Old Tricks, New Dogs

Marketing hasn’t changed in the last 125 years. Not really. Oh sure, everything is digitized, socialized, and mobilized now. But the principles behind the application of today’s marketing technologies remain very much intact. Don’t believe me? Ask John Henry Patterson.

Well you can’t ask him, because he died May 7, 1922 at the ripe old age of 77. But when you do a little research, you’ll find he was marketing like it was the 21st century well more than 100 years ago.

Mr. Patterson was one of the first in the U.S. sold on the value of the cash register after having experienced the benefits in his retail establishments. But he was a rare breed at the time, so when he bought the company that would become NCR, his first task was to create awareness of – and then demand for – cash registers. He did it through the heavy (even relentless) use of advertising, direct communications, and publicity. And in so doing, he raised advertising and promotion to unprecedented levels of sophistication and created models still in use today.

He pioneered direct marketing and used trial and error – always experimenting, learning, and adapting along the way to ever greater results. Today, we call that optimization.

Some of his advertising circulars were in letter form, some included pictures, and others dramatized the use of the cash register. We call that content marketing today.

Many circulars were in the form of publications directed to specific groups or types of retailers. We call that targeting today.

To thwart antagonistic retail clerks who were tossing his circulars for fear of losing their jobs, Patterson devised the idea of using plain envelopes and often had the pieces mailed from cities other than Dayton. Today, we might call that localization, contextualization, and retargeting.

In one of his most inspired moments, Patterson hit on the idea of incorporating praise from satisfied customers in direct mail. These testimonials proved to be among the strongest cases ever devised to sway prospects. They were “living” arguments to buy. We call that influencer marketing, ratings and reviews, and social amplification today.

Patterson’s motto for NCR copywriters was to be direct and simple. Ads used blank spaces and pictures galore. He wanted his ads to sell the need, not the product. He said, “No ad is big enough to sell two ideas.” Today, we leverage simple images and copy particularly in social channels – because they are consistently the most effective at engaging people.

In conjunction with direct-mail and print advertising, Patterson also developed the industrial publicity release. “Business is news,” he believed, and so he hired publicists to generate articles on NCR products and activities. Today we call that earned media.

So what has changed? Well, certainly we could point to two-way communication, real-time content creation and consumer response, the sheer volume of data, and the proliferation of competitors. But the most significant change is to the expectations and behaviors of our consumers or customers.

In fact, human expectations and behaviors have evolved massively in the last five years as result of technology:

  • People want control of their marketing interactions and won’t settle for being “communicated at.” #SelfieServing
  • People want data and access to beautiful progress information for everything from footsteps to finances. #TrackSmack 
  • People want access from any device at any moment and expect the experience to be seamless while taking advantage of the benefits of each device. #Accessitis 
  • People aren’t just consumers, they are “users,” and they expect systems to get smarter as they interact – without violating their sense of privacy. #ChronicHALitosis
  • People are being conditioned by the constant stream of content and their patience and attention for products, services, and marketing is short and unforgiving. #WhatHaveYouDoneForMeLately

So, if the marketing principles are timeless and yet consumer behavior is evolving with technology, do we need to do anything differently?

Yes – or if not differently, at least better. We need to challenge ourselves and our marketing with this simple test:

  1. Why him/her? We need to get beyond the basic audience analysis and dig deep to define why a specific person would give one moment of their time to what we have to share. This will unlock the human motivations and triggers.
  2. Why this advertising/marketing? We need to get beyond our own marketing objectives and ideas that excite us and really press hard to define why a particular piece of content or single interaction taps into the human motivation and adds value to their life. 
  3. Why this moment? We need to move beyond placement, audience-buying, and targeting and think holistically about the context to define the best moments (in space, time, and interests) when people want to engage and be influenced.

These questions may seem obvious, but all too often marketers are not asking these questions. We tend to be centered on our marketing objectives rather than people. To find the truth, we need to use these questions to put ourselves on the other side of the marketing equation.

I’m sure that if John Henry Patterson were alive today, he would challenge everyone on his team with these questions. In your next creative review, I dare you to ask these questions…and see what happens.

Image via Shutterstock.

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