The Era Of Trepidation

Posted by

How often do you think about the future of Marketing?

It’s an interesting question to think about. To ponder. To speculate. In the past, I’ve made note that I do not consider myself a Futurist (as some have called me), but rather a Presentist. It’s not humility over hubris (believe me, I have enough hubris for the both of us). It’s not the fact that I do not claim to have fortune telling prowess (because those that do are liars). It’s because there is so much change and flux in the current media, marketing and advertising climate, that the day to day changes and advancement in technology – and how connected it is making people – is enough to keep all of us busy for the next long while.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It’s not just some cliché line you get out of a classic rock tune. It is still the song being sung and hummed by Chief Marketing Officers the world over. As much as the world changes and connects we tend to forget (or pretend it doesn’t exist) that consumers have a very different interaction with a brand today than they did ten years ago. One of the dramatic shifts is that we live in the most branded generation ever. People care. are loyal too and are more interested in connecting with brands than ever before.

Think about it this way…

Can you name a product or service that has been referred to you where you then purchased it without doing any form of research online? Most people go to their doctor with a fairly keen understanding of what the prognosis will be because of online research (and, according to some recent studies, they’re right more often than not). Groupon comes out and becomes the fastest business in the history of civilization to hit one billion dollars in sales. Formspring pops up out of nowhere and becomes a fifteen million-plus sized community before you can say, "what’s a Formspring?"

What’s a Marketer to do?

Many Marketers fall back on what they know. They’ll talk about how it’s still about the "big idea" or how you have to let the data work for you. They’ll focus on CRM or attempt to optimize their traditional ad spend. Some will experiment with the new media channels and throw a pittance at things like search engine marketing, email marketing, and online display advertising. Some will push that even further and use their experimental budget for Facebook pages or help with Twitter.

The Era of Trepidation.

Too much choice almost always causes analysis/paralysis. It’s the state where so much has changed and the options are so bountiful that you either wind up doing nothing, or you wind up doing everything you have always been doing – and not what you should be doing. All of this explosive growth (from the web browser, YouTube and Facebook to the iPhone, Twitter and Foursquare) is great for business and consumers, but it’s causing a bit of a Marketing paralysis. Marketers are not as confident as they used to be. Marketers enter the Digital Marketing channels with trepidation and not with confidence.

Few of us know what this is and fewer of us know what to do.

Have confidence in the online and mobile channels. We can say with great confidence (and no trepidation) that this is not a fad. Yes, some channels will do better than others. Some platforms will survive while others may go away, but this is no different than traditional media. Not all TV shows become hits. Not all radio stations make the cut. Some newspapers perform better than others and the same can be said for magazines. In the end, the media channel is still vibrant with a fertile culture of consumers looking and wanting more.

What’s with all of this trepidation? What do you think we need to do to get from the era of trepidation to the era of confidence?


  1. For the “Little Guys” like me Mitch the market’s natural trepidation is our friend. It gives us, at least a fighting chance, to get out ahead of the curve.

  2. To get from the era of trepidation to the era of confidence, we need to understand that we can’t know everything about everything. If a client asks me about something I’m not experienced in, I have to be willing to qualify my answer with my experience level. I’m confident about online marketing for nonprofits, less so about online fundraising, but I’m learning.
    Specialties and experience count for a lot in my book, so if a client asks me for something I’m not comfortable providing, I’m much more likely to turn to a specialist in confidence than I am to provide it myself with trepidation.

  3. Two comments, Mitch.
    One, there is opportunity in the confusion. As you say, it’s changing so fast. But it’s changing so fast that anyone can become an expert just as fast. No one knows what they’re doing. And in that paralysis is opportunity for people to get as “up to speed” as any “expert” very quickly.
    Two (you may scoff at this one given your comment about the “big idea”), I would argue that the best way to navigate all this choice is to depersonalize it. Instead of asking “what should I do?” the question should be “what would this brand do, given its idea?” It’s liberating, really. “Listen” to the brand like an author will “listen” to his characters. Let the brand tell you where it WANTS to live and express itself. Doing so is a fast, efficient and powerful way to decide what marketing vehicles are right, and what ones aren’t. No matter how much everything changes, the brand idea should stay the same.

