The Marketing Guy

Rooting for Good Marketing Since 2009

Archive for Marketing

What if you Don’t Know Why Your Marketing is Working?

My wife, a budding writer with her first book out (and doing really well!) was discussing an interesting conundrum with me this morning. Her sales are going up and she’s selling more and more books every day on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but cannot attribute the rise in sales to any particular marketing strategy she’s deployed.

She’s purchased keywords, run digital ads on her target audience websites, and gotten a lot of great reviews, but has not seen any ridiculous amounts of click-through’s, there’s no New York Times reviews, and at least on Amazon, she’s not anywhere near the top 10 bestseller list (she was #1 for a week on BarnesandNoble.com for contemporary romance, but that was a few weeks ago).

So as a former brand manager, she’s perplexed. Should she chalk this up to good luck? She’s unable to get analytics from the online sites that tell her who’s downloading the book and where they live. Is it word or mouth? Did some travel editor write a feature on London and people did a search online?

In any case, although it’s a frequent challenge of entrepreneurs to get this type of insight, larger companies often have this same problem. Often times the solution is presented as “you need business intelligence,” but that’s only the answer if you have the context behind what the numbers are telling you.

The point of all this is that even in today’s hyper-connected world, where feedback is immediate and anything you say can go viral with one click, there’s still a lot we don’t know. That’s hard to accept for many of us, as it feels like with all the data around us that we *should* be able to find out. But as connected as we all are, this example just goes to show that there’s a strong element of the “unknown” that is still a part of our world today.

The Name of the Game is Execution

Given the crowded marketplace that most companies compete in today, there are no shortage of competitors touting the same features, functionality, and customer benefits to prospective buyers. Great marketing is often done around the edges, when you can notice a seam, a forthcoming trend, or developing theme that you take advantage of first and establish a leadership position.

But even that lasts for only so long. Take Apple and the iPad for example—as revolutionary as the tablet has become, the market will soon be flooded with new offerings (including, one must assume, something from my esteemed employer—fingers crossed!) which offer user benefits and features that, on first glance, make all the products look and feel pretty similar.

This happens a lot in B2B marketing as well. A company will notice an emerging trend and if they’re smart, they’ll take advantage of the trend quietly so as not to draw attention while they have the opportunity to themselves. But eventually, an industry analyst will write an article, a blogger will post a news item, and a new job posting will appear online that gives a sign as to the opportunity the company is seeing.

As marketers this can be a frustrating experience, when a competitor sees the same opportunity you did and comes into your market with the same value proposition, benefits, and feature set. And in markets where there’s no clear dominant leader (let’s leave the tablet market aside for just a minute), what determines “who wins” the market is often not about marketing anymore, it’s about execution. Are you able to close more business than your competition? Are you able to position yourself as “the inevitable winner” in the market? Can you demonstrate not just feature superiority, but “evidential” superiority?

What often fuels marketing success is not what the product or service actually does, but the benefit that the product or service actually brings to the user—and in turn, how your product or service brings more benefits than the competition. Often times as marketers we do a great job a pipeline loading, driving awareness, and a lot of the marketing activities at the beginning of the sales cycle. But increasingly customers are making purchases not on the basis of which company has the best airport advertising, but on who else is using the product with proof points that the product actually does what it purports to do.

The marketing battle today has increasingly moved to the trenches, and the ability to repeatedly execute is now key to a successful product strategy. It’s a great time to look at how you are executing with your product line-up as well, and determine how improving your execution can improve your marketing capabilities.

How “Baked In” is Marketing to Your Product?

I found a really interesting article on line at warc.com (a great marketing clearinghouse website) today entitled “Brands seek to create “product experiences.”” It’ definitely worth a read, and brought up a great point that I’ve seen repeatedly in companies of all types—that being that it’s much easier to market your product or service to the customer if marketing is not treated as an afterthought or an add-on to the go-to-market process.

Too often a product is devised and readies, and *then* marketing is brought in to somehow figure out a way to differentiate it in a very crowded marketplace, where the average consumer has the attention span of a flea, given the sheer number of messages they’re bombarded with all day long.

I’ve talked to lots of marketers who get incredibly burned out by being called on to rescue a product launch or come up with a new tagline or positioning only when the product or service isn’t doing well in the marketplace or when it’s too late to change anything about the offering that may help it be better positioned to the prospective customer base. As we all know, if you’re coming into the game that late, the cause is likely already a lost one.

