Why the marketing bubble may be about to collapse – and how digital fits into it

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Over the past 25 years, multiple economic and related bubbles have negatively impacted the United States and the world. These bubbles include the very famous dot.com bubble, the not-so-famous technology bubble, and the very financially damaging housing bubble and real estate bubble.

Whether you believe in the concept of bubbles or not, I believe that the marketing sector is on the verge of a bubble that is truly about to pop.

Let’s be real; not all media and not all trends last. They evolve, and a hybrid, converged tool is what moves us forward

Why? Let us first define what an economic-based bubble is. According to a few actively used definitions, a bubble is “trade in an asset at a price or price range that strongly deviates from the corresponding asset’s intrinsic value.” According to Investopedia: “Bubbles form in economies, securities, stock markets and business sectors because of a change in the way players conduct business. This can be a real change, as occurred in the bubble economy of Japan in the 1980s when banks were partially deregulated, or a paradigm shift, as happened during the dotcom boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s.”

Looking at the marketing sector, I would state that we not only fit the requirements of what a bubble is, but we are clearly in a bubble, one that I feel will soon burst. Define soon, you say? Soon, to me, is in the next three to seven years.

What is a marketing bubble?

As an integrated marketing consultant, I see a few key reasons why the bubble has formed and why it will burst.

Why did the bubble form? Simply, marketing (the business sector) has taken on a role that is, to me, overvalued, in terms of intrinsic value. In many cases, the marketing of a product or service oversells the value of the product or service being offered. Now, some cynics will probably say, “What else is new? We are not really conducting business in a new way.” However, many things are new. For instance, look to the Internet that continues to evolve, creating a paradigm shift.

A second set of reasons behind the marketing bubble involves how trend seekers have hijacked marketing. Yes, those within our sector who jump onto the latest trends without the needed due diligence, strategy development, correct integration, valuation of media and without possessing a full understanding of the multiple tiers of tools being used to fulfill a marketing effort. Notice I did not use the terms goals and objectives – you will see why later.

Add a lack of testing, a limited understanding of legacy and emerging media, a failure to develop an attribution trail, and a failure to evaluate and research the short-and long-term impact of the trends and the demographics that are the marketer’s target—all of these add to the creation of this marketing bubble. Do not get me wrong: trends can be and are very powerful tools, but, as with other business tools, there are always a potentially dark side of a trend to contend with.

The countdown to a meltdown

I do not believe the scope of a marketing bubble meltdown will cause the stock market to fail or the business world to end. Marketing communications and advertising will not cease to exist.

No, what will happen when the marketing bubble bursts is similar to what happens when all bubbles burst: recovery will begin; the overvalued aspects of the bubble will in many cases be eliminated (some would argue that some digital marketing tools fit this description); restructuring will begin; and, perhaps most importantly, a re-examination of what led in part to creating the bubble will take place. And those within our sector who wish to learn will learn how to avoid or at least reduce the development of a future marketing-related bubble.

There have been a few noticeable communications bubbles in the past, though they were probably not called bubbles at the time. In the past, these unstable periods of growth all related to the introduction of new media to a stale media environment. Newspapers replaced the town crier, newspapers were replaced by radio, TV/broadcast replaced radio, and the Internet replaced TV/broadcast.

I should note an important fact—all media except the town crier rebounded and played an important perhaps less active role in the recovery. You can see that occurring right now with the weakness in many digital channels and the unexpected strength of some legacy media including niche publications, direct mail, and other once “dead” print related media.

In my opinion, a more recent, better defined and perhaps more memorable bubble that burst within the marketing sector providing a very successful revolutionary recovery was the bubble of complacency. The recovery solution was offered and led by Jean-Marie Dru with the concept of disruption. This bubble may be considered the first on what will be many marketing, communication and advertising bubbles.

The overvalutisation of media and marketing

“Out of chaos comes order.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Is your media overvalued? Let’s all be real: not all media, not all trends, and not all things new last. Like much in nature, they evolve, and a hybrid, a converged tool, is what moves us forward.

I for one believe social media or what it will evolve into is a communication mode that will be radically different in the near future. Professional marketers and the users of social media complain that investors all looking for some overly large piece of the ROI pie have hijacked a once “free” medium.

