A recent Harvard Business Review blog by Bill Lee — Marketing Is Dead — was, at least provocative; it has prompted a number of excellent conversation (maybe even a touch of consternation) in some quarters of the marketing community.

Lee’s assertion is that traditional marketing is increasingly ineffective. And if the conversation is about tools and tactics, it is difficult to argue the point. The execution of marketing strategy today does not look like the marketing of decades past. Or…in most cases, it shouldn’t.

But wherever the ability to connect and prompt action exists, the heart of marketing is alive and well. The dialogue precipitated by Lee’s post attests to the fact that — even in a marketplace as cluttered as the blogosphere — hit a target with a relevant message, and action is inevitable.

The Evolution of Tools and Tactics

Anytime we define marketing in terms of a tool — whether advertising circa David Ogilvy’s prime, or today’s newest social media platform — we significantly limit the degree to which change (or action) might occur.

Were we able, it would be interesting to eavesdrop on a strategy session with the likes of P.T. Barnum. A 21st century Barnum scheme to draw crowds would certainly differ from one of early vintage; but it’s a safe bet that the crowds would assemble. Barnum understood the basic formula.

Effective marketing is about identifying and connecting with a target, and moving the target to take action. The best methodology accomplishes this in the most efficient manner.

Even at the pinnacle of the broadcast and print industries’ reign as revered advertising channels for those with the requisite resources, most main street marketers experienced effective marketing efforts in the reach of word-of-mouth, the impact of dialogue, and the dynamism of community (or tribe).

What we might now term viral word-of-mouth has always been the most effective way to seed an idea and move a market. The good news for marketers is that with today’s tools, whether a global brand, a local service provider, or an entrepreneurial idea, the right conversation can have significant ramification.

Micro Marketing

A recent NBC Today Show feature told the story of Hannah Craig, a young woman in need of a kidney. While the conventional solution landed her name on a transplant list, Hannah’s cousin took to Facebook with her own marketing campaign. The post reached Hillary, a childhood friend of Hannah. Though the two had not seen each other for years, Hillary was moved…tested…and ultimately donated a kidney.

Not exactly traditional marketing. But the epitome of connecting, and engaging.

What has not changed, no matter how eloquent the message or pervasive the channel, is the price of failing to connect with a target.

Case-in-point — the baseball fan who arranged for his proposal of marriage to be broadcast on the Wrigley Field jumbotron during a Cubs game. The message was clear. The medium was grand. The only problem? The message appeared on the Jumbotron while the target was making a beer run.

Math no longer defines who can venture into the arena; we are all marketers. The tools change. These days they may change almost daily, as do the concerns, habits and accessibility of the audience.

But if marketing seems ineffective, check for an identified target, and a relevant message. The opportunities to connect and engage are more plentiful today than ever before.