  4. You say “People care. are loyal too and are more interested in connecting with brands than ever before.”
    Maybe I’m deluding myself and don’t know myself, but for me personally, though I do identify very strongly with brands of very small companies (small independent coffee shop, solo business person, etc) I so DON’T want to connect with big company brands. If anything, I’m turned off by what they promise versus what they deliver and find how they are trying to manage their brands is exactly what causes my disconnect with them.
    As for what to do, I’m with an earlier comment by Bill Laidlaw, as a small guy doing work for small organizations, this time is an opportunity. The problem is more getting the clients I have to adopt the idea that things could be done differently.

  5. Think back (if you can) to when ATMs were rolled out. How long did it take you (your parents or grandparents) to bank with a machine?
    My first professional role in a financial institution was in a department of 25. We had 2 PCs for the lot of us because why in the world would we all need our own machine on our desk?
    While this makes me sound ancient, it is the combined evolution of technology, expectations and human behavior that will move trepidation to implementation. While not my role, many of the small businesses in my area (Maine) are still waiting to be convinced that social media applies to their business as well. It amazes me.

  6. Great post.
    When I think about this marketing confidence gap, it immediately conjures up the end line of Sally Field’s oscar winning speech – “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”
    For many years marketing has been disliked by customers. Given their direct experience with it often involved ever more interruptions to their favorite TV show (etc.), it’s not hard to see why. But as some of these traditional channels falter, we’re seeing something interesting happen in the social media world – customers willingly opting to connect with brands.
    So I think many brands (and marketers) need their own “Sally Field moment” in terms of confidence. Many of your customers like you, else they wouldn’t follow / like / join you. In ever greater numbers, they’re saying they want to hear from you– the latest deal, what’s going on, whatever – and maybe even share those messages with their friends.
    That’s pretty cool – as is the fact many of these platforms are cheap to use, and create all kinds of useful data to leverage. And it should give marketers the confidence to use these tools to make those customers happy (and of course find new ones).

  7. It’s usually easier for a smaller and more nimble company to make moves faster (and to fail faster). While this is great, we also know that it takes the bigger companies and brands to embrace it for there to really be any traction and growth.

  8. It’s also a question of metrics. Clients want to know things like, “if I switch my dollars away from traditional media, will the new media not only make up for it, but improve on my results?” It’s not a zero sum game and the metrics are dramatically different (some might argue that they’re not even similar). It’s also important to focus on the strategy and use the best tactics versus following the popular tactic of the day.

  9. No scoffing here. Figuring out how a brand “lives” in these very different digital channels and platforms is paramount to having the success that everyone expects. The only caveat here is that “listening” while powerful in providing insights, might be limiting.
    Remember: the channels are new, so what people would like it to be or think it can be is very different (usually) from what it is.

  10. I always caution people to not use “the market of one” – meaning saying things like, “I would never…” or “Does anyone really…” As an example, go and check out the H&M fan page on Facebook and you let me know if this changes your mind. Or, go and see what is happening on the Urban Outfitters website, and how the consumers contribute to the content, etc… Beyond that, just look at the world of consumer reviews. People care enough to comment, respond and engage.
    Everywhere we turn, we’re seeing people have more and more engagements with brands. That says something.

  11. While this is all true, Marketers still live and act with trepidation. I don’t think any of us would argue the power/opportunity in Google Adwords (which is kind of old at this point, isn’t it?) and yet, still, most Marketers have not even come close to maximizing and optimizing that.
    Think about it: people are searching for what a brand sells and the brand’s answer back is, “this is not that important to us.” I mean come on now… really? If that’s not the ver definition of The Era of Trepidation, I do not know what is.

  12. Part of this feeling also stems from one-way broadcasting and the interruption model of advertising. The results and analytics look very different when you see that consumers are doing searches and then actively clicking on ads to get the results they desire, or talking about brands candidly to their online social networks.
    And you’re right, it’s almost shocking to Marketers that people actually want to find them and do business with them, instead of the traditional model of cramming our messages into every nook and cranny and force feeding them who we are and what we want.