What did anyone expect? All investments must lead to a payoff; otherwise there will be no future payoff. As I see “sellial media” (my name for modern social media), the push for an adequate ROI was delayed too long and is now measured out in dosages too large for the user to swallow. This delay and the need for profit places an artificial value on any type of media—such as social, print, digital, or new and emerging media.

I have heard many complaints and many comments from professional marketers and end users stating they are moving away from social media, and I am among them. Simply due to the fact that the media was oversold, the promises made were heavily exaggerated, and ROI was too limited, in the end social media often became nothing more than a sales tools disguised as a personal, friendly, one-on-one interaction. Sort of like selling life insurance to all your friends, you gained entry via your friendship and often got tossed out for that abuse.

One can make the same argument over the entire digital marketing landscape. Mobile has been the next new thing for the last five years, I agree with an article which argues perhaps “mobile” is the wrong name. We are all so mobile so who cares about mobile media; isn’t that what is expected?

Personally, I see the next generation of mobile media to be a counterbalancing force to prevent or at least blunt a future marketing bubble. The evolved mobile is one that, like the silver bullet to ward off a werewolf, offers a key to goal and objectives-orientated marketing. This evolved media, much like legacy media, will be common, understated, tractable, measureable, below market value, and universal, and will activate some if not all of the five (haptic) senses. It will also provide attribution as well as a strong action-oriented link to sales outside or within the digital media framework. Talk about a paradigm shift and a change in business conditions—mobile has it all

How to avoid the next marketing bubble

“ The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Peter Drucker

Well, this will be in part a self-serving statement—integrate your media mix and your marketing strategy by including content, context, relevance, interaction, measurement, emerging technologies, and a mix of new media with legacy media. All of these should be defined from the onset with realistic projected use, expectations, and results, and all defined and selected to make your target market happy.

I have come to this conclusion based on the following:

  • There is a reduction of the knowledge base of marketers, and this lack of knowledge may doom many users’ integrated marketing efforts to failure. Just because you are using five social media sources (or five magazines) does not mean you have an integrated marketing strategy—integrated media, yes; integrated marketing, no!
  • There is a dependence on overvalued media (have you read Harvey Levenson’s book What Does Media Mean to You?) that provide little or inaccurate tools to provide measurement and determine ROI.
  • There is a lack of developing a marketing strategy, including a confusing trend of not only not defining your expectations but also your goals and objectives.
  • There is – perhaps on purpose – an ignorance of how to combine trans media, multi-media, experiential, haptic-based touch-and-feel media into an active part of your planning, despite data indicating this need.
  • There is a lack of understanding that the public, your targeted demographic, may be (in fact, is) on the edge of a revolution that will have the market (the them in them) determine the media they prefer to use and not the marketer.
  • There is an active theory that consumer (B2B as well) no longer is sold anything; they buy. This clearly supports the change in business and conditions segment of a bubble.

There is a lack of understanding why the consumer or B2B buys vs. is being sold. This is a critical shortcoming. Understanding the buying cycle and the how and why content, context, message, and media equate into dialogue, engagement, and action-based sales today is too often ignored by many marketers, brands, and agencies and is looked upon as less important. Need an example? Think of the US automobile industry when you begin to ignore your market and its voice.

Timeline and summary

Once the economy starts to falter or increase its rate of weakening, the consumer will, as they always do, pull back from spending. Media and related marketing communications will begin to be viewed as they need to be (and should be) viewed as a profit centre.

Mobile has been the next new thing for the past five years. We are all mobile so who cares about mobile media; isn’t that what’s expected?

Once that happens, the old/new, less effective, less measured and less profitable media will be cast aside, and those who had been proponents of media over results will too be out of a job. The very combination of our business sector, the questioned intrinsic value of the media and tools, the shifting of the way business is conducted and the baseline paradigm shift will all be accentuated once the overall economic and marketplace conditions start to change. And they will, whether as a result of a new administration, strife, or some other related event.

If there is one thing that is consistent with a bubble bursting and the following recovery, it is that change, radical (often viewed as destructive) change will start the new ball rolling. The question is: are you under the ball or on top of it?

It should be noted that once the flow starts, the tide of change that will cause the next marketing bubble to burst cannot be stopped. So, if I am wrong, it is only in timing.

To more than survive, to excel, consider this most wonderful quote from Lee Odden: “Be the best answer.”

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