The best thing to do is to test everything and see for yourself. I hope these three examples will help to get you thinking.
Now, where’s SEO?
I’ve discussed my opinions at length in the other essays of mine to which I’ve linked here, so I will just summarize here so I will not always repeat myself: “SEO” is now technical and on-page optimization. The more that one understands traditional marketing, the more that one sees that (good) “off-page SEO” tactics are really just doing good traditional marketing. Almost any “off-page SEO” tactic that anyone can name is simply direct marketing, sales promotion, personal selling, advertising, or publicity by another name.
The reason it is important to understand this concept is that, as Google’s algorithm becomes smarter and thinks more and more like a human being, it’s becoming imperative to think more and more about building a brand among people over the long term rather than chasing an algorithm and directly trying to get high rankings in the short term. To help the community, my goal here is for SEOs to stop thinking so much about SEO specifically and to think more about marketing. After doing all of the needed technical and on-page SEO, the best results—higher rankings, greater backlinks, and more engagement—will come simply as by-products of building real brands that have a lot of authority and engagement.
Today, this is what will happen if you try to manipulate, outsmart, or otherwise chase Google’s algorithm:
If you’ve read this far, I’m glad that you found my thoughts to be interesting! I’ll leave you with this final idea:
How would you market yourself if the Internet didn’t exist? Answer that, and it’ll help your online marketing too.
— Samuel Scott (@samueljscott) August 25, 2015
Complete List of Resources:
- Principles of Marketing by Philip T. Kotler and Gary Armstrong (textbook) (pro tip: buy a prior edition for a lot cheaper than the new edition)
- Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics by Dennis L. Wilcox and Glen T. Cameron (textbook) (ditto)
- The 4 Ps of the marketing mix—Product, Price, Place (now called Distribution), and Promotion
- “Growth Hacker Marketing” (the integration of product and marketing) by Ryan Holiday
- The promotion mix—advertising, personal selling, sales promotion, publicity, and direct marketing
- Creating a promotion mix: The Edward Lowe Foundation and the Chartered Institute of Marketing of the U.K. (PDF file)
- Publicity: See my prior Moz essays on An Introduction to PR and The Coming Integration of PR & SEO as well as my Mozinar on the latter topic. In addition, read “The Father of Spin“
- The Marketing Department of the Future (another Moz essay of mine)
Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!