Online Marketing at the Proverbial Crossroads?

I went to a talk yesterday afternoon called Online Marketing at the Crossroads (sponsored by SEO company Latitude, in association with NMK). It was only two hours long, it was in the basement of an odd private members club off The Strand, and it was pretty good.

Paul Doleman from Latitude opened the even with a short speech on how online marketing was at the proverbial crossroads, with one road being the traditional 'interruptive' marketing model from old-media (flash ads, banners, and so on), and one road being the conversational model from new media. Strongly worded, but nothing very new, at least for those of us who already know this stuff.

Alan Moore stepped up as the first speaker, and gave a (slightly longer) introductory presentation, using words like 'engagement marketing', and giving examples such as the Guinness visitor centre in Ireland.

Next up was Adriana Cronin-Lukas from The Big Blog Company, who started out with some entertaining examples of how companies have reacted to the internet badly, including the Fed Ex reaction to fedexfurniture.com, the picking a bike lock with a bic pen store and Tom Coates's Cillit Bang detective work (which was speedy as it'd only just happened). Adrianna suggested that in each of these cases the companies involved insisted on fighting with the internet rather than 'joining in the conversation'. She went on to outline how companies could use blogs to engage with their customers. Within this, I was impressed with how she stressed that corporate blogs must enable comments, and allow negative comments, and must follow the 'blog etiquette'. Someone asked how her comany made money, and she explained that there services weren't about setting up the technical stuff (as anyone can do that), but about explaining the value, giving some guidelines, and helping the company to 'find their story'. I thought that this last point was pertinent and often missing from conversations about corporate blogging - if you've got no story to tell, it's not worth blogging at all. There's got to be some good content.

Next up was Dominique Busso from VNUnet Europe, who explained some basic stuff about RSS, and how they were working to do blogging stuff with their magazine brands, and with engadget. I didn't quite follow all this, so moving on...

The last speaker was Alex Bellinger from Small Biz Blog, who gave an overview of how businesses are starting to do podcasting (a similar talk to the one given at PodcastCon by Neville Hobson). There was a provacative question from the floor by someone who posed that 'podcasting was just radio', and was sceptical that people really were fed up with commercial radio, suggesting that we'd get bored of the amateur voices on podcasts and would return to the slickness of commercial radio. Alex responded well, pointing out that UK radio was generally better than USA radio, and that podcasting was all about the niche, which wouldn't ever find a place on mainstream radio.

One thing irked me about the discussion of podcasts, and that was the assumption, made initially by Alex and then backed up by Paul (who admittedly has a vested interest), that it wouldn't be long before there was the technology to search the audio content of podcasts. As a former linguistics student, I'm really sceptical of this claim. As I explained in the comments to a post on Ben's site, automated transcription of speech is really complicated, and faces some insurmountable problems...

Generally, though, it was quite an interesting event. I had expected to have to listen to people talking about search engine optimisation, and so it was pretty much on-track.

The one question that I didn't ask was whether there really was a place for marketeers in this 'enlightened' new media landscape? If, as many of the speakers suggested, new media marketing was all about word-of-mouth, lack of control, being open and honest, etc etc, doesn't this all mean that the only real thing that's important is having a good product? To my mind, traditional advertising is a market that exists to make sell everyday or crappy products at inflated prices that they wouldn't otherwise achieve. If online marketing is about allowing people to evangelise your products for you, then they had better be pretty good in the first place.

So maybe we should ignore online marketing (except for the basics: permalinks, open structures, and so on), and concentrate instead on the core offering...?