Although there are many chronological views of the history of marketing, there are really only three core conceptual views of marketing that have been dominant in our lifetimes: Push, Pull and Collaborative.
In the beginning, there was push marketing. Historically, almost all of us have been taught a push method of marketing. We provided a value proposition, pitch or sample in one of a limited set of channels for consumption.
Marketing was mainly differentiated by the creative quality or educational value of the marketing approach, but it was notoriously difficult to calculate the value of marketing efforts. In effect, it was a Mad Men shotgun approach: shoot a bunch of pellets vaguely in the direction of a target and hope that your creative efforts hit a target.
The Emergence of Pull Marketing
The expectation of finding the value of marketing began to change as we were able to quantify the nature of our online experiences and interactions. Marketing created new categories such as content marketing focused on providing a "pull" based approach to attract customers rather than a "push" based message.
As each click, website visit and order now became an electronic transaction, we quickly moved to a new paradigm of data driven marketing where A/B testing, predictive analytics and Big Data became part of the Chief Marketing Officer's vernacular. It's safe to say at this point that the CMO must have a strong understanding of conversion rates and the metrics associated with the marketing funnel to do her job optimally.
Although "pull" marketing became more popular, metrics were used to define and create a trap to pull in customers based on optimized user interface, attractive content and clickbait titles. In effect, the combination of "pull" marketing and data driven marketing were the equivalent of placing snares throughout the most relevant areas. In the early stages of the internet, this search engine optimized world was the basis of bringing in new clients and Google reigned supreme.
The Big Caveat for Data Driven Marketing
In this rush to become data driven marketers, we overlooked a key point. Data is used to prove the efficacy of campaigns and to measure the various approaches of push messaging, pull-based content and educational marketing efforts. However, data is not the end-all and be-all of a marketing campaign. Data simply reflects the results of specific actions at a specific time. By focusing only on the data, marketers can fall prey to the classic problem of managing towards the ends rather than the means. (It’s no coincidence that hunting metaphors work well for both classic push and pull marketing.)
It may be that the successful data associated with a marketing campaign may be contextual and irreproducible rather than an indicator of best practices. If campaign tests and experiments are based solely on terminal data results such as conversions, marketers may end up optimizing a suboptimal or damaging process based on poor context. It could be that the best results were a result of luck. Or the best results were due to a temporary effect that quickly leads to client fatigue. And without a root cause analysis, a data driven analysis can lead to a long term approach that could ultimately prove harmful to the company's marketing approach.
The Answer: Collaborative Marketing
We don't want to go back to the Stone Age of push marketing. But at the same time, data driven analysis has its limits as well. The solution is collaborative marketing. This is the real opportunity for digital marketing in this social, mobile, contextualized, search-enabled world that we live in.
Collaborative marketing has been defined in a number of ways over the past couple of years. Some have defined it as an internally collaborative process where marketing organizations find alignment with partners and complementary organizations. These are table stakes. A marketing organization that doesn't have any partners will always be at a disadvantage against competitors who know how to work with others.
Collaboration in marketing is more important when you are working with your potential customers to design a marketing approach. This is where the true power of social media comes into play. Companies that treat social media solely as a broadcast channel do themselves a disservice because they are still living in the Stone Age of push marketing. In reality, social users are often providing their key business challenges, their interests, their concerns and their willingness to move forward with projects. All that is left for the marketer is the willingness to listen and engage.
This collaborative approach is neither a true push-based or pull-based model. Companies no longer need to force a message down their clients' throats or lure them into an opportunity. And customers are no longer separated from marketers. In a social world, customers and marketers have mutually agreed to share the same space. Based on mutual availability and willingness, consultative conversations can often held in forums that are shared, private and fairly neutral. Even branded or private communities often have the majority of their content and discussions written by third parties who are outside corporate control, such as customers, potential clients and interested passersby.
This marketing approach requires companies to fundamentally shift their outbound and inbound tactics. Companies often use content marketing in an experimental way today and try to equate specific content with conversions. A collaborative approach takes a more specific view of the client based on size, vertical, role, timing and their corporate needs to be helpful, regardless of whether the client's needs are currently aligned with the vendor's offerings or not.