Johnson Nguyen on the role of technology in marketing
How the ever-changing technological landscape is impacting modern marketing strategies.
There was a time when marketing was all about the message. The most effective ones are incredibly famous and spend decades rattling around in the public consciousness. Tag lines such as “a diamond is forever” and “just do it” are so ingrained in the culture that it is unnecessary to specify with which companies they are associated—most, if not all people make that connection immediately upon reading them.
Back then, spreading the message was easy, and a marketing firm simply bought advertising space in newspapers and magazines or paid for a certain number of high-profile spots on television. There were billboards, there were bench ads and bus ads, there were sporting and cultural event sponsorships. Although it took a fairly large sum of money, the path to consumer awareness was straightforward.
Coming up with an effective, concise, and memorable message was the difficult part. Johnson Nguyen of Vancouver, BC, is an entrepreneur and online marketing strategist. He is the founder and chief executive of a small, yet innovative company that specializes in assisting other firms to navigate today’s complex digital marketing culture.
Johnson Nguyen says that the time during which getting a message to consumers easily has long since passed.
Sometime around the turn of the millennium, there was a seismic paradigm shift in the field of marketing. Whereas the importance of a company’s message remained a constant and delicate art, the path to consumer awareness of that message became increasingly and exponentially more complex. Enter the internet, the great disruptor.
Non-Linear Marketing Theory
The mass consumer adoption of the internet prompted what may be the single largest theoretical shift in the entire discipline of marketing: that a two-way relationship with the consumer was not only possible but, in fact, inevitable.
Johnson Nguyen notes that from the advent of modern marketing until this point the relationship had been a one-way street, consisting of advertising campaigns projected at the general public, who then passively absorbed it. All of a sudden, the process had become participatory and was trending more so with each passing day.
From the popularity of online surveys to the rise of amateur YouTube and Yelp reviewers, it became increasingly obvious that a large segment of the population enjoyed engaging with marketing strategies on a level previously unimagined. Companies learned that traditional, or ‘linear marketing’ strategies were most effective when coupled with participatory, or ‘non-linear marketing’ strategies.
Another consequence of this development was the incidental—at least, initially incidental—gathering of huge amounts of highly specific consumer data on both an aggregate and individual level.
Marketing Intelligence and Automation
Much has been made of the reasonably recent phenomenon of micro-targeting advertisements to individual consumers based on data obtained through corporate surveillance of their communications.
For the sake of illustration, say an individual sends a message over a digital platform to another individual about a fondness for salty snacks, and moments later, an advertisement for potato chips appears in their browser window. Is this corporate surveillance for the purpose of marketing? Yes and no. Yes, there is most certainly a connection between what is written in emails and text messages and what advertisements one receives, but it is not nefarious. It is a quintessential example of marketing intelligence and automation.
To be clear, there is no human being directly monitoring these communications. There is no bullpen full of professional snoops, each wearing super-sensitive headphones, listening in on private conversations like vice cops waiting to make a drug bust. No, these connections are made by algorithms.
The theory goes something like this: using tracking codes over various digital platforms, computer programs can monitor the behavior of people who type keywords or phrases and then parse the context surrounding these keywords to gauge intent.
The term for this is ‘marketing intelligence’. According to Johnson Nguyen, once the proper intent is identified, a different set of computer programs automatically send out micro-targeted ads to that same user, usually in conjunction with whatever company operates the digital platform in question. The term for this ‘marketing automation.’
In practice, it means that if an individual sends a message to a friend about liking potato chips, more often than not they will see an ad for Frito-Lay in the near future, and so might the friend.
Search Engine Optimization
At its most base level, the mass adoption of the internet fundamentally changed the way that consumers learned about products and services.
Slowly, over the course of a few years in the early 2000s, marketing firms across the globe realized that it was starting to matter less and less if their thirty-second spots ran during the Superbowl or ‘Must-See TV’ Thursdays, and it was starting to matter more and more if their company’s website popped up in the first page of listings in search engine results. Not long after that, a sub-discipline in marketing called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was born.
Once companies took a detailed look at the gigantic amounts of data being returned by consumer activity online, a few things were quickly realized. First, the vast majority of everyday people use only a handful of platforms to search out information online—
Google and Bing are by far the most popular. Second, the vast majority of consumers do not look past the first page of results, and most of that majority do not scroll down past the first five or six listings. As a consequence, marketing departments began to focus heavily on SEO, understanding that a poor positioning on Google may mean the loss of millions of dollars.
Finally, it is hard to imagine a present-day marketing strategy that does not include a social media component. In many ways, social media is the venue where non-linear marketing theory and marketing intelligence and automation collide with consumers most directly. The former concept through contests, games, and surveys, and the latter through the gathering of consumer data via people’s posts and comments, and then ads targeted accordingly.
In the larger picture, the role that platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram play in corporate marketing strategies is largely that of brand awareness, says Johnson Nguyen. Companies see an immense benefit in maintaining a social media presence because the potential customer pool is in the billions.
Past that, once logged into a social network, most people are far more engaged in the experience compared with, say, watching television, meaning advertisements carry more impact. Then there is the fact that social media-based ad campaigns are scalable, which means that as many or few users can be targeted as a company likes, or for which it has the budget.
Modern marketing strategies and technology—specifically digital platforms—are now inextricably linked. For successful companies, it is no longer a question of whether to include a technological component in their campaigns, but how to do so most effectively.
Currently, says Johnson Nguyen, marketing firms find the most promising returns come from using non-linear marketing strategies, micro-targeting niche demographics through marketing intelligence and automation and focussing heavily on search engine optimization and social media.
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