  13. I see what you mean, Mitch and you’re very right that there is a lot of conversation happening with brands and that as a marketer one needs to encourage and develop that.
    You are also right in not allowing for the opinion of one person to determine a branding policy based on their own bias. I was referring more to my own personal feeling and realizing that I can’t bring this into the work I do for my clients. But, I probably do which is not a good thing. Thanks for the reality check. πŸ™‚

  14. John,
    I’m with you. It feels slightly ingenuous that a brand wants to connect with me when I know they really just want my dollar. I’m also not sure it matters at the end of the day.
    There are certain products, like books and music, that I buy based on my relationships or on recommendations, but it’s rare.
    Mitch, you mention those Fan Pages, which is interesting. I’m not sure if you work for those companies or not, but if you do, I’m curious – does it help sales or are brands just fooling themselves into thinking that consumers care in return?

  15. We tend to get blindsided by our own values. It happens to me daily. For me, it’s more like, “how obvious is this whole Digital Marketing thing?”, so when I see companies that are not doing it, I’m in shock – especially when the value and results are so clear.
    I’ve actually been in boardrooms where all the brand had to do was hand over more money to make a lot more money (proven), but the trepidation was too large (even with the proof that more money was available for the taking). Shocking, isn’t it?

  16. It’s not about a brand wanting to connect with you. It’s about people now wanting to connect to a brand (and that’s the difference here).
    As for H&M and Urban Outfitters – both are not clients (I would have disclosed if they were). To me, they are great examples of brands who are engaging in these marketing platforms. I have seen case studies done at conferences on both brands, and yes there is a direct relation to sales, loyalty and results. Brands like that rarely venture into domains like this for pure branding.

  17. What about time? I wonder if part of the trepidation comes from just not having enough time, and when time is at a minimum, you go back to doing what you do best/most.
    As a small “brand,” Twitter has changed for me. Blogs have changed. Facebook is changing. Location based SM still isn’t catching on, but they say it will.
    There is a ton of uncertainty, but I often wonder where it comes from. Does it come from those leading the charge, or from those unwilling to change what they’ve found that works?
    As a consumer, I don’t have time for relationships with brands. I like interruption marketing because it gives me quick information and I don’t have to commit to anything more.
    I don’t care that Comcast cares, because I don’t believe they really do, etc.
    Let’s just keep the business relationship that’s been working for me. Maybe I’m rare in that regard.
    I think the biggest opportunities might come from placements, which is where I’m most often influenced. Who uses something. Why do they use it. How often do they recommend it…etc.
    I saw you mention AdWords in another comment. This stuff works great, but it’s tough for guys like me that are 1 and 2 man shows. But as a big company, it seems like a no-brainer.
    I don’t really work with big brands, but the ones I trust most are those that provide a great service:
    I can think of very few brands that I actually care about. My opinion is that we’re trying to hard to make buying relationships something they are not, but we’re also in the middle of a down economy, and buying decisions are changing overall.

  18. That’s really interesting, because I don’t see it. Maybe I’m one of those that marketers discount πŸ™‚
    Heck, if it works, it makes good sense to do it. It just blows my mind that consumers actually want to connect with a brand. However, as a gamer and someone that follows the industry…I watch BlizzCon every year with my mouth wide open at how easily they can attract scores of fans to come to California to talk with developers of their favorite game.
    If Apple had a conference like this, I imagine the world would have to shut down for a week πŸ™‚

  19. Apple does have developer conferences that are more like rock concerts and you should see the amount of people that show up for events like the launch of Halo, etc… I think you may not make the connection to the brand, but it is very real.
    Have you not checked out the Jeep Jamboree? – people pay to hang out with the brand. Dive a little deeper into experiential marketing for more. Check out Max Lenderman’s book, Experience The Message.

  20. Agreed. The brand’s answer back also is “It’s not that important to us… nor should it be to you. THIS what you should care about.” Never the twain shall meet. Is that trepidation and/or just bad marketing?
    appreciate your posts, btw. long time reader / new time commenter.

  21. How did I know that as soon as I deleted my comments about metrics you would mention them… You are right. We’re shooting in the dark if we have neither experience nor data.
    Does following the popular tactics of the day cause trepidation? Clearly, things like the Old Spice campaign have strategy and give us metrics on which we can base our work, but not adapting that strategy nor learning from those metrics, just applying them as if they were a template, would clearly be a bad idea. Perhaps, that can be boiled down to simple strategy (or lack thereof) on our parts though?