Instead, and as the article points out with some classic consumer-oriented examples like Apple and Virgin, consumers today respond to experiences, not just features. They want to be associated with products and services that speak to their aspirations, values, or personal view of themselves or the company they represent. And it’s marketing that’s ultimately responsible for creating the image and the feeling that the customer ultimately responds to, that provides what I call “the compelling reason to purchase,” whether you’re marketing to a consumer, a business, or a governmental agency.

To really achieve its potential then, marketing can’t be an afterthought, and it can’t be something that’s tolerated just because it’s the vehicle to launch a product or service into the marketplace. Instead, it needs to be “baked in” to the product development process, to ensure that the experience you’re trying to create for the consumer goes hand in hand with the promise of your product from the outset, not when it’s too late to make any difference to the marketplace.

Do You Know What Your Competitors Do Well?

I was speaking with a partner of ours this week about how his business was going, if it was recovering, outlook for the 2nd half of the year—the usual topics you cover during breaks between conference sessions. What made us late for the next session was a discussion that started with just two of us, but ended with about 8 people in the circle—talking about our competition.

While at first my discussion companion was very modest about his chances in the marketplace against our main competitors, as our discussion continued and the circle enlarged, it became clear that he had a strong understanding not just of where the competition was weak and could be attacked, but where they were strong as well, and where he knows we could be in some trouble given our own portfolio of offerings and capabilities.

It struck me as both a grown-up discussion, and one that we don’t often have enough as marketers. We’re constantly on the attack, looking for weak spots in our competition, and pouncing on every misstatement, earnings miss, and less than stellar press coverage. But to craft effective marketing strategy that really drives results, it’s important also to know what the competition does really well. What are they best at? Why do customers choose their products and services over yours? And how can you combat their plans with yours?

Game theory and scenario playing are important tools in the marketing and branding strategy quivers of marketers today. The difference, as Seth Godin would put it, between being a Linchpin and adding value to your organization and just preparing the same old marketing plan can often times be the insight and action that you deliver by knowing not just what your company is great at doing, but what your competitors do well also.

Ensuring your Marketing is not “One Size Fits All”

Many marketing departments these days are masters at churning out fact sheets, product demonstrations, customer references, and execute a PowerPoint presentations with the best of them. But if you ever get out to the field and spend time with the people selling the product—the people whose salary depends on closing the deal—you’ll find that the marketing materials they use and need can differ greatly vs. the corporate bill of materials that gets refreshed on a yearly basis.

As such, those of us in a corporate marketing function are often guilty of the worst marketing crime—not understanding our customer—when we continue to produce the same materials over and over without a thought as to the customer behavior at different points of the sales cycle. We somehow forget that what they need move from a person doing research on the web to a full-blown prospect to a customer is vastly different. Why then doesn’t our marketing reflect this fact?

Sometimes it’s due to our requirement to drive marketing to a common denominator of delivery—after all, everyone wants to know about our product’s features, it’s pricing, who else is using it, and why it’s better than the competition, right? Well, yes. But often times not all at once. In the traditional sales funnel, throwing all of our marketing in at the top layer and not saving anything for the last meeting when you really need it can be the difference between providing the compelling reason to purchase, and a lost deal.

If you haven’t had the chance lately, I’d highly recommend doing some shadow work with some of your sales reps—inside and telesales, a sales specialist, the account manager, the technical product manager, whoever is on the front lines of dealing with your customer. What you’ll find is that they use marketing very differently depending on where the customer is in the sales cycle, saving their ace in the hole—which could be their best reference, special pricing, or advance access, just for the right minute when they need it. They never give everything away up front. So why do we do that with our marketing plans?

Although it will take some extra time, your ability to customize the message for the right time you’re engaging with the customer is often the key to standing out from the competition. Think about your customer buying cycle—how many different stages do they go through before they pull the trigger? When have they made the “mental” decision to purchase and transition from research to validation of their choice? And more importantly, how does this transition from buying stage to buying stage impact the marketing materials and strategies you should employ?

Those teams operating on all cylinders know that marketing in today’s marketing environment is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. The need to nurture a prospect over many months and through many early buying stages differs greatly when the purchase decision is ready to be made. Excellence in marketing demands that we are not only able to recognize the difference between stages of the buying cycle, but are able to strategize and execute our plans to win these customers to our side.

