I once heard a very bad joke. It went something like this:

“Mom, you know that beautiful vase in our living room, the one that has been passed on for generations?”

“Yes, son.”

“Well, it seems that I was the last generation, Mom”.

The joke is bad, but thinking of how the entire digital marketing has changed, I realized we broke the vase. We broke marketing as it used to be known, and now we have to glue it back together, perhaps in a new, postmodern shape.

Is There Anybody Out There? Just “?” If You Can Hear Us

Linguistic studies encapsulate all communication in a few basic schemas.

While there might be slight differences between them, the basics are always the same: there’s always an emittent, a message, a channel, a code, and a receiver.

This used to lie at the very foundation of everything we communicate, in any language, in any context. Whether you communicated with your mom and told her about the vase or you communicated with your customers and told them you have an awesome product on discount, the schema stayed the same.

Somewhere along the way, something was lost. Under the influence of automation and a heavy influx of content coming from everywhere, on a myriad of channels, we lost the most essential element of marketing communication: the receiver of the message.

We broke marketing by channeling our resources on every channel under the Sun and by losing the one element we were doing everything for: the customers themselves.

The effects of this disparate marketing landscape are starting to be seen. People rarely share the things they find interesting on Social Media on their public pages – they seem to do it now in private, via Messenger, WhatsApp, and other similar channels.

But even more worrisome is that people have started to be over-saturated with the content thrown at them, everywhere, about everything, and at any time.

The result?

They scroll on.

They “pray” Google gives them the answer without actually clicking on the SERP links.  

They end up ignoring even content that’s genuinely good.

I admit it: I do it too. There’s just so much noise, and I rarely end up capturing any piece of valuable information.

On the other side of the fence, most marketers cannot even notice their vase is broken. In a mad chase for meaningless KPIs, we ended up splitting our teams, our messages, and our entire vision of what marketing should be.

Things have changed so much, that we need to reassess our entire view of this landscape – starting with the Sales Funnel itself (see this article on Reforge) and moving past that into the way we organize our Marketing Departments.

What’s Wrong, More Exactly?

In short, most of what we do in Digital Marketing is wrong.

The longer version below:

#1. We focus on channels, not on people

These days, it seems that our main purpose is to be on every channel under the Sun because every other company is doing it. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, the blog on your website, Medium blog, email…

And the list goes on, and on, and on…

Until you realize you’ve dedicated hours of your life talking to…nobody.

Before you create an account on every digital channel in the wild world wide web, stop and think for a moment: is your target audience there? Or are you just sending out messages into space, hoping that one day, some form of civilization will get it?

#2. We split our Marketing Departments according to the aforementioned channels;

In 2018, the regular in-house Marketing Department is broken into several teams: the SEO team, the Social Media team, the Email Marketing team, the Ad teams, and so on.

The same goes for agencies as well: there are agencies that split their teams according to the targeted channels, as well as agencies focused solely on one channel (e.g. SEO agencies, Email Marketing agencies, and so on).

That’s all good, and normally, there wouldn’t be any issue with that. After all, it makes a lot of sense to split your Marketing Department’s tasks into categories that are easier to manage. It is, in the end, a matter of organization, more than anything.

My problem with this is that this type of organization we lose focus on what truly matters. It’s not Facebook, or email, or your blog that matters.

It’s your customer – your end goal, as a business (regardless of what you may sell), is to acquire customers and retain them by making them happy.

Therefore, splitting the Marketing team according to the communication channels you use seems a bit counter-productive when you want to place the customer at the very center of all your business operations.

#3. We build strategies based on vanity metrics;

Likes, shares, hugs, peanuts – digital marketing seems to have shifted from an amazing way to target customers to a minefield of (almost) completely useless metrics.

Remember 2015? When companies got dumped by Facebook?

After a huge investment of time and money into building their fan base, they realized they can only reach their “own” audience by paying for it.

Back then, they realized that a thousand Likes can’t warm you up at night if you don’t have enough conversions and happy customers.

Metrics are OK, we need them to see if our strategies are working if our customers like our services if our businesses are growing.

Don’t get me wrong: we should absolutely and definitely focus on measuring the activity and performance of each and every department in our companies. But micro-conversions are not conversions.

It’s just that a hundred Likes on a channel that’s rarely visited by your customers will not yield any kind of ROI.

#4. We see the purchase as the final frontier

The end goal of any business should be customer satisfaction. This means retention, loyalty, and evangelism.

Transactions are great, you need to monitor them to run your business. But unfortunately, there isn’t an endless pool of potential buyers out there. So, if someone buys from you once and doesn’t come back into your store, you will find that, soon enough, there is nobody to sell to.

That’s why retention is crucial, especially in eCommerce businesses. By giving people what they want, when they want it, and how they want it, you make sure they will come back to your store and buy again. Consequently, your sales will grow, even if you don’t invest an arm and a leg in traffic acquisition and conversion.

How Do We Fix This?

