A Tsunami of bullsh*t

This week I reviewed a really interesting video presentation by Professor Mark Ritson from Melbourne Uni. which was very different and very confronting, that is, if you happen to be an avid believer in digital marketing being the only way to go for putting your brand front and centre, and seriously reaching and engaging with your customers.

There were so many choice quotes coming out of the video that I don’t really know where to start. The real take outs for me were “can you feel that hand in your underpants”, “what the f*** is going on here” ,“digital video is a Tsunami of bullshit” and my favourite “Digital Marketers are part of a mad cult”. Of course I’m quoting none other than Melbourne Business School’s very own Professor Mark Ritson. (view video here)

Professor Ritson offers bucket loads of factual based data to support his argument during a 45 minute myth-busting rant on the digital landscape and how the “dreary D word” is hurting marketing.

Ritson challenges not just the success of digital marketing, and social media in particular but goes on to compare digital reach with traditional marketing channels, such as radio / TV / print and even lays in to the media companies for supporting the bullshit commentary that traditional media is dead. This is compelling viewing.

Reflecting on his own Twitter following, Ritson exclaims “I’m a private individual with more followers than K-Mart, VB , Tim Tam and the Bendigo Bank. Combined. Times two. How is that f****** possible? “. Just brilliant! My only regret watching the video was that I was at work during lunch and laughed out loud with my head phones on and looked up to see the whole office looking at me. “Doing research” was about all I could offer.

This does sort of conflict with many people’s understanding of how social media can be used by businesses. One of the biggest myths being that social media works well for building brand awareness and creating a link between a brand and the audience. As the data showed, less than two thirds of all Australians actually follow brands on Social Media. The average Australian follows just 1 brand. This actually makes perfect sense, who really wants their newsfeeds interrupted with adverts and posts from businesses trying to push their brand in your face.

Although, I would argue that whilst this holds true for most major brands, there are always exceptions to the rule and many small businesses have managed really well on Social Media with customer engemement and are more likely to be prohibited from using traditional tactics such as TV / Radio advertising due to the high cost of traditional advertising in comparison.

Look! It’s a whole arm full (represents your overall customers on Twitter) Source: M Ritson.

I decided to run some of the examples he gave on a Social Media following for a Government agency and was really quite surprised by the results. Their Twitter account  has 360,000 followers out of a potential national  audience of 15 million people (based on ABS data for the working population). This represents just 2.4% of the total audience. Active users during the last week were just 1,400 or 0.009% of the total audience. Facebook works out to be not much better. Sobering thoughts.

Thankfully, I don’t personally buy in to social media being a silver bullet for connecting to customers, especially if you are looking to raise brand awareness or to sell product. There are many ways this can be achieved more effectively by using traditional marketing tactics and I agree with Ritson that it needs to form part of a broader marketing strategy. I do think that too many people are putting way too much emphasis on digital marketing and as Ritson points out, quite rightly, that digital marketing is in fact a tactic, not a strategy and should be viewed as that. “You must know the difference between strategy and tactics; strategy first, followed by tactics”.

What I did find really interesting about Ritson’s talk was that is wasn’t actually an attack on those using digital marketing, more of a plea, a wake up call to stop the distortion of information about the topic and recognise it for what it is, a marketing tactic. It wasn’t a campaign not to use it but to use it in consideration. It may well be appropriate to set aside 80% of your budget to digital if that’s part of your considered strategy.

Reflecting on Ritson’s video one final time, it has made me realize that where I work we are starting to see a drift, a fracturing of the marketing function. “Digital” is its own department, isolated from the marketing team. We do have Social Media in our section but the website, apps / mobile website and analytical functions etc. are all controlled and managed by Digital. They have their own strategy, objectives and goals which do not necessarily align with what marketing is trying to achieve. To quote Ritson one last time, “how is that possible, what the f*** is going on?”.

I would love to know your thoughts on this. Leave me a comment below.

15 thoughts on “A Tsunami of bullsh*t

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  1. Thanks you for a very interesting post this week, Keith. I was wondering too on how it could be possible for the individual to be even more famous comparing to some big brands. However, I believe Ritsen’s case can be compared to the celebrity’s case where some of them also have heaps of followers without doing much of promotion for themselves. However, From your perspective, what do you think about the marketers who go with the market flow by using social media means as their channel to engage customers?

    1. Hi and thanks for joining the discussion. I think it really depends on a whole number of different things such as the overall business objectives, marketing objectives, resources and budget etc. although I’m pretty squarely with Ritsen that as long as the decision to go with social media is a considered one and is part of an overall strategy then that’s fine. Many small businesses for example just couldn’t afford to run expensive traditional marketing campaigns so social media becomes a desirable alternative given that it can be cost effective and immediate. But … I also agree with Ritsen that marketers that use social media in total isolation as their only marketing channel are idiots. And that’s when I don’t buy the small business argument as there are still a lot of traditional methods that you can use which are low cost and immediate, for example if you were a small business promoting a new shop you were opening in Brunswick, would you set up social media accounts and try and secure customers that way or just have 1,000 brochures made up and do a localized leaflet drop to houses near the new store. If you were trying to build brand awareness would you spend 6 – 12 months building a social media presence to showcase your new brand or would you focus more on SEO and run some web advertising?. You could even try and grab some free / low cost community radio time, get some editorial in the community press or even sponsor some local sporting club / event. There are many ways to build brand awareness and yes, social media should be part of that. Should social media be the only tactic channel that is used? Personally, I don’t think so.

  2. Thanks you for the precise response as well as the example, Keith. Well-thought and justifiable. I agreed with you that multiple of strategies are better than sticking to only one marketing platform.

  3. Hi Keith,

    Another great article. Love your work.

    I also LOVED this video. It was like a breath of fresh and the stats were quite alarming.

    I particularly like how Ritson called out the disproportionate media coverage of digital and social media and how that was fuelling a misleading idea that these are the dominant channels.

    I think it’s interesting to consider the trade media in this respect and their motivations. They are obviously out there to seem relevant and on the cutting edge of innovation – so it makes sense they’d want to talk about digital. However, it does distort the idea that digital is the silver bullet – forgetting that traditional media still reigns supreme in terms of effectiveness.

    It’s interesting that Ritson did acknowledge that TV really only does have about another 10 years in it – before we see a total swing to digital – but that’s certainly not the case yet and will take some time to be.

    I think Ritsons overall point is essential and very valid. It’s about strategy and integration. Social media / digital should be used as an important part of an overall integrated campaign – not the be all and end all.

    Sound strategy and a great idea is the essential starting point – and this does not come thing a channel specific approach.

    I’m going to start following Ritson on Twitter. I’d love to hear him speak. It would be pretty awesome to have Ritson as a lecturer – might need to do an MBA at Melbourne next ☺

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