Fixing The Five Bad Habits of Traditional Marketing

Why are some CMOs better than others at adapting to the digital era? Last week, I provided some answers when I unveiled the five habits of highly adaptive marketers at the Forrester Consumer Forum in Chicago.

After spending the past three months with more than 20 of the most successful marketing executives and thought leaders from around the world, here is what it boils down to. Marketing leaders who are successfully evolving into adaptive digital-era marketers are willing to part ways with outdated practices. That doesn’t mean they have abandoned the fundamentals of traditional marketing. Rather, they have retained its best parts, while shedding its five bad habits:

  • Complacency. Marketers who are complacent leave their brand exposed and vulnerable to the competition. Blockbuster ignored the road signs pointing to consumers’ desires to bypass the video store in favor of more convenient formats. Meanwhile, Netflix and Redbox seized the opportunity to create new channels of distribution.
  • Conformity. Marketers who play follow-the-leader lose their ability to differentiate themselves. While major airlines like Delta, United, and American have flirted with bankruptcy by providing the lowest common denominator of service, others like Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America are having success by straying from the norm and offering more leg room, checking luggage without charging extra fees, and providing in-flight Wi-Fi.
  • Analysis paralysis. Marketers who get overwhelmed trying to measure and validate every decision often end up missing opportunities. This is especially true when it comes to social media, where McDonald’s and Dunkin' Donuts hesitated before engaging in it. Meanwhile, their staunchest competitor, Starbucks, dove in head first and has grown its social media presence with every success and failure to become the only brand with more than 10 million Facebook fans and more than 1 million Twitter followers.
  • Hands-off management. Traditional practices of top-down management leave the brand detached and distanced from consumers. BP’s command-and-control approach to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill revealed how out of touch the company’s leadership was to local consumers. Meanwhile, Best Buy empowers more than 1,500 employees to be the voice and face of the brand by directly addressing customer issues through the Twelpforce.
  • Silos of knowledge. Marketers who are overly reliant on silos of product specialization usually stifle creativity and collaboration. This limits the company’s ability to innovate in new categories, much like Microsoft that struggles to expand its market-share leadership outside of its core business. In contrast, Google operates under a mandate of innovation across the entire company, enabling employees to spend 20% to 30% of their time on dreaming up new ideas.

How Do CMOs And Marketing Leaders Kick Their Bad Habits?

In the words of Jack Welch, “change before you have to.” CMOs and marketing leaders must replace these bad habits with new habits, which I outline in my upcoming report, “Adapt or Perish: The Five Habits Of Highly Adaptive Marketers.” Look for it to be published next week.

In the meantime, I'm curious to know . . . which of the bad habits is most responsible for holding back traditional marketers from evolving into adaptive digital-era marketers?


Always the Same

First, as always Chris, I'm a fan.

I'd love your take on something. I don't disagree that the bad habits you've listed hold companies back from being digitally innovative. These habits, as you point out, are the same bad habits that have always held companies back from innovation. But I do wonder, could the biggest obstacle to bringing a company into the digital space simply be lack of clear vision for what that means for their organization?

A great case in point is what's happening with social media. If you ask five of the top marketers prosecuting social efforts for their company, "What makes you a success?" you may get five completely different answers. Some may point to popularity (follows) as a metric. Some may point to coupon adoption rates. Others may point to social buzz metrics. More than likely they will answer with a blend of these or other metrics.

What I'm trying to get at is that sometimes the biggest obstacle to digital innovation is sorting out the facts from the fiction. This might have touches of "Analysis Paralysis," but I'm thinking it's more about simple confusion. Whom do I listen to? What's my objective? Whom do I task with this?

I wrote about this on my blog today in terms of drive-to-YouTube efforts. It's digitally innovative to drive folks from your TV spot to your YouTube channel for "the rest of the story." But most of these efforts simply end up driving you somewhere else once you're done with the view, thus negating the success of the effort by losing 90% or more of the audience at that point. So is it better to just jump in the space for the sake of being there and getting what value you can, or to enter slowly with more consideration and thought?

It will be interesting to see your finally report and get the full flavor of your findings. (He said with a meaningful look, hoping to get a free copy.) But I'd love any immediate thoughts here.


Bob Knorpp
Host of Ad Age Outlook
Host of The BeanCast Marketing Podcast

Excellent article, Chris, and

Excellent article, Chris, and I'd put my vote for biggest culprits as both analysis paralysis and silo thinking. In my experience, complacency, especially in the current employment market, is rare - virtually all marketers acknowledge the need to improve their digital knowledge and use. But with any foray into the digital space comes an abundance of information - too much, usually, with few having the ability to sort through it to find knowledge amongst the information. Pulling true insights and understanding/acting on those insights is seriously lacking with many marketers.

Silo mentality is a hangover (and a bad one at that) from how many organizations grew up from a single product or service, then 'bolted on' additional capabilities through organic R&D or acquisition - plus the need to keep people by creating many VPs!! It would be interesting to know how much time is spent, aggregated, within a Fortune 1000 on internal silo busting, silo conciliation, etc. It's a tremendous time user - the old 'we can't act until we find out what xx is doing over in yy, let's organize a meeting to talk about it' routine.

Conformity - ick

Most of my firm's clients are in the financial industry. Marketing in that industry is based on conformity. It reminds me of a cartoon from the Vietnam era, "Charge, but not too hard."

I once led a workshop at the State Farm home office and had each of the 150 participants stand up and state their name and what they did. It was an invitation for them to give some kind of elevator or identity statement. 145 people said exactly the same thing!

The good news about conformity is that it open the door (wide open) for other firms who recognize the problem and take action to do something more effective.

Thanks Chris.

Michael Lovas