An odd title this week, but what I’m seeing in the web marketing universe is giving me pause. One might think it’s obvious to most that tools such as social media platforms, Google AdWord campaigns, organic optimization programs, email marketing blasts and a variety of other variably effective electronic methods still require a base knowledge of client markets, a working understanding of their market language, and thorough research of market behavior and competitor activity. I’m finding that’s rarely the case.

Online marketing services with catchy domains quite often put a primary emphasis on the evolving wonders of technology like alluring apps, flexible software, and quick-start templates. These colorful bells and whistles are frequently sold with compelling graphics that tout their affordability, power and reach, but precious little shrift is given to how they might best be used by an individual client or company – a statement that also suggests that ambitious digital marketing mavens seek to not only blur the lines between B-2-C and B-2-B marketing, but eradicate them altogether.

At the risk of sounding like an old marketing goat, for those who have been in the marketing game long before this thing we call the Internet, pitches to prospects were prepared around large tables full of qualified people taking lots of notes. Experience reaching both general and niche targets was not only appreciated, it was a requirement. Creative and tactical was established hand-in-hand, one informing the other. For industrial marketers, it wasn’t unusual to see spec sheets laying around or even CAD drawings. Publications were ripped to pieces, with fragments of ads passed left to right as marketing teams nodded and absorbed the information for percolation. Budgets were tight, even when they were big, and the agency that got most of those dollars in the marketplace in the right way so they would be seen and understood by the right people built strong and fruitful relationships with their clients.

Today, through the relative ease of Internet visibility, companies offering design and marketing services can quickly get the eye and ear of confused and often overwhelmed marketing managers and convince them that the steps detailed above aren’t remotely necessary. They’ll imply through clever graphics and mysterious buzz words that all marketing looks the same these days regardless of industry, and that customer behavior is virtually homogeneous. It’s true that for a great many industries, the Internet has functioned as a leveler of fields of sorts and in many ways allowed smaller, younger players to get in the game with their larger, more seasoned competitors. But in even more ways, modern marketers have treated the Internet like a big, bouncy toy that anyone can use with almost no practice. It takes very little homework to make the “little” guys feel like they’re playing – until it’s time to count up conversions and leads. Before long, if they’re lucky, they realize one only gets to compete if they engage in digital marketing methods that display a comprehensive knowledge of their markets, their language, and a studied understanding of what their competitors are doing.

As the years pass and digital marketing becomes more advanced and complex, the maintenance of websites and the corresponding activities that drive traffic will become an increasingly ongoing process. Regular monitoring of website performance and reevaluating the methods of reaching your customers will become a daily chore as opposed to a conversation that happens once or twice a year when marketing budgets are set. A company’s best bet is to build a relationship with an agency that does the research and truly understands the demands and obstacles of marketing their products and services. While it’s possible to net plenty of leads through pure luck and fancy graphics, there are no magic buttons, virtual or otherwise, that one can push to maintain consistent market growth.

– S. Norton

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