  22. All great additional thoughts. My one comment would be around doing “what you do best/most.” I think many brand managers make the same assumption that what you do often is what you do best, and I don’t always agree that this is the case. Like you said, Google AdWords is probably a no-brainer… what if you learned (by not being stuck in trepidation) that doing that not only saves you money but time too? And that is the point of this post – most marketers are in this Era of Trepidation and they’re not sure.
    We have to push on. We have to try… because the results will – hopefully – speak for themselves.

  23. It would be bad Marketing if they didn’t even know it existed. Knowing it exists but doing nothing about it makes me believe we’re much closer to trepidation. Granted, I may be a little kind here.

  24. We’ve seen the research. Brands say that they have a Social Media strategy, but what does that mean? Is it locked in the bottom drawer of the CMO’s desk or is it something that is being strewn across the entire organization? Baby steps are fine. Dipping our pinkie toes into the water is fine, but we’re closely getting to that unique moment in time where action needs to take place… and the clock is ticking.

  25. Sweeping generalization alert: I think most of us enjoy learning new things and trying new experiences. Yet we are equally unsure what change feels like and there in lies the trepidation.
    Generations used to be 20 years and now my 74yr old dad and I discuss the pros and cons of Facebook. Parents are texting their kids and both are using an iPhone.
    I have said it often and I include myself in this statement, humans have the collective patience of a three year old. We want the new stuff to fully integrate into our lives, work instantly and not require any assembly or manual.
    The fact that the overwhelming majority of new ideas either morph into better ones or go away has been a fact since we draw on cave walls. History seems to smooth out the bumps into our collective selectiveness when we look at what has worked and what has failed.
    But the burning question remains, why do we still live in a world where we have chia pets and snuggies?

  26. Many marketing directives seem to look like this: “We’re going to give you a highly important project, no budget, no resources, and no guidance. We expect big results.” It’s hard to do more than one thing well in online marketing, not to mention the whole slew of multichannel, integrated, etc approaches that organizations supposedly undertake. Comcast does Twitter well. BlendTec does video. Dell does blogging. And, those successes in my opinion are mind blowing. Getting a large organization to embrace and accept one new thing is nothing short of astounding. Try getting them to integrate those with other channels. Then, you look at small businesses and nonprofits. Many of them would be best served to start with something like Duct Tape Marketing that covers the whole range of “This is the very minimum you need to be doing” before moving on to anything remotely considered new.
    To be clear, I agree with you on perhaps your largest point here (at least as far as I’m reading this). We can’t simply pay lip service to using new media for too much longer. We either make the commitment or we don’t. There’s no pretending to be the wizard while hoping no one notices the man behind the curtain.

  27. That’s a fair question… and one that we don’t know the answer to (maybe the Sham-Wow Guy does?). Over and above that, isn’t it fascinating how we want everything now and live, and yet we rely so heavily on not moving at that speed/in that direction when it comes to Marketing?

  28. Is that a result of a type of differentiation that maybe should not exist? Online versus offline? New versus old? Or, is that not part of this? Should direct response folks be expected to know everything about direct response regardless of whether it’s new, old, online, or offline direct response? Or, do we have a double standard where offline or traditional marketers get to have specializations and build our confidence, whereas online or new marketers are expected to know everything about their space and therefore contribute to our trepidation when they are more specialized than that? [Sorry in advance for the paragraph of questions.]
    I could just be imagining this, but I feel like people have more confidence in an offline marketer, who responds to a question about something outside their expertise with, “I specialize in remarketing through the mail, so I’m not too familiar with remarketing online,” than they do in for example an SEO, who responds to a similar question with, “I specialize in SEO, so I’m not too familiar with Facebook fan pages.” Does your average businessperson expect online or new media marketers to know everything they associate with that space and therefore has trepidation when trying something in the space when their expectations are not met and is that part of this problem? Or again, am I imagining a potential cause?

  29. It is always sad to see those little guys get not acquired, but rather destroyed, when some larger company finally decides to bulldoze its way into the market, but I guess the best of the little guys live to trail blaze another day.

Comments are closed.