The Challenge Of Unconventional Marketing

On his Logic + Emotion blog, David Armano writes:

“…after having some exposure to large organizations, it occurred to me that there is a desire to do more ‘unconventional marketing’ but the machine which is in place is actually ‘conventional’—all the things that have been done in the past. And so as I think about how times are becoming more unconventional—with unpredictable financial markets and political change in the air, I can’t help but think that it’s more important than ever to get serious about what it takes to do these types of initiatives right.  It just doesn’t look like conventional marketing—it’s different. And unconventional times call for unconventional tactics.”

My take: David’s absolutely right — there is definitely a desire among large organizations to do more unconventional marketing. And yes, the machine that’s in place is the conventional machine. But I don’t think David is nailing the real issue on the head here: Unconventional marketing tactics don’t exist in a vacuum.

Marketers who have deployed unconventional marketing tactics — like word of mouth, viral videos, Facebook pages, etc. — talk about the success of those efforts in terms of reach, exposure or hits. And they often compare the cost of the unconventional tactic to what it would have cost to achieve the same reach with conventional tactics. (Example: “The local TV station ran a 2-minute segment on our $10 giveaway. So for the $2,000 we gave away, it would have cost us $20,000 to get that kind of exposure.”)

What’s wrong with this?

1. It doesn’t measure the incremental impact. In other words, we don’t know, of the people who saw the viral video or friended the Facebook page,  how many of these people did not already know about the company or were not already inclined to purchase from the company.

2. There’s no context. Congratulations for signing up 1,000 friends on your Facebook page. The real question is: Were these the right 1,000 people? In other words, are they part of your target market? (You have defined the market you’re going after, right?)

The reality here is that it’s not an either/or situation. Large firms’ desire to do more unconventional marketing doesn’t mean they can (or even want to) completely stop doing conventional marketing things.

While David is right that marketers must “get serious about what it takes to do these (unconventional) types of initiatives right,” there’s an even bigger challenge to meet: How to integrate unconventional tactics with conventional tactics, and determine the right mix (or balance) between the two types.

In his book Word of Mouth Marketing, Andy Sernovitz challenges the effectiveness of traditional forms of advertising (like TV), and highlights Southwest Airlines as a firm that gets WOM right. But this is the same firm that has run a series of memorable TV commercials in which it ridicules other airlines for nickel-and-diming customers to death with fees. So while Southwest has embraced WOM marketing, and perhaps other unconventional tactics, it clearly isn’t throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Bottom line: The marketers — and marketing services agencies — that will be the most successful won’t be those that just get unconventional tactics right. It’ll be those that integrate the unconventional with the conventional (to the point where the unconventional is no longer unconventional) and measure the effectiveness of the entire set of marketing efforts — not just the one-off experiments.

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9 thoughts on “The Challenge Of Unconventional Marketing

  1. In my mind, it seems like a lot of companies and marketers abandon issues like measuring impact or putting things in context when they pursue the kinds of unconventional marketing tactics mentioned here. I think it’s because many have the perception that these tactics (i.e. Facebook, viral videos, etc.) are cheap (if not free) – and as a result, the emphasis is on the number of people that hear about the initiative/company, and not about how many customers/sales the initiative generates.

    Southwest is a good example of how the unconventional fits with the conventional. But in thinking about the financial services industry where conventional efforts often times go unmeasured, introducing unconventional initiatives to the mix and measuring the overall impact could really be a long-shot for some.

  2. Agreed Ron, there’s no point in creating yet more marketing silos, integration brings the power to actually move the needle. Otherwise, you end up with “gee, that’s nice” unconventional efforts that create no measurable impact because they simply can’t scale.

    I’d also say the easiest way to integrate unconventional marketing is to create a product, service, or culture that’s actually worth talking about.

    If you can do that, the unconventional marketing end will often take care of itself, and you can drive this unconventional activity with conventional marketing to the point where it generates significant numbers.

    In Southwest’s case, nothing like a TV spot to light the fuse…

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  4. @Jim I’ve re-read your comment a couple of times, trying to process the comment “If you can do that, the unconventional marketing end will often take care of itself.”

    I guess it comes down to better defining exactly what we’re talking about when we use the term “unconventional marketing.”

    I can see my way to understanding how a great conventional marketing effort could lead to great word-of-mouth (i.e., unconventional marketing).

    But what about all the other potential things that could be slotted under the unconventional banner (social networks, blogs, etc.)?

  5. @Brady: Yep, you make a great point. There’s this prevailing mentality that if it’s “experimental” it gets a free pass from measurement and accountability. After all, we have to Innovate! Innovate! Innovate!!!

    And I certainly agree that “measuring the overall impact could really be a long-shot for some” — but that goes to the core of my point: That the firms (and especially the agencies) that do do this will be the ones who achieve the greater success.

  6. @ Ron My perspective is that WOM drives all the unconventional marketing, no matter what “format” the word of mouth is in – blogs, social networks, Twitter, e-mail, chat rooms, discussion lists – all of it. Great products and services are “shared”, and the offline media can amplify or speed up that trend.

  7. @Jim The odd thing is, most companies that try “social media” forget that the “social” is more important than the “media”. Creating a product or service worth talking about isn’t the easiest way to create unconventional marketing, it’s the most important part: but neglecting to take advantage of the opportunity of “unconventional marketing” seems short-sighted.

    @Brady Most of these efforts are cheap: cheap in money, but not in time and commitment.

    @Ron No question marketers are focused on the wrong metrics; as I think we’ve talked about before, it’s because they really don’t know how to equate the metrics created by “unconventional” marketing efforts with the metrics they understand from the “conventional” toolbox.

    And you’re spot on: it’s not really a question of “conventional” or “unconventional”, but both; and finding the right way to mesh (and measure) is the real holy grail. It isn’t hard, but it’s complex. Why? Because people are complex…

    (I know “unconventional marketing” does not equal “social media”…)

  8. The statement that gets this going, ie “a desire to do more ‘unconventional marketing’ but the machine which is in place is actually ‘conventional’” perfectly frames the absolute wrong discussion.

    There are two problems with the line of thinking here:
    1. Marketing definition: The unconventional marketing described is actually conventional. This conversation won’t work unless we get to the unconventional.
    2. Metrics: Unconventional marketing is being held to a higher standard on metrics than conventional

    There is no ‘unconventional marketing’. Thats why the discussion is having difficulty framing an alternative. Sticking a tv spot on youtube is conventional marketing ….. accept that and move on.

    Lets get the conversation turned to the unconventional. Example, taken straight from Cluetrain:

    What if the Bank of America call centre took 25 +/- of its best employees, those who ‘get it’, and you won’t find them here likely btw. Take those folks and re-allocate for a year to seek out blog posts and commentary on the institution. Give them free rein, with the following example qualifications:

    * write in a conversational style
    * engage people effectively across different media
    * be a good listener
    * reflect collective opinions rather than simply their own
    * individuals directly and more personally
    * do all of the above above while:
    – representing the collective voice within the company
    – encouraging others, to participate in open messaging as advocates for the company
    – sparking members to share the service and participate in the discussion and forums

    Is this marketing?
    Is it unconventional?
    What would be the outcome?
    How would it be measured?
    Would you be prepared to fund / re-allocate from the marketing budget?

  9. @colin To me, that’s still conventional marketing – it’s just using a different communications vehicle. Those BofA “All-Stars” should be doing that exact same thing in their lobbies, at their church, in their civic organizations, with their friends and family, and with anyone else that will lend them an ear. Creating an army of evangelists is not a new idea. In this case, the employees are simply searching for their audience via social media.

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