‘Campaign’ is no longer the right word – or the right thinking

Let’s drop the word ‘campaign’ writes by Daniel Aunvig, it’s holding us back.


I’m often intrigued by the way in which the English language is batted around. So many individual words have had their original meaning co-opted in ways that would have dumbfounded people hearing them used, or reading them, only a relatively few years ago. We are reminded, of course, that English is very much a living language but it’s all too easy to be unthinking at times and I reflected on this recently, because I see the word ‘campaign’ wildly over-used in a marketing context.

As I see it, the word ‘campaign’ is now largely out of place in that context. It just isn’t the right description of what the design and execution of marketing should be all about these days.

These days, enlightened marketers aspire to build ongoing conversations with their customers. They create and pursue a vision of the ‘always on’ marketing environment which nurtures, guides and provides personal and relevant interactions through each of their individual customer’s lifecycles. Everything is dependent on and shaped by the customer’s actual behaviour.

I don’t think of that as campaigning. To me, campaigning is very much a product-centric term – and a pretty outdated one at that. It’s the word you use when your organisation has a product or a service that needs to go out looking for potential customers you want exposed to it.

If we still talk about campaigning we do so as a function of legacy thinking. The concept dates from a product oriented world in which brand managers were the kings and would do anything and everything to maximise the returns in their own limited part of the business – easily compromising what was right for the customer in the medium to longer term. Campaigning also implies start and stop dates and is generally associated with mass mailings and email blasts.

The software industry is equally out of step with the terminology. Many of us market and sell what are labelled ‘campaign management’ software solutions and, purely as labelling, that’s fair enough. But what we ask the companies to which we are selling those solutions is not what campaigns they are looking to automate and schedule but, rather, how they want to better engage with their customers to increase market share.

Let’s drop the word. It puts us in the wrong mindset – mentally pulling us back to a place where we should no longer want to be. Sure, we’ll sometimes launch a product that we want to tell the whole world about but the great majority of our communication across a customer’s lifecycle really shouldn’t be campaign-based. We should be conceiving and conducting ongoing customer communication programmes that listen to what the data tells us about the status of the customer and kicks in with the right actions. And I emphasise ‘actions’ – not necessarily only offers – but actions right across all marketing, sales and service. Actions that are orchestrated both as outbound communications and equally as inbound treatments ready for when the customer chooses to engage at a time that best suites them in one of the interfaces we have made available.

Yes, I know it’s a terminology thing but I genuinely believe that it’s holding the data-driven marketing industry back. It’s not a given anymore that lightly segmented direct marketing campaigns are a first step on the data-driven maturity ladder. After all, inbound communication is clearly the new battlefield for the customer experience.

So – are genuine customer communication programs enabling your call centre or digital channels to enjoy a winning edge for your organisation? The decision is up to you but let’s all scrap that no longer appropriate word. You know which one I mean.


Daniel Aunvig
BY Daniel Aunvig ON 11 September 2014
Daniel Aunvig is head of customer intelligence for SAS.