Marketing: The great divide

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wikipedia economic inequality advertisement
Illustration from a 1916 advertisement for a vocational school in the back of a US magazine. Education has been seen as a key to higher income, and this advertisement appealed to Americans' belief in the possibility of self-betterment, as well as threatening the consequences of downward mobility in the great income inequality existing during the Industrial Revolution. (Wilipedia
wikipedia economic inequality advertisement
Illustration from a 1916 advertisement for a vocational school in the back of a US magazine. Education has been seen as a key to higher income, and this advertisement appealed to Americans’ belief in the possibility of self-betterment, as well as threatening the consequences of downward mobility in the great income inequality existing during the Industrial Revolution. (Wilipedia)

Most of us are aware of the great debate about wealth inequality; the argument that the middle class is being hollowed out as financial power concentrates into the hands of fewer and fewer people (the top 1 per cent). Discussions on this topic often end up ideological.  I’m going to look at the parallel situation form a marketing perspective, however.

Most businesses lack the resources for full-blown conventional, paid marketing but a few appear to have unlimited capacities. These, in my business (which depends on paid advertising revenue for its survival) are publishers’ lifelines/gold mines. In line with the 80/20 rule, our largest clients often purchase the most advertising, with the least stress and effort on our part. They sign annual contracts and send us publication-ready media files. One of our largest clients said monthly invoices (for a few thousand dollars each) were too much of a pain, so would we mind batching them into larger invoices, which could be prepaid (without discount)?  We were, of course, happy to oblige.

You might work for a corporation with this sort of marketing power, but if you are an individual business owner/leader, you probably experience much scarcer resources. Advertising, here, proves to be an expensive black hole. You don’t have the money to spend/test/try things out and hope they work — and most advertising, at least in an immediate response level, isn’t too effective.

Google and Facebook changed the rules somewhat, for a while. They allowed advertisers with much smaller accounts to achieve much more rapid results, causing havoc in conventional practices and among traditional print and electronic media publishers. Big budget advertisers couldn’t believe what they were seeing — achieving results on costs often two orders of magnitude lower. These disparities continue, though the boundaries between instant success and being part of the “one per cent” have returned with higher costs and complexity. You need to be constantly testing, evaluating, experimenting, and fighting off auction creep to achieve the overwhelmingly positive returns you might have achieved with new/social media just a few years ago.

This leads to some interesting questions/challenges for marketers. As an individual, I am fortunate now to be on the secure side of the financial/social ecosystem; the point where family resources and invested capital will allow us to maintain our personal standard of living though our senior years, and leave our son in the position where he will be better off than we were as young adults. (I know many people who are not and never will have this good fortune, however.)

As a marketer, I don’t claim this level of security, and if I spent money on paid/conventional advertising like our best clients, I know I would quickly lose the security of being in the near-rich/affluent economic category.

I realize that I must practice what I preach to marketers with scarce resources: Create a wonderful client experience, develop some basic pricing understanding/models (you don’t, if you do things right, need to be the “lowest price” provider in your market), and use free and inexpensive marketing methodologies to attract most of your new business. These of course include initiatives to encourage/enhance repeat and referral business and, in our case (and many others), engaged and active voluntary client-focused association and community service. In these circumstances, even though we aren’t wealthy, we can be secure in our marketing resources/initiatives.

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