Nothing is ever really new. As much as we love to act like we know tonnes of stuff that traditional marketers don’t, it’s just not true. Of course some of the channels through which we distribute content and engage with our audience are new, but the fundamentals of what shapes that content and the principles of how we use it to engage our audience have existed since the days when a tweet was a sound a bird made and poking estranged school friends would have landed you in all sorts of trouble.

As a generation of marketers we are so obsessed with what’s current that we neglect the techniques and principles that account for 90% of good marketing. We would all benefit from spending a bit less time reading up on the latest change to the Facebook news feed, and a bit more time learning about those few pillars of marketing that endure from one decade to the next.

 

1. Research

Market research is the absolute bedrock of good marketing and the information has never been so readily available. Yet for some reason many marketers view it as wasted time. “Why spend time looking when you could be spending it doing” they argue. Well, because those hours spend researching will make every hour thereafter 500% more effective. The Samwer Brothers are by far the most extreme example of this philosophy (link to post). You may question their ethics or accuse them of lacking imagination, but nobody can deny that their approach makes great business sense, and what is the function of marketing if not to drive business?

 

2. Brand

This was my greatest failing for the first 4 years of working in digital; I completely underestimated the role of brand. Since that realisation, there is nothing I have worked harder to master. Brand is everything. So few companies ever really get to the heart of what truly defines and distinguishes them, which is why so few ever go on to spectacular and sustainable success. Nothing should happen – content, social, pr, email – without a crystal clear sense of your brand core, values, personality, value proposition and visual identity.

 

3. Strategy

This is so obvious that it shouldn’t even need saying, but how many digital marketers really understand high level marketing strategy? Too many pigeon-hole their expertise into one specific channel or discipline, and have no idea how it fits together with the full marketing mix. Specialisation is fine, but you can’t strategise with blind spots.

Contrary to what many argue, strategy also saves time. Those that focus endlessly on tactics go into each new month without any sense of direction, and so they spend hours planning new ideas from scratch. However, if they had a clear strategy with two or three really big ideas that spearheaded all of their activity, 90% of their monthly planning would already be done.

 

4. Direct response copy writing

40 years ago, the godfather of advertising, David Ogilvy, criticised the industry for its neglect of good old fashioned direct response copy writing. Nothing has changed. We have now developed an obsession with short copy, stunning imagery and engaging video, but the fact is that the most effective sales content boil down to long form copy, and there is nothing more important than sales content. Yes, we are here to inspire, educate and engage, but above all, we are here to sell.

 

5. Email

Okay, I know this is digital, but it’s been around for so long that I think a lot of marketers now view it with a complacent disdain, even though it’s never been so powerful. There is an obsession with social media, but the trouble is that you don’t own those platforms. You could invest thousands in building a presence on Facebook, but if they suddenly increase the price of advertising to a point where you can no longer justify the investment, then you are left with little to show for your efforts. Email, on the other hand, is always yours. This is why it should almost always be considered your most important digital asset alongside your brand itself.

Furthermore, it’s typically your email audience that will generate the most social shares. That may sound counter intuitive, but even with high levels of ad spend on social media it can be really difficult to generate shares directly from your brand, but when you let your email list share your content on your behalf, that’s when the serious social traffic comes flooding in.