Media is a both-and, not an either-or proposition.
“The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by the Canadian communication thinker Marshall McLuhan in 1964. To help understand this theory, I watched a nifty explainer video narrated by none other than Agent Dana Scully, Gillian Anderson. Interestingly, after watching every episode of The X-Files and pretty much every other show Gillian Anderson has been in, I had no idea that she was British. You learn something new every day.
McLuhan's theory was that what is being communicated (the message) is less important than the particular medium through which people communicate. He believed the technology that transfers the message changes us and changes society, the individual, the family, work, leisure, and more. He noted how in oral cultures, when the predominant combination medium was speech, the dominant sense was hearing. However, in print-based communication, the visual was emphasized. Communication was further transformed through the mediums of his day – telegraph, telephone, and television. In the past three decades, the internet has once again transformed the way messages are transmitted and interpreted.
Over the years, advertising mediums have evolved as technology has advanced. Today, there are two predominant forms of advertising – traditional and digital.
Traditional marketing refers to any type of marketing that isn’t online such as print, television, direct mail, phone, radio, and outdoor ads like billboards.
Digital marketing encompasses online marketing through email, paid social ads, SEO (search engine optimization), and PPC (pay-per-click), also known as SEM (search engine marketing).
A report in eMarketer pointed out that business-to-business (B2B) digital ad spending recently hit $8 billion, up 22.6% from 2019. Comparatively, U.S. digital ad spending as a whole only grew 1.7% the following year to $134 billion. In fact, earlier this year, digital eclipsed traditional advertising for the first time in history. Digital’s piece of the pie is continuing to grow.
Does this mean the world’s gone completely digital, and we’d better get on board or we’ll be left holding the proverbial flip phone? Not so fast. All we need to do is look to psychology for the answer.
Maslow's Hammer is a phrase coined by Abraham Maslow in The Psychology of Science, published in 1966, that says, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The same applies to marketing. Digital will continue to be more and more important, and we need to build up our digital chops to connect buyers and sellers. However, traditional tactics will always have a place. As the balance continues to shift from offline to online channels, the opportunity will present itself to learn new skills and step into new roles.
Take, for example, Cobra Kai. If you haven’t watched the Karate Kid spinoff yet, stop what you’re doing and start binging. If you’re anywhere in the neighborhood of your 40s or 50s, like me, the show transcends the nexus of your youth and adulthood in a way that none other has. Not even Luke Skywalker's return to the Star Wars series can compare. As much enjoyment as I’ve gotten out of it, the sad thing is I almost never watched it.
The show languished in obscurity on YouTube Red before rising to the top spot on Netflix. The series, which stars much of the original cast of the 1980s movies, debuted three years ago on YouTube Red, the site's subscription service now known as YouTube Premium, and ran for two seasons. It won critical acclaim and even a couple of Emmy nominations, but it lacked a big audience. Netflix scooped up the rights to Cobra Kai as YouTube Premium shifted away from scripted original content. The first two seasons landed on Netflix this fall and promptly shot up to No. 1 on the platform's trending ranks. If you need a refresher on the movie, watch this interview with Karate Kid/Cobra Kai stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka. Without Netflix, as brilliant as Cobra Kai is (and believe me, it’s a masterpiece), it would never have reached the audience it has.
McLuhan's principle holds true. Make the best, most creative marketing piece ever without the right channel and a plan to drive audiences there, and all we’ve got is a Cobra Kai DVD in the $2.99 bin at Walmart. That would be as criminal as never seeing Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso don their karate gis again.
Similarly, a balanced attack is what’s needed when choosing media. A football team that can only pass rarely wins the championship, just like a baseball lineup with only sluggers needs pitching to win games. This holistic approach is called omnichannel marketing.
Amazon defines omnichannel marketing strategy as a brand’s holistic approach to every customer touchpoint across channels. With omnichannel strategies, brands strive to give customers a consistent, cohesive experience across both digital and traditional touchpoints.
Businesses today must find a marketing partner that will recommend the right tool for the job, regardless of their self-interests. Making media-agnostic decisions presents the best opportunity to accomplish your goals. Seek the Swiss Army Agency that uses an omnichannel marketing approach, and leave the hammering to the other guys.