Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Are marketeers failing to get social?

[This article is written in a generalising way to provoke discussion and creates a position that can and should be challenged. Please feel free to comment]

The argument over whether marketing or PR is the dominant force in commercial organisations has been going on for decades, if not a century or two. In one respect, it doesn’t matter much as long as organisations understand their communications and they are being delivered effectively.

But I spotted an article that concerned me in the CIM backed magazine The Marketeer. If right it, shows that marketing has a head stuck in the sand approach which could see it make itself moribund and irrelevant to the modern age we live in.

The way people access information is changing and there are socio-economic shifts means Generation Y behaves very differently to even Generation X. PR is routed in getting coverage in the media and has to mirror media to survive. If a PR function doesn’t deliver content relevant and of interest to newspapers, broadcasters, the web or and other journalist, there content won’t be picked up.

Marketing is more sheltered with a toolbox of strategies which have been successful so should work in the future. It’s ploughing its own furrow. Advertising has had to change its tactics to fit in with a media fragmenting to leverage the best opportunities from smaller audience bases, but, again the direct approach from marketing has left it vulnerable from a changing society.

And so to the article I spotted . It states almost a third dismiss social media as something for PR to deal with. A further 58% of public sector and charities are scared of it. That’s a lot. As someone in PR it should make me feel secure that the new ground is being taken up by people in my profession, but it doesn’t. It leaves me concerned that there are many people in marketing (and probably PR as well) who aren’t developing the skills they will need for their future communications programmes.

For example, I spoke to a marketing person in a hotel chain. They stated that their mailing list costs £500,000 or so each year but the returns were diminishing. The cost had always been recouped because the marketing tactic worked but it was becoming less effective. It ignored the fact that some people would rather receive this information in electronic formats and it ignored the cost savings of reducing print.

Some companies now no longer offer printed literature with the belief that people will either print it themselves or would rather access web based media for the same information. I no longer pick up the yellow pages to find a number; I’ll now look online first. (Incidentally they’re now only publishing paid for ads which totally erodes their previous USP). Look at Volvo and their brochures.

Why is this reluctance there? It’s partly fear. Discussing social media with businesses I’ve seen a lack of understanding not only with what social media is but what it can do. It isn’t a silver bullet, a medium to push communications, a drain on time, an opportunity to get slagged off on a daily basis. It’s a medium to create discussion and dialogue that can replace and enhance your reputation. This doesn’t just mean gaining reputation from your audience, it also means improving you SEO rankings meaning potential new customers find you even more easily.

Most companies have a marketing function. I’d suggest less had a PR function. This survey indicates marketers don’t see the need to up-skill in social media. This would, in my mind be a mistake and would accelerate this may be changing. The big FMCGs like Pepsi are already diverting cash into PR and social media taking resources away from marketing. There will always be marketing, but will it soon be a part of the Public Relations department. When will the PR/Social media spend start to become bigger than the marketing spend? Because that day is coming unless marketing departments start to take a look at this area.

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