The principals of marketing don’t change. It’s still getting people to know, like, and trust you. But what works for marketing today has changed a lot, and continues to change, as technology levels the playing field and companies and people intermingle on even terms. Here’s what I see working:
Winners are sparing their target markets the tedium of old-fashioned slogan-based value proposition shouting, like a hack with a megaphone. We’ve been immunized. We fast forward, mute, unfollow, or – the worst case for marketers – ignore. Nobody clicks online ads, and millennials don’t even see them. We have to spare people the self-serving one-way shouting.
The technological change makes us all channels, all publishers, individuals, small business, and big brands alike. We’re competing for attention. We won’t get any attention if we’re just boring. We have to legitimately share something useful, funny, or interesting. Otherwise we get ignored. Everybody has lots of choices. The informercial is boring and obvious. We have to offer something real.
It’s a great big conversation and people sense self interest and turn it off. The winners in a competition for attention are the ones that actually care about the people they serve. Participate. Engage. Have presence. Or you are irrelevant.
Well that’s dumb: This is a true story, although I changed the names.
Jack does sales and marketing for Acme Widgets. Acme’s a big company. Jack’s been there for years, he has clout, but he’s not a VP. He likes the product and lots of people in the channels, some of the people he works with.
Until recently he ran a blog about widgets and how to use them. He did it on his own time, under his own name, but his content focused on Acme products, how to use them, how to sell them, etc. He included tips, case studies, and related news, and all positive and upbeat.
No longer. Acme told him to stop it. They had him take off the logos and any indications that his blog might have been officially sponsored.
I think that’s a dumb move. I’m guessing they’re worried about controlling the brand, or maybe about somebody having a piece of the brand outside of the legal control. Maybe some higher-ups are nervous, maybe even jealous, or worried about who gets what credit. And maybe I’m wrong on this point. I have no idea what the corporate explanation was. I just saw the formal announcement.
I think it’s a great example of people wanting control instead of leadership.
I think they should have given him a bonus and a budget to work with, maybe at the same time establishing guidelines to keep the corporate branding people happy.
Is it really just big-company behavior? Be honest: would you do that in your business? You think not, but I posted here years ago where one small business was uncomfortable with an employee who was taking “too much ownership.” It happens.
If we can only get 1% of the $4 billion market, we have a $40 million business.
But you won’t. Nobody ever gets the small percentage of the large market. I hate those tops-down market projections.
What happens instead, I think, is that markets are like organisms that are constantly growing and then dividing themselves into smaller markets. Think of how many different kinds of computers there are, or automobiles, or restaurants … every market seems to have started as a piece that was sliced off of a bigger market.
And I love that way of thinking about markets. Successful companies create new markets. Then competition, the copycats, jump in, and successful companies either fend them off, deal with it, or create yet another new market.
Don’t aim for a tiny piece of a huge market. Create your own new market. Divide and conquer.
“if I have a marketing plan, do I need (or want) a business plan too?” Good question. And so is its opposite question too, “if I have a business plan, do I also need (or want) a marketing plan?”
As for a lot of these planning questions, you’re going to get different answers from different people. There’s no consensus on this. But here’s my answer:
Marketing is critical to business, and every business plan has a lot of marketing plan in it. There’s no need to keep the marketing separate from the rest of the planning. The marketing plan is an extremely important part of the business plan. No need to do it separately.
That is, however, unless you are one of those people who are responsible for marketing, but not for the whole company. You don’t manage cash or financial strategy or ownership of the business. Then your job is marketing and related functions like sales and customer service and branding and social media and SEO, and so forth. You ask for the resource, and somebody else reviews, prioritizes, and gives you that resource or a reason why not. You probably have to manage expenses and show how they relate to sales and the health of the company. You probably have to show how those expenses make good business sense. You should probably be doing marketing planning, not the whole business planning; just your subset.
So to me, at least, the marketing planning is different from the business planning because it’s a subset. It doesn’t deal with financial health or financial strategy. It should have projections for sales, cost of sales, and sales and marketing expenses. It doesn’t project overall cash flow or the projected balance sheet. It probably deals with personnel, but just the related personnel, not the whole company personnel or larger personnel strategies.
