When people think of marketing, they tend to think of the old glitz and glamour (Mad Men?) side of what marketing appears to be: advertising, commercials, websites and colorful brochures or collateral. And while that is a visible aspect of marketing execution, in reality it is only a small part of what a marketing professional can deliver for a business.
We are often asked by young, upstart talent in waiting, what area they should focus on in college to “get into” marketing after they graduate. The immediate inclination is to suggest they stay away from college marketing programs entirely. “Marketing” in itself is like “premed” as a course of study. It is so broad an area that until someone specializes, it is rendered almost useless. It would be better to focus completely on a specific avenue of discipline immediately instead of larger concepts, waiting for those larger concepts to come into play after they gain experience in the work world.
Aside from the almost certain initial disheartenment such a proclamation might provide, a better consideration is to suggest a more useful avenue of study, a path that may actually help businesses grow in a practical manner rather than theoretical one. And that is to recommend they focus on finance, lean process development or design.
Borrowed Culture of Marketing
A missionary acquaintance from Indonesia returns to the states every four to six years. In a recent visit he described how people from the country are being “Americanized” at extreme speeds. Instead of a normal cultural cycle of slow to moderate learning and unlearning, where errors and victories can be understood, the Indonesian culture has been introduced to hundreds of years of technology and social structure in less than 60 years. Children who use iPhones and video games as a norm are balanced by parents who don’t watch TV or use computers at all. That is to say, not only is there a proverbial firehose of culture hitting them, but more critically, it’s a culture that hasn’t earned its own history in a sense. Instead, the small country has injected the newly introduced ways into a people who didn’t do the hard work to get there. It is, plainly put, a borrowed culture. As a result, the “understanding” that accompanies time in a developing culture is lost. How to manage growth, economy, technology and other byproducts of culture acclimation tend to hit back harder than sometimes expected. Crime, for example, is one way the borrowed culture shows tension. Metropolitan areas such as Jakarta, and other locations like Aceh and Central Sulawesi are often cautionary destinations for westerners due to very high crime rates.
When it comes to brand building, marketing professionals have a difficult time agreeing on who or what controls the brand of a company. Some marketers lean towards the idea that the consumer controls the brand. What consumers say about the company is what makes the brand relevant. This describes the “perception is reality” take on branding. Other marketers feel the company controls the brand reflected in Henry Ford’s quote about automobiles. If Ford had listened to consumers, he would have made a faster horse, not a car. This reasoning tends to think company leadership in any marketing space outweighs consumer response or feedback. Without thought leadership within the company, there would be no brand to follow.
The truth, for business and the marketing professionals who help them, lies somewhere in between both extremes. Branding is controlled both by the company who has created it and the consumers who provide insight and feedback into what they feel the business brand is. The challenges a company faces in branding effectively reveal themselves when a company doesn’t believe in or understand the consequences of how to brand well in this dynamic.
Look at yourself in the mirror. What do you see? We never really see the same image others do. The reflection is, instead, the reverse of what others see. Curiously, how we emotionally connect to the visual presentation that is reflected (versus how others view us) is often far removed from other perceptions as well. When what we see before us is distorted even more than what would be considered reasonable—typified by deeply negative or critical feelings—we could be subject to a disorder called dysmorphia. Dysmorphia is based off the Greek word for “bad form” and means “malformation; an abnormality in the shape or size of a body part; also called dysmorphism,” as defined by Dictionary.com. Similar to a person who has dysmorphia, a company can have marketing dysmorphism.
The ability to develop substantial brand communication has suffered. It’s not necessarily the fault of the brands themselves but seems to rest on delivery and communication methods. Arriving in the last 10 years is an unprecedented accessibility to publication and consumers. Gone is the slow burn and thoughtful presentations brands relied on. In it’s place the quick, down and dirty availability of social media and online distribution is an often careless “push marketing” frenzy. More succinctly, in a world that proposes to deliver profundity in 140 characters and relies on large images and brief quotes to provide impact and substance for consumers, the ability to create deeper, long-lasting foundations for brand building has faulted.
How does someone who owns his or her own business become a more effective marketer? There are some important things to look at this summer that can help a business develop more pro “active” marketing implementation and become less focused on “after the fact” indicators. While it’s a good idea to know the response indicators of poor performance, relying on them for business decisions is not priming the business for success. Using leading indicators and creating success with known expectations is a more powerful position for any business marketing plan. It’ll help you now, and during the oncoming lull that summer can lead you to believe it is…but if you are active, isn’t.
While not exact in their estimates, grade school kids are aware the world spins fast enough to whisk around the solar system at incredible speeds (rotating at 1,000 miles per hour and 67,000 miles per hour around the solar system), and yet slow enough for us to remain balanced and fairly steady on our feet as we move throughout the day. Imagine the oddity or—even strangely interesting possibilities—if this truth came to a sudden, crashing halt. The entire population that didn’t happen to have a firm grip on something attached to earth would fling outwards, into space in one amazing, albeit terrifying “large step” for mankind.
