My grandmother was an ad woman. It was her job to know her demographics. My dad remembers standing outside The Beer Store with her and having her name what kind of beer a customer would come out with based on their age, gender and make of car--which suggested their income level. She was right every time. Knowing your customers inside and out in order to influence them to buy a product is an example of traditional marketing.

The advent of social media, though, has brought new advertising and marketing techniques that change the way people buy products and the way companies engage with their customers. The questions are: Where does social media fit into today’s marketing and advertising landscape? Has social media advertising eclipsed traditional marketing?

At least one man is saying social media is the only way to go; so we should dispense with traditional marketing because it has already lost its influence over customers. Bill Lee (no relation!), in his provocatively titled essay “Marketing is Dead”, sees all traditional marketing as passé. Lee says, “Traditional marketing — including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications — is dead.”

 

He suggests that the “buyer’s decision journey” has changed and we, as consumers, are no longer swayed by the traditional marketing techniques that would have driven us to buy a product in the past. Instead, we ask our peers what products we should buy. He says social media sites, like Facebook, need to set up ways for potential customers to interact with people who are knowledgeable about a product or service. Lee calls this “community marketing” as you engage with people and their opinions just as you would in an offline community.

Using only these “community marketing and peer influence” marketing strategies seems quite antiquated. This form of the buyer’s decision journey would purportedly consist of an endless line of people suggesting products to other people. Although he may be right about buyers being largely influenced by their peers, is the first person in that line of influence supposed to find the recommended product by pure chance, not through an ad campaign of any kind?

We may now be buying products in a different way, more influenced by our peers than by traditional ads. However, as my grandmother demonstrated, marketing is more than just hoping your product gets good word of mouth. It is knowing who buys what, and why, based on every incidental in a potential customer’s life. It is also the development of products people will want to buy. It is difficult to say how Lee believes these complex systems can be replaced by product pages on social media platforms.

It is exactly this reason why others musing on this topic, like Kimberly E. Stone of Forbes Online, say traditional marketing and social media go hand-in-hand in today’s advertising market. Both systems have to be used for a successful campaign. Stone very clearly states that social media marketing is, “not the end-all be-all” and says companies should, “plan the social media campaign as a complement to existing communications[.]”

Stone points out that traditional media and social media influence buyers in different ways. She says, “I suggest using both push (traditional) and pull (social media + viral grassroots) marketing strategies to present your consumers with a 360-degree, well-rounded understanding of your company.”

Faced with so much information on the changing landscape of marketing, it might be difficult for companies to pinpoint which strategies should be used in what capacity. Using too much social media advertising, as suggested by Bill Lee, might leave your company without the “push” associated with traditional marketing, and vice versa.

Social Media Quickstarter, a site that helps businesses navigate the world of social media advertising, explains that social media has inverted the “funnel” of customer importance. It is called a funnel as it is wide on one end and narrower on the other. Each end represents the importance of a certain type of customer. The less important customers are represented by the narrow end while the more important ones are at the wide end. The middle always remains the same--convincing customers, new and old, that you have a worthy product or service.

Before social media advertising, new customers were at the wide end of the funnel. Getting a large amount of new customers was more important, and easier, than attempting to convince old customers to come back. However, the sale is not necessarily the end game anymore. Loyal customers are more important to a company than a lot of one-time buyers. The customers you keep are now at the wide end of the funnel. Facebook and Twitter allow companies to engage with their customers, to keep them coming back, in a way that was never before possible.

The site explains, “Historically, the best you could do after turning a prospect into a customer was to provide a great customer experience and just hope they come back to buy more--and bring their friends with them. But technology, namely social media and email, has changed the game.” As we do tend to rely on our friends for positive product reviews, social media makes it easier for people to review and suggest products. Social Media Quickstarter says, “Now you can reach out to your existing customers to remind them to come back, and make word-of-mouth as easy as clicking the share, like, or tweet buttons.”

While Bill Lee may have been slightly misguided in his thoughts on the current state of traditional marketing, he did realize that peer influence is an important part of how a buyer makes a decision. Social media, though, should be used in conjunction with traditional media so that you may both push and pull customers to your service. It is a good idea to focus your social media efforts on trying to keep existing buyers. That way, your customers stay loyal to your company, and the positive word-of-mouth you accrue by providing a good experience will also attract new customers.

Katie Lee