Dear CMO:
This is an old theme and one we’ve certainly talked about before, but it’s worth re-hashing again — particularly in light of Ad Age broadcasting it in two separate but closely placed articles. The basic argument is the “digital, one-to-one, e-enabled” versus the “sell something” school of marketing.
(Disclaimer: look, I know. I get it. This isn’t a zero-sum game here. But when it’s presented as one, I like to point out that it’s not. You get this, too. But, before I take too much of the wind out of the memo here, let me present the rest of the argument. Back to our story…).

The first piece, from Jeff Gundersen, is his piece on how CMO’s without deep experience in digital media are doomed:

We are moving toward a marketing world that is driven by a direct-marketing opt-in, predictive modeling and tracking approach. Marketing in the future will not be about the masses but about understanding micro-segments of customers and using tools that enable marketing to get more granular and take campaigns to one-to-one level.

We are living through the death of traditional brand management. Consumers are taking away less from brand advertising and more from customer experience. What this means is that marketing, advertising and communication processes are changing quickly and CMOs need to change their core competencies quickly to remain relevant in the digital world.

Then, from Brian Steinberg and Jeremy Mullman, we hear that Coke’s new CMO is the embodiment of a return to basics with a heavy emphasis on channel:

After years of veering among different high-profile marketing executives, each of whom proselytized about a different high-minded marketing concept, Coca-Cola Co. has gone back to fundamentals.

Mr. Tripodi is expected to espouse sales drivers over image campaigns. He’s a friendly, relatively ego-free guy who’ll likely be a friend to the bottlers. And if he does become a champion of any one channel, it’ll be old-reliable, point-of-sale.

Mr. Tripodi… recently criticized marketers who seek to dazzle without goosing sales or building recall. “We have been seduced by the clever and the cute, the image without the substance,” he said in a recent speech at an Association of National Advertisers event. “We are more concerned with production value than consumer value.”

Now, in fairness, I don’t know if Mr. Tripodi is a new media guy or not. It sounds from what I read about him in Ad Age that his chops are in messaging and channel engagement, all of it focused on driving more incremental growth at the point of sale. But it begs the question: is it really all about one-to-one, analytics-based, digital marketing? Or is it about selling more stuff?

I’d pick the latter. Unless someone can correct me, I don’t think there’s much digital media fever in channel-based consumer packaged goods, for example. In high-involvement products and services that are sold through direct channels, life is different and digital chops define relevance and irrelevance. But I think we need to be clear that new media — or any media, for that matter — is a slave to the very Tripodian world-view of results over fluff.

If I were marketing gum (or soft drinks), I’d be less concerned about “digital” and more concerned with “channel.”

If I were in consumer electronics, I’d be 80% focused on “channel” and 20% on testing ways of engaging consumers with “digital,” mosting for storytelling, brand building, and limited e-commerce.

If I were in insurance, I’d be 99% focused on the “digital” acquisition of new customers and 1% focused on my agents (I’m not, to be clear, and if I was, I’d withhold the right to change the weighting after a few moments of reflection, too).

If I were in a B2B world selling enterprise software, I’d be split between the two.

The blinding insight — to me, at least — is that the “digital or bust” mentality is fine unless you’re not in that business. It’s presented much like “blogging for business” by many: that it’s “necessary” and only dinosaurs with blinders on fail to see the clear benefits. The problem with this view — for both “digital” and “bloggers for business” types — is that it ain’t necessarily so. It depends strongly on the nuances of your industry, company culture, and customer base. Reflect carefully on your needs and respond accordingly.

In other words, one begets the other. Selling stuff is more important than the methods you use (all things being equal, ethical considerations aside, void where prohibited, etc. You get the picture).