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Is Digital Marketing killing Marketing Strategy?

Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory, explains why conventional marketing cannot play second fiddle to digital marketing

According to one public definition, ‘Digital marketing is the use of the Internet, mobile devices, social media, search engines, and other channels to reach consumers’. According to another public definition, ‘Marketing strategy is the long-term game plan of any business to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage by understanding the needs and wants of customers’. While the former is clearly a subset of the latter, it seems to be taking over the Marketing function.

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The foremost challenge of traditional marketing, when I joined the corporate circus, was the calculation of input efficiency and its correlation to outcome. Thus, it was virtually impossible to isolate the ingredients from any success or failure — be it product efficiency, distribution prolificity, campaign planning or ATL and BTL media placement. Advertising networks formulated complex media metrics while the Nielsens of the world did suitable encores at a Point of Sale level. But these were, at best, rigorous inflow evaluations and no magician could provide the mathematical accuracies that modern businesses earnestly demanded.

Which is exactly where digital marketing made a dramatic entry, miraculously traversing the funnel between input and sales with precise accuracy. Boardrooms were delighted as accountability was established and brand managers found justifiable alibis for their subjective decisions. When connected to online commerce, the connection was even more exquisite and search-to-action rapidly replaced call-to-action as the new buzzword. New-age digital agencies harvested proprietary tools to further delight and the platforms themselves became aggressive abettors, whether Google, Amazon or Flipkart. Venture funders were quick to latch on to this contemporary lingo and considered digital marketing to be the secret sauce on the road to unicorn-ness.

In this new found delirium, marketing strategy in its fullest integrity was slowly starting to play second fiddle, often forced to serve the digital world instead of being the source of credibility. Thus the rigour of developing an inspiring brand value proposition, conjured by data and creativity, was being gradually deprioritised and dangerously so. Far too much discussion and conversational R&D were focussed on social media and new-age channels while forgetting that the brand needed to have a unique voice and a steady flow of fundamental insights. Insights were drawn from evolving customer behaviour across relevant categories and society at large, which would critically influence the success of products and services.

When I resumed my consulting practice in 2020, restoring this valuable equilibrium became the foremost priority, armed with the proprietary ‘Datavity’ toolkit. To passionately propagate that an ownable value proposition was indeed the unavoidable foundation. This would be derived from the deepest understanding of culture and the construction of a tenable bridge to the tangible product, ensuring sincere segmentation, targeting and positioning. Every insight would be a function of both numbers and imagination, eventually resulting in an integrated marketing strategy whose integral component would be digital marketing. Only then would a deep dive on this subject lead to the best possible strategy for implementation, in tandem with conventional spray-and-pray communication.

There are a few other simplistic but truthful reasons why digital marketing finds it easy to overwhelm the statutes of marketing strategy. Technology is the hottest conversation point and everybody in corporate corridors finds it rewarding not just as proof of portfolio but also advancement of career. Importantly this is a tangible and scientific subject and sans the subjectivity and ambiguity of classical strategy, a long-term exercise with unimaginable pitfalls, corona being the latest caveat. Google and Amazon are the new oracles of corporate wisdom and they have been advocating digital marketing with edgy zeal, overshadowing the credibility of the classical consultants. Also to blame is a renewed sense of immediacy in modern business environments, driven by trigger-happy shareholders and funders, thus a tacit convergence of short-term deliveries over future sustainability. Marketing strategy in its utmost rigour is becoming a backroom accomplice whose perceived solidity is often at the mercy of digital front-footers.

In my limited experience of working with startups, this scenario as above is even more dangerously established, the need to do more important than what to do. Not too many are willing to invest in a long-term brand identity and concerned more about quarterly impact, fuelled brilliantly by digital marketing tools. Most certainly, one needs to be flexible and agile but truth be told, there is no substitute for a foundation, not just in technology but in worldview. There are enough worthies who have predicted that customers will become even more conscious of purpose and meaning in the post-corona world, tormented deeply by current tidings. So the need for a well-rounded marketing strategy is more potent than ever before and beneficial to every societal stakeholder.

So, here is my simple recommendation to every business leader, whatever be your ambition or dimension. Marketing is first and foremost a process which begins with unshakeable fundamentals and they cannot be compromised. Digital Marketing is the Rafale of the marketer’s ensemble and can be a mammoth game-changer once the target is soundly established. You cannot have the second without the first and you cannot come first with just the second.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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