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Does Social Media Make Traditional Marketing Obsolete?

A guest post from Jay Miletsky, CEO and Executive Creative Director at Mango! Marketing.
Jun | 2 | 2010

Jun | 2 | 2010

Jay Miletsky wears many hats and, quite frankly, I wonder if he ever sleeps. For one, he is the CEO, Executive Creative Director at Mango! Marketing, working with clients such as Hershey’s, Kraft, JVC, Washington Mutual, StreetGlow, United Health, and others. He’s also an accomplished author of ten books (making me feel lazy), contributor to my second book, friend of mine, and like me a fan of Porcupine Tree.

In this guest post, Jason discusses the relationship between traditional marketing and social media. The floor is now his.


I wish I had been alive when TV began to infiltrate the American home and take its place as the entertainment center around which friends and family congregated. I wish I were there to measure the sentiment of marketers at the time, and see if the general belief was that this new technology—this new media—would ultimately banish the radio into oblivion, and cause printing presses to shut down and rust over.  If that was the sentiment back then, it didn’t last very long. Inevitably it became clear that, rather than replace print and radio, TV would become an integral component of a larger media mix that and a more powerful means for brands to reach their consumers.

Today, all of these methods, now lumped together into a general category called “traditional marketing,” are once again fighting off a new potential threat to their relevance.  Judging by the behavior of many anxious marketers, it would seem as though the rise of social media precludes the fall of all other efforts, as though the entire marketing industry is on a see-saw, with social media on one side and traditional marketing on the other.

Evolution vs. Revolution

But in all of the (completely warranted) excitement over social media, what many marketers haven’t realized yet is that it’s not an evolution of marketing: it’s an entirely new method.  In order to qualify as an “evolution,” a new technology has to do all the following:

  • Accomplish the tasks of its predecessor
  • Accomplish these tasks in a way that’s cheaper, more efficient or provides better results
  • Dramatically reduce or fully eliminate the relevance of its predecessor

We don’t use sundials any longer because mechanical clocks replaced them as the more efficient tool for tracking time.  Similarly, the computer replaced the typewriter, programs like Photoshop and AutoCAD replaced the drafting table, and digital cameras replaced film cameras.  In each of these instances, new technology has made their predecessor obsolete because they achieved the same or better results, quicker, easier, and/or faster.

So why doesn’t the same hold true in marketing? Because in this case, social media hasn’t in any way made traditional marketing obsolete.  It does not accomplish the same tasks as traditional outlets, nor does it reduce the marketers’ need to consider traditional outlets in their marketing strategies.  Instead, social media provides an additional avenue in which to reach consumers, but not in a way that’s mutually exclusive of traditional efforts.

Social Media as a Marketing Supplement

In fact, social media is profoundly different in its methods and accomplishments. As such, it can be a useful and necessary partner to traditional strategies, rather than a replacement for them.  Traditional efforts reach consumers by maximizing impressions—traditional marketing or PR campaigns are funded, launched, and received by consumers via TV, radio, print, or other such methods in ways that don’t allow for two-way communication.  The objective is to increase the number of impressions. More impressions means the following:

  • the more people receive the message
  • the more likely the consumer will be to make a purchase
  • the greater the success of the campaign

Eventually, the message loses its effect, or the campaign budget runs dry, and the number of impressions falls until the next campaign.

Engagement is not a replacement for impression-based marketing,

Social media, on the other hand, is not an impression-based communications platform.  While marketers want their tweets and online messages to be seen by as many people as possible, the primary thrust of these efforts is to maintain ongoing communication or active engagement with audiences through two-way conversation. Social media is more active and ongoing, steadily growing through regular non-campaign specific communication that reaches beyond marketing to include PR and even customer service.  It provides consumers with a voice, and can create long-lasting, close-knit bonds between brands and their markets.

Engagement, therefore, is not a replacement for impression-based marketing, but an adjunct to it.  As marketers begin to realize that traditional and social media can live an work together, their strategies (and their brands) will reap the rewards not of a new evolution, but of a powerful new hybrid marketing approach whose sum is far greater than its parts.