The dynamic is something science fiction writers can toil on about. It’s also something smart business is aware of as they craft their next marketing strategy. The reality is at a moment’s notice the business world can stop spinning one direction and head another, and things can be tossed erratically into the air. Whether it’s a small but painful bad customer review, or something more significant like an expensive product release failure, as business men and women who try to remain balanced and steady on your feet, the dangers of being unprepared or simply not having the capacity to withstand such unexpected movements in the marketplace can create a catastrophic outcome. It requires agility in approach, exit strategy and metrics to fully prepare for best and worst case scenarios in the business world. It’s a contingency process that requires anticipation, planning (and then more planning), talent and execution to provide for a more fluid, responsive and likely successful implementation in any situation.
The big things we see aren’t really even the worst things we can prepared for. The slow, silent killers of marketing are the death of small business and very damaging to large producers. After all, what is the likelihood the earth stops spinning, and we all tumble outward?
What is the likelihood that employees lose the company money due to repetitive, unnecessary communications, or poor management of resources?
What is the likelihood you are spending (wasting?) marketing dollars on poor CRM tools, or ineffective outbound lead generation?
Do you have customized branding collateral or inconsistent design from a number of freelance outsources?
More akin to a leap year adjustment in our daily lives (another day in the year – what do we do?), these much smaller but more frequent dangers are the ones that can ultimately lead to a company’s undoing. And the ability to respond appropriately, to have checks in place to contain them, and to have an implementation strategy that mitigates risk are important to providing your business with the agility it needs to succeed.
Think about the Chipotle news from late 2015 and early 2016, where an E. coli scare amounted to millions in revenue loss as well as brand damage. Or harken back to an Eron from many years ago that shuttered an entire company built on the premise of successful business modeling. Quickly, would your company or business be able to withstand a devastating unbalance like those? Think smaller. Maybe you’re not looking at the millions and millions of a larger corporation. What about the loss of several thousand a month, or a blanket “hate” review from several clients or past customers? Or even smaller—would you be able to overcome a slow leak of revenue from a client who doesn’t pay on time, or doesn’t have the capacity to pay long term?
Whatever the changing environment or risk presents, there are practices a business can seek to understand in order to “ground” them in an ever-changing world. Some of those answers can be found in basic, but often not fully-realized strategic marketing deployments. Here are a few steps that may keep your world from spinning so much:
Create strategic marketing overview plans and initiatives that directly correlate to quarterly, semi-annual and annual milestones as a guide for monthly or daily task management. Without understanding where you are allocating resources in your strategy, you’ll continue to spend money poorly, or in chasing rabbit trails from whatever vendor happens to come your way. The deliberate nature of planning an overview can provide strong results from both sides of the dollar, the spend and the result of that spend.
Integrate your communications with your strategic overview plans. Accountability and transparency in your expectations by listing initiative tasks alongside your communications will greatly improve your marketing implementation. Don’t separate the actual work from the documentation of the work. Together they provide a clear, specific picture of where you are at any given time.
Understand your strategy. If you don’t have a marketing strategy, get one—not the advertise and spend money sort either. Rather, create a marketing strategy that includes advertising, team building and education, business objectives and initiatives, implementation via collateral and sales, and examine how each of those facets contribute to the success of your company’s financial goals.
Make everyone aware that revenue is the expected outcome from your marketing spend. Even if it isn’t immediate, the goal for developing any agility-oriented or responsive marketing plans should have metrics and be tied to financial implications.
Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything”. Are you willing to become more deliberate, accountable and steady in your marketing plans, preparing for the worst, the middle ground and the best? When you do you set yourself and your company up for a less dangerous world. That is to say – the business world remains dangerous, but you don’t.
Companies that blog have 434% more indexed pages. And companies with more indexed pages get far more leads. Unfortunately, people can be distracted by shiny round objects. With paid SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and organic SEO (Search Engine Optimization) increasingly playing a role in business success, it becomes especially easy to be dazzled by promises of number one page rank and high search listings – only to be caught off guard when the promises become excuses.
Have you ever been in a really horrible meeting? You sit there for hours thinking, I’ve got so much work to do and this is going nowhere. Worse than that, your peers and leaders are distracted by their phones buzzing, or department heads are arguing about which way to go with a particular idea and it reaches a heated, unprofessional level.
Years ago I worked for a book publisher. Once a quarter we had meeting to lay out the upcoming publishing plan for the next quarter. Approximately 20 people attended. There was a lot to cover in four hours or so. The first meeting I attended, I noticed a big, orange, bell (probably from a Pit game) positioned within reach of the president’s chair. Anyone in the room could ring the bell if someone went off scope of the meeting agenda. I remember a few times someone even rang the bell when the president drifted off course (to which everyone responded with laughter.)
A client recently asked me about his SEO (Search Engine Optimization). He was concerned about whether or not it was working for him with the recent changes Merge Left Marketing had made to his corporate site. Just a few days later, he called to share his excitement about a phone call he received and a significant sale he made, as a direct result of someone discovering his services via an internet search—specifically, it was content we had published to generate higher page rank and listings results.