How Conventional Marketing Theory is Still Relevant in the Digital Age.


What is the connection between 90’s TV show Friends, marketing academic Phillip Kotler and the latest in data driven digital marketing? How is conventional marketing theory still proving relevant in the digital world?

To look forward, as they say, sometimes you need to look to the past. In the fast moving world of digital marketing, just occasionally a piece of classic marketing theory crops back up and proves how these solid fundamentals are still relevant.

My formal journey through marketing theory commenced in the mid-1990’s when I studied the Chartered Institute of Marketing exams. Whilst the rest of society was obsessing over the latest episode of hit sitcom Friends, our lives on the CIM course were full of textbooks and essays, with our single greatest point of reference being the academic Phillip Kotler.

One of the single most important theories of the time was that of the integrated marketing campaign whish used different communication channels in a specific order to move the consumer through the different stages towards conversion.

These phases were mapped out in a range of communication models from the simplest AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) to the peculiarly named UACCA (Unawareness, Awareness, Comprehension, Conviction, Action).

But all shared the same principles of using activities like above the line advertising to raise awareness, then more targeted activities like direct marketing and sales promotion to convert awareness and understanding into actions and outcomes.

Fast-forward many years and a career that has specialised in digital marketing. In Summer 2014 I was fortunate enough to be invited to Measure with Google conference at Google’s European HQ in Dublin. Sitting in their sumptuous purpose built conference theatre, over several days the audience was treated to a succession of insightful talks from some of the very clever people at Google.

Towards the end of the event one speaker brought up a slide showing the Online Customer Journey to Conversion tool which Google provides. The tool aims to show how digital channels can work differently to either generate direct conversions or else generate visitors who convert at a later date.

However, I was immediately struck by how the stages of the conversion journey had been organised into some very familiar phases – broadly the same phases as all those traditional communication models of yesterday.

The same principle of using different tools at the right time also applied – awareness-raising channels such as social media and display advertising through to more direct conversion channels such as Direct and Organic.

This isn’t the only example of Kotler having a digital relevance today. Another of the classic pieces of marketing theory of the 90’s was around Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning your audience using the process of:

  • Segmenting your market into audiences and groups by value.
  • Targeting which segments to target and with what.
  • Positioning your message and marketing.

Cue the most recent BrightonSEO in April 2015, the biannual conference where SEO types gather to share the latest ideas and techniques. In the very first session of the day, the very first speaker started to quote the theories of Kotler on the subject of segmentation.

Of course in the digital age the theory of segmentation has again been updated and now comprises:

  • Identifying converting and high value users, particularly by their average lifetime value.
  • Segment them by their source, behaviour, content habits and activity.
  • Use this data and these insights to target more of the highest value users.

So in short, maybe those marketing text books cluttering up the loft may not be redundant after all. There could be some merit in dusting them off and seeing how else classic theory could help inform your digital campaigns.



08 Jul 2015 - 5 minute read
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