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The Four 20th-Century Marketing Truths You Must Forget This Year

Don Draper had it easy.

In the Mad Men era of television, radio, and print, media marketing was fairly simple. A company broadcasted out messages to as many people as possible, using the then new technologies of mass media. The greater the number of eyes and ears exposed, the more products sold. It wasn’t a perfect correlation, but it was reliable enough to make companies — and their ad agencies — billions.

But then something happened. As the 20th century became the 21st, the Internet began to change how people interacted with information. Twenty years later, the mobile revolution has either changed it again or permanently cemented the changes the Internet began, developing so many tools to make people’s lives easier, such as killer apps. Either way, companies that market using “truths” from the 20th century are at a disadvantage to those who can’t make the shift to the 21st.

20th Century Marketing Practices You Shouldn’t Be Following Anymore

  1. Broadcast Is King

Like all of the myths we’ll talk about today, this was true for the better part of a century: Companies would put out a one-way message loud and clear, and maximize how many people heard it.

But today, one-way broadcasting fails for two reasons. First, people turn off ads. They fast-forward or use their phone for social media. They don’t engage unless you make the message deeply relevant, interesting, and/or entertaining. Second, one-way communication is no longer effective. Consumers want to interact. They want to be heard. They want to ask questions and have those questions get answered in a meaningful and transparent way.

If you don’t engage in that give and take, the customer will find another company that does.

Top Takeaway: You can’t just talk to consumers anymore. You must have a conversation with them. 

Top Action Items:

  • Disable social media scheduling and replace it with a person who posts things live and responds in real-time.
  • Use A/B testing and real-time metrics to find out what messaging consumers respond to most, and create marketing copy surrounding those issues.
  • Review your web page and make certain every page has opportunities for meaningful interaction.
  1. It’s Okay to Fib a Little

Advertising has historically been a hotbed of “little white lies” and “exaggerations.” Nine out of ten doctors might have recommended Scope mouthwash, but eight were on the payroll and the ninth was the CEO’s brother-in-law. You could put out an ad in the paper saying your product was the most durable on the market even if you’d done no research whatsoever.

The Internet makes this a terrible idea. The truth — whether it’s access to actual studies about mouthwash, or to thousands of customer reviews about product quality, or to trend articles about what’s really happening in any industry you choose — is riding in the pocket of almost every consumer. They can fact-check your marketing message while they’re still watching the ad. And they’ll tell their friends.

Do not lie in your marketing. Not even a little. You will be found out, and the fact you fibbed will go viral.

Top Takeaway: You cannot tell anything but the unmitigated truth in your public messaging. 

Top Action Items:

  • Adopt a policy of transparency in your operations.
  • Assign a member of your marketing team to deal with any social media conversations in real-time, to put an open, public face on your responses.
  • Review every last piece of your marketing copy to find and replace anything that even looks like a lie.
  1. A Salesperson’s Job Is to Sell

ABC. Always. Be. Closing.

That’s advice every salesperson in the 20th century got from every corner of the industry, and it was good advice in the pre-Internet age.

But something changed between 1995 and 2015, a slow evolution that came of consumers getting access to what could be too much information. They all know enough to spot cheesy sales techniques, and people willing to bend the truth to make a sale. They’re suspicious of marketing in general, and salespeople in particular.

In the 21st century, a salesperson’s job isn’t to sell a product. It’s to become a guide, mentor, and source of information. It’s not to get the trust of a lead temporarily. It’s to earn that trust permanently by listening carefully and giving truthful, knowledgeable answers — even if those answers steer away from a sale.

If your team members become teachers and coaches, the sales part will take care of itself.

Top Takeaway: Successful salespeople create trusting relationships with leads, even when it costs them that particular sale. 

Top Action Items:

  • Replace sales goals with action-oriented goals that encourage a coaching and mentoring relationship
  • Establish sales scripts that nurture leads through knowledge rather than push them toward a sale
  • Install CRM software to help sales teams guide leads toward the appropriate answers to questions
  1. Act Now! Operators Are Standing By!

Time pressure was a long-favored tactic because it worked for a very long time. It created a sense of urgency and led consumers to make snap decisions, which usually favored the seller more than the buyer.

Trouble is, modern consumers don’t buy it.

Even if you are telling the truth about a time limit on the offer your company makes, consumers know the Internet will give them access to a competitor who will sell to them at any time.

But that’s not all!

Consumers are no longer content to interact with your brand messaging on your timeline. They want to log into your website at eleven at night and browse until they find answers to their questions. They want to ask Alexa to remind them three months from now to research buying from you. They want to think about the purchase on a longer timeline, at the pace they feel comfortable with.

And they’ll walk away from you if you try to make them do something different.

Top Takeaway: Consumers want to interact with your brand and product on their timeline, not yours. 

Top Action Items:

  • Eliminate time pressure from all of your marketing communications
  • Develop a series of articles, videos, or courses available on your website so consumers can interact with information relevant to your brand in real-time, anytime

Final Word

All four of these best-forgotten “truths” really fall under the category of sophistication.

Modern consumers are more sophisticated in their access to information, their control over their media experience, their options for making purchases, and how they communicate about products. This has shifted the power dynamic of the consumer-business relationship.

Failing to respect that sophistication can be disastrous to your business’s marketing. But if you can not only respect it but embrace and leverage it…your company will profit from its newly-empowered consumers.


Dan Rode is a marketing associate, working one-on-one with clients and businesses that have no marketing system in place. He helps them put together a smart and actionable plan that even the most technophobe of his clients are able to implement it.