In 2006, bees started disappearing at an unprecedented scale. Entire hives would suddenly be abandoned by all of the worker bees.
The phenomena was so dramatic, and so startling, it was dubbed “colony collapse disorder.”
Since 2006, scientists have studied colony collapse disorder to determine why hives that were thriving suddenly started failing. The condition spread to hives in Europe, and possibly in Asia.
If you run marketing programs, you may see the similarities between bees and your own work. For long stretches, marketing programs can run in a pretty predictable way. Inputs of campaigns, media buys, research and targeting produce predictable results in terms of leads, sales, or brand awareness. Inputs lead to outputs. Just like bees use pollen to create honey.
But sometimes, suddenly, and for no obvious reason, marketing programs fail. This is “marketing collapse disorder.” And it’s happening now at an alarming rate.From 2002-2010, marketing programs were fairly predictable. Just slowly shift dollars toward digital for direct response, while maintaining strong TV and print buys to reinforce brand messaging. Newspapers slowly lost market share, but that was due to local dollars moving online more than any other segment. TV took a slight hit in 2008, but came back in 2009 with the first green shoots of possible growth.
Digital dollars moved into increased paid search and funnel optimization activities. This provided strong incremental positive results, and therefore was easy to justify, easy to sell through, and most organizations made progress on a YOY basis.
But, now we are starting to see the effectiveness of the traditional means suddenly and dramatically fall off. Now, an increase in budget toward the “same old” planning and thinking might not improve response at all. The reasons for this are becoming better understood, just as with our bees.
Malnutrition: With our bees, research indicates that increasing homogenization of crops has caused hives to rely too much on just one source of food. This leads to malnutrition that builds over time, and suddenly weakens the entire colony.
Marketing programs are also finding that a stagnant diet of 30-second TV spots and more dollars into PPC may be just as bad as a junk food diet. Overeating in these areas will not produce better results. A balanced marketing program must include dedicated resources to social media efforts that can prove themselves out and scale. While consumers move into these new media rapidly, marketers have been feeling the space out and experimenting.
Over the past two years, this has caused a larger and larger disconnect between marketing messages, and their target audiences. Consumer expectations are in a rapid state of change right now. Targeted, filtered information is becoming the norm in their personal life, but marketing has lagged behind. So, suddenly, consumer expectations have left traditional advertising vehicles lacking.
Immunosuppression: Bees may be suffering from suppressed immune systems, making the entire colony vulnerable to new disease. New disease can be passed quickly from one bee to the next.
Marketing programs found that they were not immune to a large scale, long global recession. The current economic crisis foretells a fundamental shift in economic priority for both businesses and consumers. Information and sentiment can pass virally from one consumer to the next. This means that marketing messages must quickly develop new tools and new immunities. As consumers evolve, marketing programs suddenly find that a stronger viral message – more personal, more relevant, and more shareable – is necessary.
Pesticides: There is some evidence that bees have absorbed new pesticides that were harmful to them, and spread those pesticides through their hives.
Marketing programs also have to deal with new and more sophisticated ways to get rid of the “pests” – that is, old “spray and pray” messaging. Blanket messaging has suddenly been seen as “not relevant to me,” which is the kiss of death for any campaign. Time spent on social networking sites continues to soar – now more than six hours a month, and growth is accelerating. Advertisers have not kept pace with this shift, which means that consumers are effectively running away from marketing messages, and toward peer-created media, more and more.
Fortunately, there are some recommended solutions for both the bees and for our beleaguered marketing programs:
Do not combine strong colonies with collapsing colonies: This will ensure the demise of both bee colonies.
Similarly, allow successful programs the ability to thrive, without the burden of being lashed to underperforming programs. If your TV campaign is not driving the web traffic you expected, let the web team create some different, engaging solutions that target a narrower, but higher consideration consumer. Don’t make both programs fail.
Make sure bees get a balanced diet: Use a synthetic sugar formula to ensure that bees get the right nutrients.
Unfortunately, marketing programs don’t have sugar formulas. But they do have the ability to flexibly respond to information from your customers. Research into customer or prospect behavior early and often. Social media monitoring gives you early warning signs about shifting sentiment and information resources for your target market. A balanced diet of understanding and strategic experimentation sets you up to move from one success to the next. A steady influx of social media programs is a crucial part of that diet.
2010 marks a dramatic shift in the ecosystem for marketers. Consumers are more fragmented, and they are not going to re-consolidate. Without some dramatic interventions into your marketing program, you run the risk of colony collapse disorder. Don’t wait until it’s too late.