I’ve been trying to write this for a month…and kept getting distracted by what recent headlines are over-sensationalizing—it’s not about kickbacks, dual rate cards or bogus service agreements or digital fraud, ambiguity or ad blocking.

 It’s about trust and engagement.

It has been a tough couple of months for those in the advertising/marketing world.

  • Gallup’s roundup on honesty and ethics puts advertising practitioners below lawyers and just two points above car salespeople, telemarketers and Members of Congress.
  • The Wall Street Journal offered their top three flaws of a traditional marketing agency.
  • The ANA’s potentially volatile report on kickbacks and fraudulent issues between clients and media agencies wasn’t so much explosive as affirming.
  • Comscore, GlobalWebIndex and pretty much anyone else who measures such things has been heralding a problem in the world of online ad delivery; whether it’s outright fraud or just an increasing avoidance by consumers.

I finally focused on the one question I seem to ask about everything…“why”. Is the industry just reaching Gladwell’s tipping point for change? Perhaps, but if it is, two things are pressing the issue:

1)   A fundamental erosion of trust in our industry (perhaps in business in general) and,

2)   A lack of prioritization on the one thing that actually matters—customer engagement.

There is a lack of prioritization on the one thing that actually matters—customer engagement.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still believe there is a place and time for paid media and advertising to help businesses start and maintain a relationship with their customers, existing or prospective. But I also believe that good marketing today is really hard work, because consumer engagement has changed.

Relatively speaking buying an impression is substantially easier than making one. The painstaking efforts required to drop a man from space to create shareable content that consumers want to engage with and will ultimately define your brand by, is hard work.

Studies on customer engagement define it simply, as a strong, two-way relationship between a consumer and a brand. How a brand uses marketing to cultivate that relationship today has to start with (at least):

#1: It being good marketing. We’ll settle for relevant, meaningful to the end user and delivering a brand’s over-aching purpose;

#2: It actually working. The number of companies who can honestly say they know how their marketing dollars are performing is a small, elite group.

 How a brand uses marketing to cultivate that relationship today has to start with (at least) it being good marketing, and it actually working.

So yes, perhaps the sky is falling in marketing, and yes, that can be a pretty scary proposition for those who have been at this game for a while. It’s not for the faint of heart but I love the adage that if we were shown a trailer of our lives before beginning this journey, we’d never come out of the womb. The same might be true of marketing today.

We can accept that it’s going to be harder than we can imagine, cost more than we are willing to pay right now (time, energy, dollars, pride, career advancement) and be fraught with more cuts and bruises along the way than we might want to endure. But the alternative is even less alluring. Daily living out the definition of insanity, continuing to do the same thing over and over, hoping it will yield a different result.

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