Like with any broken vase, we have to glue the pieces of Marketing together and create something that’s unique and more suitable for the current social, economic, and technological landscape.

My proposition is this – and I welcome everyone to participate in this, share their ideas, and help rethink Marketing as we know it.

Instead of focusing on where we send our messages, how about we go back to the roots and focus on WHO we need to talk to?

In this paradigm, every marketing strategy will have the customer at its very core – and everything will ensue from thereon. It’s not that we should give up on any of the channels we’re marketing on right now – it’s just that we need to place the user at the center of our actions.

Following, I have sketched a schema of how I see things happening in marketing. And it all starts with WHO is my customer:

Your strategic journey starts with WHO are your customers

Picture this mess from a real customer I’ve worked with:

The marketing department worked in silos. They didn’t have an integrated strategy, they didn’t touch the same person on all the channels, they didn’t focus on their particular metrics like keyword rankings, open-rates, likes, and bounces.

The customer support department was trying to cope with all the support tickets, but they couldn’t share the frictions of their customers and the weak points they had to the marketing teams.

That happened while the merchandising team kept on buying products without understanding their buyer persona, the stickiness of their products and how various brands were affecting the lifetime value of their most precious customers.

And, in the meantime, the product teams were busy trying to change the eCommerce platform they’ve had since the very beginning.

Unfortunately, that company died. A rising star in the eCommerce, with 200 employees, going bankrupt because they didn’t understand one important thing:

it’s about the customer, not the product.

So, the first piece of the puzzle is the customer. Who’s on the website right now?

Are they visiting your site for the first time? Are they returning visitors? Or maybe customers that used to be loyal, but ended up dumping you for the younger, shinier website with better prices? In order to get further, you first need to stop here.

Understanding who’s your ideal customer and the reasons, the barriers, the real & perceived frictions he has is a vital part of the whole puzzle.

Very few companies are aware of their ideal customer profile, based on the data they’ve collected from real people. That’s because they “build” the buyer persona, they don’t understand their buyer persona with tools such as customer surveys

You then move into WHEN your customers visit your site

Is it early in the morning, and they’re still trying to open their eyes before their first cup of coffee?

Is it raining outside?

Has your customer been browsing your website for the past 30 minutes, searching for something?

These things matter because understanding when your customers come to a specific page on your website will help you create the right message. 

Next, you move to WHERE your customers are

Are they looking at your Facebook page? Are they on your website? On which part of the funnel? Or maybe they have just (finally!) had their cup of coffee and now they’re reading your latest newsletter?

Last, but not least, you can move into WHAT

The type of message you have to communicate according to the aforementioned parameters (who your audience is when you are sending the message, the channel you are using to send the message, and so on).

Incentives, offers, questions, informative content – they all have different styles, different purposes, and they are all written differently.

In this paradigm, your Marketing Department would be organized into teams that focus on the specific customer segment, rather than the channel.

Therefore, you’d have a team that handles the traditional TOFU customers (e.g. people who have just landed on your site because they were searching for cat styling products).

You’d have a team to handle the retention of your most loyal (true loving) customers. A team to handle returning visitors (and making sure they return to buy rather than just window shop electronically). A team to handle those darn Don Juans who have been flying from one store to another.

After you are aware of this, it’s all a matter of making the right mix between the segment, channel, context and message.

Imagine that on Black Friday, instead of treating everyone the same, you build a scenario that will broadcast on all your channels for the VIPs in your customer base.

In order to make sure you communicate properly, you should have a birdseye view such as this one, but of course, much more detailed, containing also the message/ offer/incentive you will offer them and when.

This is all an exercise meant to flex your imagination.

Just think of a world where every single customer is treated with the perfect message and version of your website.
Where your conversion rates are actually pushing your business forward. Where people come back to your site for a familiar, comforting, and sweet experience – just as they would come back into the neighborhood bakery to buy bread every single day because the people behind the counter are nice, because the store smells amazing every time, and because they know the kind of value they are getting for their hard-earned money.

In this new world of marketing, one size doesn’t fit all.

Yes, we’re living in a world dominated by Millennials and Gen Zs, and while one size fits all fashion may have taken over BuzzFeed, the concept cannot be applied anywhere else. In fact, it barely works in fashion too – especially given the fact that these generations are individualists at heart.

According to a recent Forbes article on how Millennials and Gen Zs shop:

“71% of the 3,000 respondents ages 14–29 said they prefer to receive offers that are customized to their location. In the same survey, 80% said they expect tailored onscreen experiences that not only target location but also recognize their interests and habits — who they are and how they self-identify. Every business is unique, every customer is unique. Your message needs to adapt to all the amazing uniqueness in the world. Dancing on whatever channel’s trending music won’t get you there.“

Taking two steps back and reconsidering your focus will take you there. You can’t get there without understanding you need clarity and relevance.

It will take you to a world where you can provide customers the individual experiences they are looking for.

It’s not an easy task guys, but here’s a cat gif to make it better