A smart person I trust told me that lists of 5 or 10 points do better in readership than lists of any other number. Strange, I suppose, but I can work with it. So I’ve taken 13 Ways to Instantly Motivate Your Target Market by Alex Mathers of Red Lemon Club, and cut it down to 10.
Truth is, though, 9 3/4 is the real number. Because I like the connection of that number with wizardry (ref. the illustration here) and I’m not sure about one of my 10. I’m not all that pragmatic: Cutting three of them wasn’t hard. I just plain didn’t like these three:
1. Create the impression of scarcity
2. Build a sense of obligation
5. Evoke desired emotions
They remind me of classic old-style advertising, before the world changed. Sell ’em the sizzle and all that. And another reference here to wizardry. Alex explains them well though, so click this link if you’re interested.
And the remaining 10 points are listed here in Alex’s original order.
3. Express yourself
This is the new world of social media in business, which I really like, because it allows us to have relationships with people in companies, rather than just with companies. For example, the way Shashi Bellamkonda (@shashib) presents himself as a person, while still representing Network Solutions, on Twitter. As Angela LoSasso (@AngelaAtHP) does for Hewlett-Packard, or Stephanie Greenwood (@stephgreenkc) does for Sprint. And of course my special favorite, Megan Berry (@MeganBerry) of Mobclix (my daughter).
4. Limit options
I’ve dealt with the problem of too many choices a lot. I agree with Alex on what he says here:
By cutting down on the choices you offer to people, whether this be all the products you want to sell them, or in the various services you might offer, you will reduce the issue of ‘decision paralysis’, which restricts one’s ability to make a decision at all. By minimizing choice, options become clearer and easier.
6. Tell stories
Yes, absolutely. I would have made this number one on my list. Alex says it well, but the best on this is All Marketers Are Liars, the classic book by Seth Godin. And the title, by the way, is ironic: he talks about authentic stories, not lies.
7. Get people to make a small step
Alex talks about the psychology of small commitments:
So, if you provide the ability to leave comments or feedback on your site, for example, this can lead to people taking further action in committing to you if the opportunity is there.
8. Activate the brain’s survival instinct
Honestly I would have left this one out too, for the same reasons I left out 1, 2, and 5, if not for the goal of having a list of 10. It makes me uncomfortable. Try this on:
Three things are linked closely to the this survival trigger: sex, food and danger. Consider incorporating these themes and images relating to them into the headlines you write, your articles, images you include on your blog and in the work you create to grab attention and motivate people to act.
See, for me, I’m not happy with headlines about sex, food, or danger, followed by a marketing message. That’s ugly.
So with that in the background I read with relish Management by Imagination on the Harvard Business Review’s The Conversation blog. Here’s the lead:
The perception that good management is closely linked to good measurement runs deep. How often do you hear these old saws repeated: “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count”; “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”; “If you can’t measure it, it won’t happen”? We like these sayings because they’re comforting. The act of measurement provides security; if we know enough about something to measure it we almost certainly have some control over it.
But however comforting it can be to stick with what we can measure, we run the risk of expunging something really important. What’s more, we won’t see what we’re missing because we don’t know what it is that we don’t know. By sticking simply to what we can measure, we come to imagine a small and constrained world in which we are prisoners of a “reality” that is in fact an edifice we’ve unknowingly constructed around ourselves.
The Harvard post goes on to question the more extreme exercises of metrics:
if you stick to measuring what you can already measure, you cannot create a future that is different than the past.
On the other hand, there’s no denying that the underlying mathematics of computing, as applied on the Web, are total luxury of measurement in today’s business world, especially when compared to what we all did as recently as the 1980s and early 1990s. Back then we’d spend the marketing money on ads and direct mail and such, and then hope for the best, waiting weeks and months to get at best a distorted view of results. Now we get clicks and conversions and return on investment almost instantly.
When I worked as a wire service journalist in the 1970s, the turn of a headline made a huge difference. So we crossed our fingers and hoped it would work. We’d find out the next day. Today the industry leaders like the Huffington Post test headlines, and adjust them, in real time.
