It's tempting to believe that recent technological advances have led to a corresponding change in marketing principles. Haven't the internet, Facebook, smartphones and other new technologies changed the way we communicate? A business today has to use different tools to reach its customers than one of 50 years ago, and it's easy to get overwhelmed by the new devices, platforms and ways to advertise.
By all means, keep up with these advances and use them to your advantage. But don't let them blind you to an important truth: the fundamental principles of marketing haven't changed at all. It's crucial to understand these marketing principles and how they apply to the newest technologies.
Key Marketing Books and Principles
To appreciate why certain marketing principles remain true in all times and places, think about the key figures and books that have set the foundation for modern marketing.
David Ogilvy is the "father of advertising." He was born in 1911—before TV—and died in 1999 when the internet was just beginning to boom. During his illustrious career, he mapped out some of the enduring principles of marketing and advertising. While Ogilvy influenced many fields, he's best known for his copywriting wisdom. Here are some of his main ideas on writing effective copy:
- Write simply and informally, the way you speak.
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short for easy reading.
- Always check and edit your work.
- Make a significant promise to the customer that solves an important problem.
- Segment your audience so you reach the right demographic.
Does any of this sound familiar? If you've studied any contemporary advice on how to write great copy for the web, you'll recognize many of these points. Did Ogilvy predict the future? His principles were written in stone long before the internet age! David Ogilvy's most influential books give some of the best marketing advice you'll ever read:
- Ogilvy on Advertising
- An Autobiography
- Confessions of an Ad Man
Wait...the tractor guy? John Deere is known mainly for starting a tractor and agricultural equipment company, but he did far more. Deere was actually one of the world's first content marketers. Thanks to a magazine called The Furrow, Deere was creating content way back in 1895. The magazine provided helpful information to farmers while indirectly promoting Deere's own business.
John Caples is another pivotal figure in marketing. Like Ogilvy, Caples is known primarily as a great copywriter. He began his career writing copy for mail-order catalogs. Anyone who runs Google, Facebook or any other type of online ads, understands the power of split testing. So did Caples, who preached its virtues as early as the 1940s. Another notch in Caples' belt? Writing great headlines. Caples introduced a whole formula for writing effective headlines that savvy marketing professionals still use today.
Important Marketing Books
So many other books have shaped marketing and can help you understand the fundamentals of marketing principles. You'd be surprised just how far back the roots of marketing can be traced. These are just a few favorites...
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay.
While not a marketing book per se, this is an important (and quite entertaining) study of group behavior and trends. Published in 1841, this book covers a wide variety of topics, from the Crusades to the Tulip mania, when the price of tulip bulbs briefly exploded in the Dutch Republic. This craze was largely orchestrated by another very early marketing genius, Conrad Gessner, the inventor of viral marketing.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini.
Published in 1984, this is of the best studies of how persuasion works in all areas of life. Cialdini, a professor of psychology, breaks down the process of persuasion into components such as reciprocity, scarcity, and authority. These are familiar concepts to marketers, but reading this book helps you to understand exactly how and why these marketing principles work.
Humbugs of the World, by P.T. Barnum.
Barnum, best known as the founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, covers a wide range of cons, scams and hoaxes in this autobiographical work. In some ways, Humbugs has a similar tone to Mackay's work. However, Barnum is speaking from the point of view of someone who has actually perpetuated the hoaxes. Barnum wasn't exactly a model citizen, but he undeniably has great insights into the art of persuasion. Humbugs of the World is in the public domain, so you can read it for free online.
Breakthrough Advertising, by Eugene M. Schwartz.
Specifically written for people in marketing and advertising, this classic was published in 1966 and has since been republished many times in various formats. One of Schwartz's key ideas is that even the most brilliant copywriting won't be effective unless you truly understand the needs of your market.
Why Marketing Principles Don't Change
Obviously, several authors and books continue to influence today's marketers with their timeless wisdom. But why? Haven't things changed too much for them to be relevant? Surprisingly, no. Even the most radical changes in technology don't mean that marketing is any different.
Marketing Appeals to Basic Needs
When you want to convince people to buy something, you're appealing to their needs or desires. These don't change much over time. While new products such as computer games, apps and 3D printers are completely different than anything from the past, the needs they address aren't. Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, outlined a hierarchy of needs that drives all human behavior: safety, a sense of belonging, social status and self-actualization. No matter what you're promoting and which channel you rely on, you need to address one or more of these fundamental needs.
Marketing is Emotional
Several of the books listed above aren't about principles of marketing, but rather about human behavior. That's because marketing, advertising and copywriting are closely linked to how peoples' minds work. People frequently make buying choices emotionally, rather than rationally. But not 100 percent of the time. We do, after all, consider pragmatic issues when considering products. However, emotions influence buying decisions. The fact is, psychology is concerned with both the rational and emotional aspects of our personalities.
No matter how you reach people, you still need to appeal to their needs. So really, a tweet or YouTube video today isn't much different from a magazine ad from the 1950s or a verbal sales pitch used by a rug vendor in ancient Persia.
How Channels Affect Marketing
This isn't to say that nothing has changed. New technology has indeed brought about many significant changes in how products are sold. Ever since the invention of television, for example, images have gotten more important. And memes, photos and videos on social have only made visual media bigger.
But don't believe for a second that new technology actually changes basic marketing principles. Sure, marketers have to keep up with the latest platforms. But to make the best use of these, they apply enduring principles to new channels. One of the reasons so many people fail in advertising is because they believe all they need is to use a new method and people will respond.
Channels, platforms and technologies influence how messages are delivered. Consider different modes of communication:
- SEO and Organic Traffic
- Search Engine Marketing
- Paid Social Ads
- Email and Marketing Automation
- Direct Mail
Earlier forms of marketing never went away, and new ones aren't fading any time soon. It's still valuable to give personal pitches or to communicate over the phone. Just as true, the latest advertising tactics require the same principles. You just need to adjust them to fit the medium.
Use the Enduring Principles of Marketing
As I said, the basics of marketing really haven't shifted. Regardless of the decade, the key principles of marketing remain, like:
- Understand your audience. Early copywriting masters such as Ogilvy and Caples, as well as keen observers are human behavior such as Barnum, all understood the importance of knowing what your customer wants and needs.
- Focus on the customer. The best copy makes the reader, viewer or listener feel like the message is directed at him or her personally.
- Create a compelling headline. As Caples taught, headlines are essential for reeling the reader in. The same can be applied today. With emails, develop a great subject line. For videos, craft compelling titles.
- Be specific. Another famous copywriter, Claude Hopkins, wrote Scientific Advertising in 1923. One point in his book is to make specific claims instead general ones to persuade people. Tell people how and why you're the best.
- Test your results. Old school marketers such as Ogilvy and Caples understood the importance of testing different variables. Of course, today it's faster and more efficient to track metrics online.
- Close the sale. You hear a lot about a strong call-to-action or CTA. This is actually rooted in the idea of closing the sale, which applies to all types of selling and marketing. It's not enough to engage your audience if they don't take out their wallets or hit the 'buy' button!
Some enduring marketing principles are just as valid today as when they were first identified. And with the way technology is progressing, dazzling new possibilities are in our future. Hologram ads? Maybe campaigns done via robots? No matter what else changes, the fundamental principles of marketing are like human nature—they remain consistent.