Imitation vs. Innovation: What’s the Best Approach to Make a Splash?

| By Editorial Staff

Ask 100 marketers what they think of “old-school” marketing tactics such as TV/radio ads, or even direct mailings, and you might get 100 different answers. There’ll be one group that subscribes wholeheartedly to the notion that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They see results with their tried-and-true tactics, so why would they recreate the wheel?

Then there are marketers who feel these archaic approaches to reaching customers fall short. That’s because the modern-day consumer thinks, acts, and shops differently.

But who’s right?

You could look at study after study and still not come up with a determinant answer, aside from the much dreaded “it depends”.

But it does depend. It depends on your niche, your product, your budget, the time of year, social influences and more.

Rather than nitpick various marketing approaches and comparing apples to oranges, it’s likely far more constructive for marketers to think more globally. In other words, which type of strategy do they feel is more effective for their craft: imitating the strategies of the past, or innovating to adhere to a new kind of consumer?

The Power of the Past

If nothing else, old-school marketing tactics have loads of data that anyone can sift through to determine if that approach would work well for their objectives.

Thinking about creating a TV ad? Great! Pour through the endless other TV ads created by your competitors in the past, and figure out what works, including:

  • The type of message
  • The length of the ad
  • When it was aired

Having access to this type of data makes a marketer’s job much easier – usually – because there’ll be some type of precedent that can be used to justify a strategy. Of course, there’s a significant issue with this approach:

Today’s consumers aren’t necessarily like the consumers of yore (or thereabouts).

Let’s revisit this TV ad concept. In 1996, that TV ad might have had a rather impressive audience. Not so much today. Take this from an article on Digital Trends from August 21, 2015:

“Cord-cutters continued to make a dent in cable TV subscribers in the second quarter of 2015. Tracking the top 20 providers, which account for 95 percent of the market, a new report from Strategy Analytics on pay TV reported subscriber losses of a whopping 479,000 in the U.S. between April and June. The report claimed that the subscribers declined at the highest rate we have seen so far.”

In other words, fewer people are watching cable TV, thus the data mined from past ad campaigns may be irrelevant in today’s world. Perhaps it’s time to rethink these old-school approaches.

Cords are Cut, but People are still Consuming

While cable companies might not like the latest numbers, the marketing world as a whole need not curl up and cry. People are still consuming – in fact, the 21st century makes it much easier to consume 24 hours a day. We consume when we open emails, go to Facebook, stream on Netflix, and browse on Amazon.

So while the old-school approach to marketing may become less effective, marketing in general is doing just fine … so long as it adapts.

Innovation and Adaptation – One in the Same?

There is no question that technology has changed, well, everything. And while marketers need to incorporate these new technologies into their strategies, they don’t necessarily have to recreate the wheel.

Take, for example, direct mailing. Sure, direct mailing can be an effective way to reach consumers, but it’s younger and hipper cousin – email marketing – is likely more effective.

Why is that?

Well, two reasons come to mind:

  1. More likely than not the person you emailed gave you their email address, thus there’s an established relationship from the onset (unlike a direct mail piece).
  2. These days, few people have positive experiences with actual mail. We usually get flyers and bills – that’s about it. So our self-made filter is pretty strict. Emails, on the other hand, are still useful to us, so we have to be a little less hasty when choosing which emails to open and which to toss.

This is a perfect example of innovation via adaptation. Sure, email marketing is a new-school marketing strategy, but it’s not entirely foreign to the established method of direct mail. You’re still reaching out to your audience in a highly targeted manner (in fact, with email marketing, you can be even more targeted). You’re just doing so in a way that most modern consumers understand.

The same can be said about TV ads. Raise your hands if you have some type of DVR system at home.

Most folks do, meaning those ads you’re paying for are getting skipped by faster than you can say “There goes my money.” But, if you were, for example, to advertise with Hulu, you’d discover that their subscribers can’t fast-forward past commercials.

Innovation … through adaptation.

Really Getting Innovative with Your Marketing

So far we’ve just talked about most mainstream marketing approaches (both old and new). But what about really innovative tactics, like guerilla marketing, PR stunts, and social media. Particularly when it comes to social media, the question always comes up: is it really worth my investment?

The way to look at it is like this:

Ads started to pop up in newspapers, TVs and radios long ago because that’s where consumers were focusing their attention. Fast forward to 2016 and where do folks focus their attention? They focus their attention online and, in particular, on social media.

Yes, social media marketing is still very much in its infancy (in other words, it’s like the Wild, Wild West) meaning chances are you’ll experience more disappointments at the onset than you will wins. But if you view these disappointments as learning curves, you’re putting your business in position to succeed with these truly new-age ways of reaching consumers.

What’s this require? Well, it requires two types of minds. On one side is the standard marketing mind – the one who knows how to create the right images and content to make an ad stand out (because yes, “old-school” ads can have an impact on sites like Facebook).

But modern-day marketing also requires a mind that thinks outside the box and accepts that today’s consumer is “on” 24 hours a day.

We need only look at Oreo’s infamous Super Bowl Tweet in 2013, when the power went out in the Superdome. Their tweet was simple, quick, and timely. The image was of an Oreo cookie with the line: You can still dunk in the dark.

The tweet itself said “Power out? No problem.”

That tweet was not only retweeted but was talked about on news channels and became a viral sensation. In other words, thousands of people were marketing on behalf of Oreo – all the company had to do was post a simple tweet.

Can you be the next Oreo?

Yes, it’s possible, but don’t expect an overnight success. Oreo, for example, already had tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, making it easier for their tweet to get seen by the masses.

While you might have an innovative idea that has the makings of becoming viral, it might fall on deaf ears if you don’t already have a decent following. Just like with old-school marketing, this new age approach to reaching your customers requires far more than just good ideas. It requires patience and persistence.

So, which method is best? Old school or new school? For the time being – while we’re still in a transition phase – it’s probably best to dabble in both areas. There are still plenty of people in the world who remember life before technology. They’ll still respond to old-school tactics. But business success isn’t built on focusing on the here and now. Success is built by foresight.

And if you look ahead it’s obvious: times, they are a changing.