Conclusion: I love the truth of case by case judgment of so much of real business. Know the rules, follow them when it makes sense, and break them when it makes sense. Paradox and contradiction are the spice of life. And good business.
Or, if you prefer, take this, straight from the Harvard blog, as a conclusion:
We need to get away from all those old sayings about measurement and management, and in that spirit I’d like to propose a new wisdom: “If you can’t imagine it, you will never create it.” The future is about imagination, not measurement. To imagine a future, one has to look beyond the measurable variables, beyond what can be proven with past data.
I’m amazed at what some people put forward as ideas and proposals and suggestions. I can feel your pain, I think, if you’re trying to drum up business during this recession. Don’t make it harder for yourself.
Technically, start your letter with “You.” Start your email, start your phone call, start your tweet with “You.” As in “You are,” or “you need,” or “you want.”
Metaphorically, figuratively, the same thing. Call it empathy. Understanding what the other person wants. You’re selling, they’re not; so put it in their terms. In letters, emails, phone calls, whatever, start with benefits. Not benefits for you, but benefits for the other person across the table. How is this going to be good for the person you’re addressing?
Please, do your basic homework. There’s so much information available on the Web. When selling to a company, or looking for a job, know what they do — what they sell, to whom.For example don’t ever, for example, suggest somebody replace their own content with your content on the same topic. They probably like their own content. What a waste of time that is. Amazingly, though, it happens all the time.
(An aside here, that I can’t resist adding: I was with a friend watching our kids play on the soccer field. An annoying person came up, interrupted our conversation, talked about how great his kid is. As soon as that ended, the person walked away, my friend turned to me and said, “I still like my kid better.” We all do, don’t we.)
Use the party metaphor, as in what you bring to the party. How is what you’re selling going to help my business? What can you bring to the party?
In the job search context, don’t tell them how much you want the job; tell them what you can offer them; preferably, something they need, but don’t have. That’s hard for the entry-level jobs, but even there, how are you different? You can add later how much you love their company or want the job, but first, what benefit do they get?
So, it comes up because I get emails asking how to write business proposals, and then I get emails suggesting business deals that make absolutely no sense. If they’d seen our website, they’d never propose that.
Start your proposal with benefits that your buyer will get.
The best salesperson I ever worked with had one outstanding quality: he listened.
Almost 20 Years ago I developed a software product called Forecaster. You start with an empty chart. Then you assign values to vertical and horizontal. Then you draw a line with your mouse, and Forecaster generates the numbers that correspond to the line.
It was built as something you could use in a business plan. Grab the chart as an illustration, put the numbers into your clipboard, and paste them into Excel (or Lotus 1-2-3, because this was 1989).
But: it took three sentences to explain Forecaster. And that, I’m sure, was the problem.
Forecaster wasn’t successful in the market. It didn’t sell itself. On the contrary, it took me explaining to sell it. We didn’t have a marketing budget; in fact, we back then was just me and my wife, with no outside financing. Not even the reviewers understood what it did.
One comment that came up a lot: "but that’s cheating." As if getting the numbers from the line was morally wrong. You’re supposed to draw the line from the numbers, and vice-versa. Say, what? Why?
The Moral of the Story
It’s very hard, and expensive, to market something that you can’t explain in a simple sentence. It’s like rowing upstream.
Competition can be good for you. It’s nice to have competition to help you explain what you’re doing. Jeff Atwood had a good piece on that earlier this week, riffing on the idea of the arch enemy.
With that next great new thing you want to build a business around, test yourself: can you explain it in a sentence? No? That’s a worry.
The Rest of the Story
I took it up to a small exhibition of Excel add-ons up in Redmond, WA. Microsoft product managers saw it and liked it. It was built into the next version of Excel. (And, lest you read this as an accusation, there was no violation of copyright, nothing illegal or immoral, they just liked the idea and added it in. It’s called progress.) And, as far as I can tell, nobody got it. Nobody used it. I never saw it commented in a review, or in some expert lesson.
Years later, we built Forecaster into Business Plan Pro. It’s still there, still as powerful as ever; and still hard to explain.