In a recent conversation, a Millennial business owner lamented: “My marketing director knows all about social media…but can’t do much of anything else.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests this reaction is increasingly common, with a substantial number of marketers under the age of 40 who are well-versed with the flavor of the month…but not much more. Request they develop a direct mail campaign, a sweepstakes, a press release, or other traditional marketing tools and they’re as likely to panic as to have their eyes glaze over.
And don’t even ASK many of them to try and build a marketing plan from scratch.
The Challenges of Modern Marketing
The average American adult is on the receiving end of 5,000+ marketing messages every 24 hours. These messages might come from the beverages we drink, the cars we’re driving behind, the entertainment we indulge in, the items we’re shopping for, or a hundred other avenues.
As consumers we’ve become numb to the constant barrage of “Try this, Buy that” messaging. We ache to shut out the noise and regain the ability to hear ourselves think, ever resentful of the non-stop cacophony assaulting our senses.
It’s a significant challenge to professional marketers searching for ways to break through that wall that are both productive and cost-effective.
The world’s most successful marketers will tell you their tactical mix is best served with a branded presence across print, broadcast, direct response, public relations, ad specialties, collateral, trade shows, sales promotion, events, drip campaigns, and strategic alliances, as well as social media, digital advertising, user-friendly web sites, and a host of other tools both traditional and new.
They know that focusing exclusively on digital media is guaranteed to not maximize sales results from a buying universe increasingly inclined to hit the DELETE button. They further recognize that the inevitable result of relying on digital alone is a serious long-term threat to their bottom line.
There Are Bigger Issues At Play
Even as a generation of communications professionals raised in the Internet’s shadow casts off the shackles of “old-fashioned” media, three other dramatic shifts have been simultaneously hitting the business world:
An entire population of traditional marketers is aging out of the marketplace and retiring. Many of these seasoned professionals are adept at developing and implementing more established media, but are unable to deliver when it comes to SEO, social media, web site development and the like
A huge labor shortage is cutting across industries and disciplines
A seeming majority of Human Resources professionals is refusing to engage in sincere hiring dialogue with marketing professionals remaining in the labor force past age fifty
In addition to the concern that anyone over 50 is too old to understand digital media, many employers also make a pre-emptive judgment against hiring more mature marketing professionals for fear they’ll cost too much.
Where I come from we call this being pennywise and pound-foolish.
Does Such A Creature Exist?
The need for increased sales and revenues hasn’t diminished, of course, and businesses and non-profits of every stripe are finding these trends boxing them in. This leaves anyone looking to promote their message with a short list of options typically including:
Hiring a stable of agencies, each specializing in one type of communications vehicle
Hiring a general marketing agency that utilizes the same mob of specialists, then marks up their fees
Limiting your options to whatever your available staff can do
But what if we went on a temporary flight of fantasy and envisioned a marketing leader – a unicorn, if you will – who was knowledgeable, unusually loyal, and seasoned enough to operate in both traditional and digital environments and wanted to work on your staff?
Odds would be excellent such a person would be over 50, be creative and energetic, conversant in both strategy and tactics, and possess a never-ending thirst for knowledge about…well, everything.
He or she would live at the intersection of these three realities, and would by their very presence increase opportunities, lower unit sales costs, and expand ROI.
This person would also be more likely to have a strong work ethic, greater patience, and an ability to interact professionally, creatively, productively, and profitably with co-workers regardless of their age. In my experience, older workers recognize what they don’t know and are more willing to learn.
Yes, such a person might cost a few dollars more to hire, but as they already possess the wisdom someone else has paid for them to acquire, they can minimize expensive mistakes on the part of less-credentialed associates.
In short, that additional up-front investment would quickly pay for itself…and more.
This Is A Joke, Right?
Online advertising began in the early 1990s and grew by 2017 to $83 billion in the US alone: a 14% increase over the previous year. A generation of marketers has thus grown up focusing on digital marketing and forgotten the simplicity, effectiveness, and value of integrating hundreds of tried-and-true communications tools.
Organizations seeking a short-term fix to their sales efforts have found digital media alone usually helps them reach their objective on the cheap. However, those desiring a deeper, more consistent growth in their marketing communications campaigns have come to recognize the importance of implementing a more holistic strategy that incorporates both digital and non-digital media on an ongoing basis.
Which brings us back to the unicorn, who knows about digital marketing and traditional vehicles, can build and implement a plan that makes the most of your budget to reach your objective from a wider range of directions, and does so without an attitude of “I know everything.”
Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes, who oversees an empire with more than 15 million users worldwide, is a great believer in finding unicorns for your team.
In his 2016 LinkedIn post 5 Signs You're A "Unicorn" Employee, Holmes observed: “Unicorn” employees, for me, are staff who possess a unique set of qualities that make them extremely rare and valuable. Like actual unicorns, they’re hard to find, but once hired, offer up enormous benefits in the workplace. To name a few, they shatter expectations, raise the bar for everyone and are simply a joy to be around. Unicorn employees can literally take your business to the next level.” The qualities he highlights about unicorns are:
He continues; “No matter how great a co-worker is to be around, if he can’t produce actual results, his presence isn’t ultimately helpful and may even be damaging to others. Studies have shown that top performers contribute to a business 10 times more than their average counterparts. You must be able to execute. It’s an essential unicorn quality.”
Finding The Marketing Unicorn
The thoughtful executive will recognize the marketing unicorn, capable of bridging traditional and digital marketing vehicles, does exist but isn’t frequently seen in the wild.
To trap this wealth of knowledge, look to individual marketing consultants over 50 with a substantial range of backgrounds and experience who may, whether for reasons that are social, personal, or economic, be at a point in their career where they’d like to shift to a full-time opportunity.
Such professionals, who have spent time owning and running a business, already understand when to cut corners and when to invest. They appreciate internal politics, know how to make the pieces fit together, and can maximize the value of every dollar. Their successful track record suggests they have a good work ethic, while their maturity oftentimes means they’ll stick around longer and work harder than someone who's younger.
Then there’s the whole “My experience will save you money” thing, of course.
Ryan Holmes notes; “For companies and business leaders, it’s probably worthwhile to put some extra time and effort into chasing unicorns. Unlike their mythical counterparts, they’re very real and they can change your company.”
Successfully Crossing That Bridge
Forces larger than any of us have created a generation of marketers raised on the growing prevalence of social media; a retiring cohort of communications professionals adept at traditional marketing; and an increasing need to raise visibility, sales and profits.
If you hadn’t previously planned for this confluence of factors, you too may be feeling that digital media is the only tool left for you to work with. Yet stretching your own comfort zone to look beyond the barriers imposed by ageism will help you locate a unicorn marketer.
Your willingness to expand your vision will expose you to the knowledge, experience and talent that only comes with years on the job. After all, a marketing director who’s never written marketing plans won’t recognize when it’s being properly implemented, right?
And remember; even Google uses direct mail.
Rob Weinberg is a fractional Chief Marketing Officer based in San Diego who counts numerous marketing unicorns in his circle. Contact him at 858-774-2420, email@example.com, or www.marketbuilding.com to find one.