Is marketing dead?

Chris Anderson posted on Google’s attitude towards marketing, which was ‘we know we’re good, everyone will try us so don’t do it.’ I’ve been having a few discussions around marketing as part of the broadcast review, and how companies such as YouTube just completely ignore all the rules of marketing. Let’s take adverts as the purest form of marketing (I know there are lots of other methods, but they are usually adverts dressed up), I see these as rather greedy chunks of resource. They don’t do anything except say ‘here I am, this is the product.’ And they cost a lot of money to say this. If you take viral marketing in its proper sense, not in the ‘marketing companies trying to do normal marketing in a viral way’ sense, then it works because the resource does something. It entertains, it educates, it informs, it encourages dialogue, etc. Take YouTube – an advert for the site would be pretty pointless, but allowing people to actually share the content is powerful. A traditional marketing guy would never have understood that.

If one considers this in educational terms then perhaps the best form of marketing universities can do is to create educational content that is freely available. This then serves not one, but three functions:

i) It can be used by the university in its own courses.

ii) It fulfills an outreach/public good function as others can use it.

iii) It advertises the university.

Compare that with simply having an add that says ‘gee it’s fun to study at X’ and I can see a time when traditional marketing begins to look like a shaky investment.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of those in marketing everywhere, I’ve never really understood it as an academic discipline either. This is after all a field whose Cistine Chapel is Gilette’s ‘Give away the razor, sell the blades’ policy and whose Theory of Relativity is the rebranding of the viscosity of Heinz ketchup. I feel rather like marketing as Galbraith did of economic forecasting when he said "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable."

2 Comments

  1. Charged with increasing use of openlearn, it’s a question I’ve also blogged on. In driving a mass audience to a product traditional marketing is still a force to be reckoned with – especially when you consider that despite the huge numbers using YouTube there are larger numbers who don’t have regular internet access, interest in social networking or the know-how. And these ‘numbers’ are people who might very likely engage in open learning if they knew about it.
    In a Web 2.0 world and especially as we move closer to the ideal of the semantic web, the faff around marketing will begin to fade away and what we’ll be left with is the basic principle behind marketing – provide what people want and you’ll have success. If your metadata truely reflects your content, then the majority of people in the future should be able to find you if they want to (they will of course find everyone else doing the same thing so optimisation will still be big business… and some people like and will always like faff!)
    Making our content available and open is one of the best things The Open University could have done. The trick now is in making it as accessible and appealing to the individual as YouTube or myspace while accepting that the technological capabilities of the average openlearner will – at least for the next few years – be different to those of the average YouTuber. When we increase user control, fulfil their recognition requirements, reduce the technical barriers to remixing and provide personalised delivery options we’ll see our content begin to go viral through the early adopters. When we see a broader open curriculum we’ll see more users. It’s all about relevance to the learner and allowing for the creativity and self expression that mash-up sites allow – making it easy and quick to access and use in the first instance.
    What marketing does (when effective) is direct you very quickly to something that fulfils your need. There is no doubt that as it develops openlearn will be of incredible value in marketing the OU in itself. But we still need the drivers to get people there. I personally can’t wait for the ‘faff’ to end as we see technology standards, access and education create new possibilities. But we aren’t there yet. If you excuse the (subtle?) advertising reference, we still need to reach people that bloggers and social networks don’t yet reach.

  2. Hi Laura,
    you may be right, and perhaps in an ideal world you have both, but here are two counter arguments. Not sure if they’re correct, but worth a go!
    i) Money – it’s a finite pot and if you have X million to spend you’re better off spending it on content that does something than on the ‘lazy’ content of marketing.
    ii) Misplaced focus – if you’re thinking in terms of marketing then you’re not doing what you should do to get your product spreading itself. It is telling I think that Google, YouTube, MySpace etc don’t do _any_ advertising, and they could presumably afford it – they just don’t think it’s relevant. Maybe if you’re thinking in terms of marketing, you’re too old school.

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