Are You Marketing Like It’s 1999? Time to Update, Then!

Prince’s performance at SXSW last month got us wondering why some companies are still partying – that is, marketing – like it’s 1999.

The digital world has undergone dramatic changes in the past 15 years, and some of the marketing tactics that were commonplace back then can do a world of damage today.  For example, before the CAN SPAM act in 2003, it was common go buy or rent contact lists to send unsolicited emails as part of a digital marketing campaign.  Doing that today is unthinkable – for good reason.

Are there any other outdated marketing tactics in your current marketing plan?  Here are some tactics straight out of the 1990’s that we’ve seen lately from companies marketing to us.

1. Telemarketing programs that seem to call people randomly – at dinner time or on a cell phone – and ask them to buy products they’ve never heard of.  Telemarketing is still a valid marketing tactic, when it’s part of a cohesive marketing program, but its usefulness as a cold-calling tool is very limited.

2. Persisting with emails, Twitter DMs, and LinkedIn messages when the person you’re contacting opts out, or does not respond to your contacts.  If you’ve sent someone several messages, after an initial contact with them, and they are clearly not interested, give it a rest.  (How do you know they’re not interested? They didn’t open your email, click on any of your links, or take any of the requested actions. All of that information should be at your fingertips if you’re using good marketing tools.)

3. Sending your entire marketing contact list the exact same marketing message. If your contact list isn’t segmented to divide it into current customers, prospects at varying stages of the buying/selling process, and casual contacts who might eventually become prospects, then you’re risking your relationship with every group. Targeting your marketing messages is the most important part of the planning process, after all!

4. Stuffing as many keywords in your website as possible, without worrying about whether the copy on the site has been proofread for spelling and grammar, delivers actionable content people want to read, or displays attractively in multiple browsers (including on mobile devices).  This one ought to be obvious, but we continue to see websites that are keyword rich, and content poor.

5. Using social media like any other marketing communications channel, to link to your content, demonstrate your products, or sell things. Social media is a two-way communications channel – if you do nothing but “talk”, and never listen or respond to others – you’re missing out on the real power of social media.

Bring Marketing into the 21st Century

Among the biggest changes in marketing strategy over the past 15 years has been the rise of better analytics and tracking tools that put a wealth of information at your fingertips.  So if you found yourself admitting to relying on any outdated tactics when you read the list above, the first question to ask is whether or not you’re taking full advantage of the available analytics to see what’s working – and what isn’t.

Another huge change since the turn of the century has been a shift in how top management views marketing and sales. For many years, sales and marketing were viewed as different disciplines, and they were kept so separate that there was often little interaction between the two departments except when a new marketing campaign was unveiled at a quarterly or annual sales meeting.  Today, aligning your sales and marketing efforts is considered the most basic first step toward achieving your goals.

Last, but hardly least, if you haven’t embraced inbound marketing and taken all the related steps required to turn website visitors into prospects, then you are definitely still caught in a 1990’s time warp. Social media, PR, content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and banner ads (as well as email marketing) are all powerful ways to drive traffic to your website. But that traffic doesn’t translate into sales unless you understand how to convert visitors into prospects with a rock-solid inbound marketing strategy.

For more on how to help your social media and web contacts make the transition into viable prospects, talk to one of the inbound marketing experts at The Marketing Zen Group, or pick up Shama Kabani’s best-selling book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing.


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  • Brendan Fumagalli

    You mentioned the rise of better analytic tools; do you recommend any one platform over another to gain these insights and analytics? Thanks.

  • Janelle Batista

    Thanks! This is great information as I am in a personal branding class right now learning how to market myself and my personal brand! Thanks for the tips!

  • Nancy Bee

    Drawn to your Marketing Like It’s 1999 article–very insightful….Bought ZSMM book last night–dense with info+details, as am novice to socmedia. My task is to sell mid-century family items for the home. eBay is a dead end as 95% of listed items do NOT sell. Believe your book may expand thinking. It would be nice to have a reference source (a new book?) for people who just want to sell items and not open a store/business–millions of us “de-acquisitioners” out there, wondering what to do. All suggestions welcomed. Thx.