What do you think of Jason’s perspective?


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  1. Frank Harland

    I am surprised that you did not mention the heftier effect of word of mouth from trusted peers and as such testimonials from ‘friends’ and the reach of Facebook and the likes.
    Sure is does not replace previous forms of marketing but it’s effect can be incredibly amplified.

    • Jay Miletsky

      Hi Frank.  Interesting that you mention the importance of word-of-mouth as a part of social media.  Late last night I posted this blog post: in part to discuss the importance of word-of-mouth, and how it can be the trump card for any other advertising or marketing effort, thanks largely to the greater reach of SM.

  2. Jim Harris

    Great guest post Jay,

    I know that perspectives ( 🙂 ) can vary greatly by industry. Most of my social media clients (I mostly do ghostwriting for corporate blogs, which I know from your chapter in Phil’s book, is not an activity that you endorse because you believe it’s antithetical to transparency) are in the enterprise software sector of the information technology industry.

    My clients struggle with the value of social media because, borrowing your terms, they view social media as an impression medium and not an engagement medium, and mainly due to the fact that they have no interest in engagement.
    Although Marshall McLuhan taught us that “the medium is the message” and I definitely agree that engagement is social media’s medium, many companies I work with are trying to force impression to be social’s media’s medium because they understand impression, they know how to fund, create, and manage campaigns based on impression.  But engagement, not so much.

    Most of my clients view enegagement as if it’s just some silly gimmick that would never work as well as the tried and true methods of a mass media broadcast blitz — so they include social media into the mass media bucket and follow traditional marketing techniques.

    Other clients have informed me that the only value of social media’s engagement is to:

    “Harvest contact information to pass on to our sales staff as qualified leads and our marketing staff as e-mail marketing targets.”

    Therefore, when asked about social media, they respond, “yeah, we do e-mail marketing.”

    As I stated earlier, I realize that perspectives vary greatly by industry, especially B2B vs. B2C.  The latter has more social media marketing potential in my opinion since it’s much easier to influence the one dollar purchase of a Hershey’s chocolate bar using Twitter and Facebook than it is to influence the one million dollar purchase of enterprise software.

    However, marketing is not the only use of social media.  News, community service, raising awareness and promoting discussion of important topics, and both personal and professional networking are other, and arguably more valuable, uses of social media.  Of course, some of that can be performed as subtle marketing if those uses are coming from a company that is still trying to sell you something, but I have already babbled long enough in this comment.

    Thanks and Best Regards,


    • jay Miletsky

      Thanks for the comment – you made some great points.
      As they say, timing is everything.  As a marketing platform (and I agree, SM is about a lot more than just marketing), social media really came into its own during the recession.  That’s also when we began to understand the true value of engagement.  Unfortunately, when the economy is down, and budgets are tight, companies demand more immediate results, focusing on shorter-term goals and more immediate sales at the expense of longer-term branding strategies.
      Engagement, because it can’t be directly tied short-term sales or income-generating activity (unlike e-mail blasts), is lumped into the same category as branding campaigns.  This creates an interesting dilemma for marketers – one the one hand, they are anxious to jump into social media because of the hype, but on the other hand, they are being pressed to show immediate results rather than long-term executions.
      That, right there, might be the best argument for invoking a hybrid marketing strategy: engage through social media for long term brand building, while maintaining traditional efforts for short terms revenue requirements.

  3. philsimon

    Great post and discussion, all. In my view, a guy like me promoting his books and services wouldn’t really do print. For me, relying 90% on social media makes the most sense. However, to the extent that many people still buy products via traditional marketing methods, I can see why car makers, for example, still embrace print and TV.

    It’ll be interesting to see, as Gen Y matures, if more companies will take the Pepsi route and go all in with respect to SMM.

  4. Olfactory marketing

    psycho analysis —

    the more people receive the message
    the more likely the consumer will be to make a purchase
    the greater the success of the campaign

    This is very true..


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