Must dot-com marketers make peace with their legacy?
"I was writing ads to convince people to buy things they really did not need," former dot-com advertising copywriter and new Peace Corps volunteer Jessica Hsu recently told the Chicago Tribune. The story was about a sharp rise in Peace Corps volunteers among the Silicon Valley set.
For starters, you have to applaud the effective use of marketing by the San Francisco office of the Peace Corps. Last March, according to the Tribune, the office "placed ads in an alternative weekly that read: "Dot-com dot-gone? Now it is time to network with the real world: Peace Corps." Within weeks, the local office was interviewing 40 applicants per month, twice the usual number.
At the same time, this story is troubling. Like other disillusioned young people re-evaluating their 20-something lives in the aftermath of the Internet boom, Hsu’s comments reflect a perspective that advertising and marketing, especially among Internet companies, is a game of smoke and mirrors. Regrettably, even some marketers and copywriters (whose short-lived dot-com jobs may have been among their first business experiences) will now forever associate "marketing" with schemes designed to capture Web site traffic or investors.
True, many dot-com start-ups promised more than they could deliver. And as readers of BtoB know, failure to fulfill marketing promises is a fatal blow to building a brand.
Why did so many Internet-centric companies break this cardinal rule, thereby ruining their chances for a long-term, sustainable business?
I’d say there were two causes. First, there was the now-defunct "first-mover" theory of Internet business, which held that the first in a category would invariably dominate. If you believed this—and many did—you spent wildly and rapidly on advertising to get your name, your site, your brand recognized as the category leader.
The more profound mistake made by these Internet-centric businesses was to assume they could achieve volume first and sort out other details later. Ask yourself this: Did even one defunct dot-com have a plan as to how it would market its goods and services two, three or five years out? I strongly doubt it. Long-range planning was pushed aside while they frantically chased volume.
BtoB publishes stories for marketers committed to the long haul. A great starting point is our annual list of top media strategists, a dozen professionals who have successfully adapted marketing fundamentals to changing technology and business conditions. Profiles of the "Best & Brightest" begin on Page 17