The Fragility of Your Brand and its Impact on your Marketing

With resources still being cut to the bone, there aren’t too many companies out there with extra marketing dollars just sitting around waiting to be spent (unless you’re rolling in the iPad money these days—but I digress). Now on the one hand this makes for more resourceful marketing—unleashing creativity and trying out new and unconventional activities that can take your business in new and exciting directions. But it also removes most of the margin for error that marketers have when something unexpected happens.

We’ve talked in this space before about the challenge of managing your message when increasing amounts of marketing are out of your control. The social media explosion of information and access means that you’re one bad customer experience and a video camera away from a viral video that hits millions of people instantly through Twitter. For us marketers then, this puts a huge emphasis on making our companies and brands as strong as possible, so that we can withstand the inevitable surprises and assaults from the marketplace and irate customers when something goes wrong.

Pick up any one of a thousand of books on branding these days, and you’ll read a lot about building your brand, but not nearly as much on maintaining it. But the maintenance, while often less glamorous and exciting, helps you sustain these downward cycles. So at your next quarterly marketing review, ask a question of your team—first, think of a worst case scenario for your company—product recall, defect, viral video—whatever it is for you. Then ask for a straight up or down vote—would our brand and company be able not just to survive, but recover from such an event? The answer you provide will say a lot about the fragility of your brand and the type of marketing you need to be engaged in right now.

Now don’t think you’re alone if you aren’t able to truly answer in the affirmative. Again, most of us don’t have the resources and sheer amount of equity that the big brands do—for many of us, we’re just a few unhappy big customers away from having a real problem on our hands. But if you don’t think you’d be able to survive the “big crash,” have a realistic conversation on what you need to do to be less fragile. What steps can you take, what programs can you initiate, but PR can you generate that will start to build up some equity in case bad news occurs?

We’re seeing examples all around us these days of what happens when brands don’t have anything in reserve to sustain the backlash of the marketplace. Take heed of their issues and ensure you have a plan in place to start stocking up.

“He Didn’t See it Coming:” Staying on top of your Market and Your Marketing

There was recently a long serving politician here in the United States who was defeated in a primary election by another member of his own party. He’d been in office for decades, and was a member of the Washington establishment. One of his colleagues was interviewed after the election, and while he talked in glowing terms about the many accomplishments of this congressman, he lamented the fact that he was totally blindsided by his constituents—the quote “he didn’t see it coming”—the title of this post, was the final line in the story.

But how could he NOT have seen it coming? With the anti-establishment tide sweeping both parties and general unhappiness with how things are going in the USA right now, even the most established of incumbents should be looking over their shoulder—again regardless of their political party—to ensure they have a finger on the pulse of the people they serve.

So it is with organizations, brands, and our marketing today. We could argue (based on their PR response thus far and how they’ve totally lost control of the narrative) that BP “didn’t see it coming” with the magnitude of the deep sea oil spill.  And yet they’ve racked up more safety violations than any other company drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  Did they really not have a marketing and PR plan to put into place on the off-chance that something like this could happen?

Or what about the fine folks at Facebook, who’s site recently passed Google (albeit in a snapshot in time) as the #1 place to search.  With such a large global community of users that’s been on edge since they started tinkering with their privacy settings, did they really not think that such a wholesale change in their policies would not spiral out of their control?

My point is not to pick on these companies, but to use them as very public examples of how we as marketers need to ensure that we don’t get caught off-guard.  There is no longer any filter or bar to clear to make news—it only takes a free Twitter account and a direct message to the right influencer, and just like that, the message is viral.  And the thing is that none of our companies are immune to it.  None of them.  I recently led a CIO panel on a variety of topics pertaining to IT challenges of companies today, and it was startling to see the lack of understanding by so many of these very accomplished and distinguished leaders of the impact of social media and external influences on their industry and company. One such CIO, however, seemed to get it—he had been passed a Tweet with a hashtag that pertained to his industry, which activated this huge community of people that had an opinon on the matter at hand—and guess what, some of them started mentioning his company. He got lucky, because he wasn’t in the direct line of fire.  But it taught him a lesson on what *could* happen if he wasn’t prepared in the future.

Now he has a plan in place. And while you can’t plan for every scenario and potential problem, as marketers we are now being called on to both have a process ready, and be accountable for monitoring and driving the conversation where we can.  The days of “we didn’t see that coming” are gone—we have no more excuses.