Marketing innovation needs a strategic foundation
by Regis Coccia
There’s a saying, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door,” attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson in the late 19th century. Never mind that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office since 1828 has issued 4,400 patents for mousetraps. If we substitute “marketing technology” for “mousetrap,” it’s apparent that marketing innovation has similarly become a magnet for inventors.
A graphic of the marketing technology landscape shows an utterly astonishing array of nearly 2,000 platforms across 43 categories. Digital marketing is all the rage right now and will continue to be as long as microprocessors exist. Until some cataclysmic event knocks us back to an analog way of life, marketers are going to use digital options to communicate with their stakeholders.
But as good as digital platforms are for marketing, there is one important foundation they cannot create: the brand strategy. Brand strategy is the key that makes digital marketing work. The best digital marketing tools may automate elements of marketing and streamline workflows, etc., but they can’t replace the fundamental process of creating a differentiated brand. And any tech company that tries to sell marketers on that idea is asserting an untruth.
Consider the evolution of hand tools as an analogy. To use just one example, carpenters once used folding yardsticks. These tools still exist, but when is the last time you saw one? A big step up from yardsticks was the tape measure, and more recently, a really cool innovation — the laser measure. You just point a laser across a board or room or whatever and you get a digital readout of the precise distance.
Laser thermometers are a similar innovation. During a service call, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician pointed one of these at a vent to determine my furnace’s heat output, and I was so amazed by it I asked where he got it. Turns out, a bunch of hardware stores sell them, for 30 to 50 bucks. For almost any job today, the tools available are more sophisticated. But the thing is, you still need to know how and where to use them. That, for me, is the lesson with digital marketing.
The best email solutions, the most whizz-bang creative suites, the most high-end digital marketing software — they all have amazing features, but they are merely tools. The marketer’s job is still hard: He or she has to make the connections to get customers to consider, purchase and keep buying. And that takes strategy.