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.

Whatever your business, be it a regional or global brand, the content you produce plays a vital role in your success. You know that… hence you’re reading this.

A well formulated and executed content strategy not only drives more traffic, at the core, it defines what your business is and helps build a strong connection between you and your audiences.

So let's quickly look at why developing a coherent content strategy is important and how setting clear goals and understanding your audience will elevate your online performance. 

What is a Content Strategy?

It's basic right? Content is at the core of how you define the way your business presents itself and an effective strategy should look to ensure that tone of voice, messaging and the core values are surfaced across all channels, from service or product pages on your website, to blog posts, through social media updates blah blah blah.

But let's keep it simple - your content strategy should be a clear roadmap that connects your marketing activities to your business goals. Align to your customer’s wants and needs and engage them at every interaction point and boom, you're in business. 

Who are my Audience?

You likely start all your projects with this chalked on the wall because your business knows “exactly” who its customers are right? Sounds obvious but we often find its not been done forensically enough (not based on data), is too old (more than 12 months ago - forget it) or its a spin off from some brand work that was legitimately aspirational but doesn’t face the reality of who you your business is actually engaging today.

So start (or circle back) with audience research, building out those personas to understand their ambitions, their lifestyle, their pain points or concerns, and crucially their wants and needs - in your context. 

Do I need to tailor content?

As part of your research find out where your audiences spend their time online and how they interact with content: Some may spend time thoroughly researching a product or service, whereas other audiences may want their content to be quick, snappy or easily digestible in the form of a video, infographic or short blog posts.


Ultimately, the key is to produce a strategy that creates the type of content your customers want to see:

  • What are the problems that your product or service will help them solve?

  • Who are they most influenced by?

  • What voices influence their behaviour?

  • What type of content do they consume?

  • Where do they consume content and engage with brands?

Different Content, Different Objectives

 All content is not born equal: When producing your strategy, it is important that the objectives for each individual piece are defined, that these fulfil your marketing objectives and tie to the overarching goals for your business.

There are various content frameworks that exist to aid content development in this way, but one that is popular and effective is Google’s hero, hub and hygiene method: It provides a framework on developing content to achieve different goals and gives guidance on the effort needed to create each type of content.

Hero Content

Hero content is essentially campaign content, it is big splash ideas designed to appeal to a large audience with the aim of telling your brand’s story at scale. 

Ways of measuring hero include the amount of PR mentions or links from authoritative domains plus social interactions and mentions of your brand across all channels. 

Considering the scale of hero campaigns, this content is not regularly produced and is reserved for peak promotional times where it’s important for a business to stand out from their competitors.

Hub Content

Hub content is the stuff that keeps your audience engaged, it expands on the themes of product or service level content, educates users and helps create a connection between themselves and your brand.

Hygiene Content

Hygiene content is the bread and butter of any website, it is the BAU content for products and services, it is SEO focused and targets important keywords at a product, service or guide level.

How do I manage all this?

Content development is only one part of the ongoing work needed when working with an effective content strategy. We call it “feeding the beast” because it really is the fuel in your brand vehicle and once you start you really can’t stop (if it’s delivering results) but that’s where performance measurement comes in.

Your greatest gift in managing the outputs from your hero/hub/hygiene style efforts is to understand If your content is working. To truly deliver results your business must first understand the objectives and goals of each piece of content to effectively measure its success. That as a guiding light from day 1 will let you slow down, speed up, stop or start new content briefs and projects.

Remember - content strategies are not set in stone. They are living breathing things and should adapt and pivot as insights become available and your brand naturally evolves.

If ever you want to chat content and explore new initiatives we’re always here to help.

want to speak to one of our experts?



08 Jul 2015 - 5 minute read
share this

stay in the know, stay ahead.

Get the latest from the agency, including news, events and expert content.
explore services in the article
find out what we can do for you
read some of our case studies