Vidhu Sagar
Guest Article

7 things digital marketing has changed about classical marketing

A guest essay, written from the vantage point of how classical marketing has undergone changes in the face of the digital onslaught.

The other day, a casual conversation with some extended family members over a Zoom call led to an interesting observation. I was catching up with Mohit, my older cousin, a thoroughbred marketing professional who has worked for a clutch of blue-chip corporations across India and abroad through his 35-odd years of work life. Also with us was Mohit’s young daughter Tanya, who is also an MBA and is now employed as a marketing manager with a tech-supported, series E funded, home services platform in Bengaluru.

Due to the curious commonality of both their educational backgrounds and work profiles, the conversation soon turned into an inevitable comparison around how the both father and daughter seem to have had vastly different work experiences. Even though they performed identical roles of marketing managers for their respective employers, albeit separated by a time period of about 30 years or so.

Mohit’s view was that when he was a marketing manager with one of India’s leading healthcare FMCG firms, his role was more broad-based. He, in his own words, was “responsible for all 4Ps of marketing” comprehensively – referring to the classical mix of product, price, placement and promotion, that all marketing students are taught about during their MBA.

In comparison, Tanya, though nominally a marketing manager herself, by her own admission, gets to focus mostly on tasks that can be classified as sub-sets of digital marketing alone. As she recounted, the bulk of her work pertains to managing her company’s social media presence and content management, plus influencer marketing activities, which also happen to rely dominantly on digital channels and platforms.

According to her, aspects of her job that relate to product or placement matters typically get taken care of by her techie teammates. The product (or service, in her case) is largely tech-supported and so is fulfilment. Pricing is mostly partner and incentive-driven, and is not something that a marketing manager in her company typically gets to manage closely.

This conversation clearly pointed to the fact that while their specific case may be explained as just a case of misaligned organisational nomenclature across two different eras, there is a gradual change that’s been underway in the marketing discipline. During the last two decades or so, as the service economy has inexorably taken hold of the Indian commercial sector, slowly but surely, in parallel, digital marketing has gone on to usurp the role of the erstwhile marketing manager almost completely.

So much so that now very commonly, marketing managers end up performing the role of digital marketing managers. They deploy diverse digital marketing techniques to target, sell, track and manage customers through the entire purchase journey. In effect, over a period of time, this has also led to many classical marketing thoughts becoming irrelevant, or defunct altogether in the face of rising influence of digital marketing.

Here are 7 of these that you don’t hear about much these days:

1. Promotion = 1P or all 4Ps? According to the classical mix, the Promotion element, though itself an amalgam of advertising, direct mail and publicity/PR, is just one part out of its four core constituents. However, now a mind fuddling array of prefixes has been added to the ‘marketing’ discipline itself, turning the entire digital marketing playbook into a macrocosm of sorts.

Examples: Social media marketing, video marketing, experiential marketing, viral marketing, mobile marketing, content marketing, influencer marketing, referral marketing, and so on. The end result is that the P of Promotion has now assumed a larger than life existence of its own and has subsumed the other components gleefully, making everyone forget that there’s more to marketing than just promotions

2. KISS (keep it simple silly) marketing versus a complex mix: Classical marketers kept their marketing plans simple and cohesive (part of it was due to the circumstances too). Now, fragmentation has led to much complexity. A brand has so many visages and countenances to keep and manage. Constant engagement and brand vitality are the need of the hour.

Plus, there are multiple access points for users to talk and connect through. Community management is a Herculean task. Within advertising itself, there are numerous platforms with multiple creative formats and units to each, tons of sizes and adapts, cookies, pixels, ad languages, video formats (short versus long format)… the list of marketing activities is endless. In other words, with digital marketing, one can’t KISS anymore.

3. Brand names must define proposition: Earlier, the naming decision of a new brand was somehow more deliberate and strategic. The brand name needed to be unique, memorable and ideally convey the brand promise, or differentiation upfront. As a result, while there were a few proper noun brand names like Nirma and Fena occasionally, more often than not, it was Hajmola (digestive), Power (sneakers) and Frooti (drink) and such descriptive names that dotted the marketing landscape. No longer so now.

There’s a surfeit of brands that have become overnight sensations in this digital age which simply follow the intuitive dictum of “2-syllable naming, preferably with a memory hook, but no links to product advantage necessary”. Examples: Dunzo, OYO, Myntra, GoDaddy, OLX, etc. Sure, there are exceptions too such as BigBasket, Dream11, Paytm, etc., but they are in a minority.

4. Role of advertising only to create mass awareness: As per the classical construct of marketing, advertising was principally meant to create top of the funnel awareness through brand connect and differentiation. Now, with customer digital journeys getting more precisely mapped, nuanced communication exercises are executed for each targeted phase of the brand funnel. Effectively, instead of one broad brushstroke campaign, specific messages are created for different stages of connect, consider, convert and continue part of the purchase journey for super-niche audiences

5. Brand building is a long-term exercise: Classical marketers followed a slow and steady approach (read “years”) to brand building in general. New brand launches were invariably multimedia supported, with a ‘quality-oriented’ proposition delivered impactfully. There was usually no hint of pricing info in ads, leave alone discounts (lest it dilutes the brand image).

Now, new brands get created virtually at the speed of thought (examples: PeeSafe, Grofers, Byju’s, Boat, Lenskart, et al), with most using bold messaging upfront and throwing the VC-funded bait of immediate call-to-action (of app installs or transactions) right in your face. There’s not much room for subtlety anymore and nobody seems to miss the archaic brand building route either.

6. Image campaigns in magazines, remember anyone? This was a favourite of ad agency executives of yore. A grand, elaborate, image-oriented campaign meant to run in classy magazines like ’India Today’ and ’Swagat’ in double-spread size. Its sole purpose: Endow the brand with deep layers of class and indescribable profundity.

Similarly, lavishly worked out corporate campaigns were in vogue too, particularly before an IPO. Now, only rare product launches – mostly of new automobiles and tech devices – use such image campaigns. Most want quick results and they can’t afford these fluffy exercises anymore

7. ROI and measurability: In olden times, whenever the top boss enquired about ROI of marketing investments, the staple response of brand managers used to be: Sorry Sir, there’s no direct attribution data available, at best we’ll use surrogates basis some time tested assumptions and extrapolate. Now, with digital marketing taking centre stage, practically everything is precisely measurable, so no more room for excuses.

Yet, notwithstanding the foregoing, while it might appear that all classical marketing principles have been upended, thankfully, some things have remained unchanged.

Having a compelling brand proposition based on sharp differentiation is one such.

And thank god for that.

(Vidhu Sagar is managing director - India, MediaDonuts, a decade-old digital media and technology company.)