Ignore the minority report

Whatever the outcome of next week’s European Parliament elections, much of the attention will focus on results for the minority parties. In part, this reflects their role in the balance of power created by the voting system. It also reflects current turbulence in the economy and the political world. In the Eastern Region of England alone, for example, there are no fewer than five parties standing on the platform of putting the UK or England first.

Human nature is also to blame – we feel we know exactly what the major political parties stand for so are inquisitive about what the others represent. That is what they rely on, of course, picking up votes from those dissatisfied or disenfranchised by the broader-based parties.

Something similar is happening in the world of marketing – and it risks leading some companies towards exactly the same ruinous outcome as a vote for UKIP or the BNP would lead to. Right now, the loudest voices in the marketing industry are those advocating Twitter, social networking or mobile marketing.

What marketing directors should be asking themselves is, when I think about optimising my budget, just what position in the mix should these minority channels have? The issue that haunts them is a fear of missing out on this year’s model-breaking performer.

Recent years have thrown up quite a few of those, from email to search. What is different about some of the current contenders is that they are extremely strong in social and business life, but they are entirely unproven as drivers of actual business.

LinkedIn is a good example of this. It is beloved of sales teams and business development directors who are convinced the professional network is going to win new customers for them. Perhaps that explains the behaviour whereby an existing relationship involving email and telephone calls suddenly becomes an invitation to join the LinkedIn network instead (you know who you are).

Linking becomes a substitute for contacting. That may be a great relief to sales teams who can’t face yet another phone call, but does it put pounds on the bottom line? That is the only real issue when considering whether to divert cash from existing channels into new ones.

Perhaps that is why mobile marketing is currently estimated to be worth just £28.6 million out of total marketing activity in the UK worth £17 billion (Source: IAB/PwC). The immediate defence is that Internet advertising was at the same stage in 1998 and look at it now.

Minority parties make the same argument – vote for us now, even if nobody else does, because that is how we grow. Like voters, however, marketers need to make decisions out of naked self-interest. Jam today, not honey tomorrow.

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