Recently I was discussing a potential marketing project with the CEO of an engineering company. He was looking for a marketing agency to help grow revenue for his business and develop a more scalable customer acquisition process for his company’s sales team.
I described our 4-stage process when onboarding any new client. Diagnosing the underlying issues, understanding the market space and competitive landscape, developing a strategy, then putting together a tactical plan to deliver on that strategy. Our process is nothing particularly revolutionary – most agencies follow a similar plan in order to be able to deliver the expected sales results.
At the end of my pitch he turned round and asked me, “So what ideas do you have in mind? Facebook ads? Videos? Something else?”
I replied that, at this point, I didn’t know what tactics we would be using. The tactical plan would only become clear after we looked at the insights coming out of the diagnosis and discovery phases. We needed to have tangible information on the business, customers, the competition, and the industry before being able to formulate a plan that delivered on the business goals.
I asked him some basic business questions about positioning, customer targeting, product distribution, pricing, and sales channels. His answer floored me: He said that he didn’t think such questions were relevant to what we were discussing.
W the actual F. To say my heart sank would be an understatement.
A Lack Of Board-Level Marketing Representation
It’s no wonder the function is held in such low regard when most managers and business owners think marketing is just about tactical stuff. That it’s about ads, or blogs, or promotions, or social media, or whatever new shiny technology is this week’s media darling.
Yes, marketing includes all of the above. But it’s so much more. In fact, that stuff doesn’t even cover the more important items every marketer should be aiming to contribute to the business. And this is what 90% of businesses still don’t understand – or want to understand.
During the course of my work I speak with business owners pretty much every single day. With very few exceptions, most of them confuse ‘Marketing’ with ‘Promotion’, or ‘Communications’, or ‘Public Relations’.
The danger, moving forward, is that the historic role of marketing – as a key component of a organization’s strategic execution – will disappear forever. We’ll be left with Martech-driven, cookie-cutter campaigns producing ever lower returns – and where marketing will get the blame.
It’s no wonder the life expectancy of a Marketing Director today is just 18 months. Or that less than 4% of companies have CMOs on their boards – even while the ones that do show a 3% increase in shareholder value return.
The inevitable response from many CEOs is the board is focused on strategic issues rather than tactical ones. Since marketing efforts follow company strategy, they assume there’s no point having representation at board level.
Not only is such thinking outdated, it’s positively dangerous.
Marketing Is So Much More Than Pretty Pictures
Marketing brings the customer voice to the table. Not only is this important for future product and sales strategy. It (should) include insights and recommendations on real-world, tangible metrics like Customer Lifetime Value and Customer Acquisition Cost.
Moreover many companies today are increasingly looking to provide a more integrated customer experience. Breaking down internal silos like IT, sales, customer service, support – and even accounts – to deliver a more cohesive presentation to the customer. It should be obvious that having input from someone who actually understands marketing at a strategic level has become even more crucial.
Sure, that means marketers need to step up their game and talk the language of finance. But it also means company boards need to acknowledge marketing’s strategic role in the bigger picture, and demonstrate it with board-level CMO appointments.
Strategy Comes First, Tactics Come Later
Today’s tactical, invariably technology-based distractions get all the headlines. Tech such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality. Artificial Intelligence etc. are missing the entire point.
Real marketing is firstly about having a deep and fundamental understanding of your customer. After that, it’s coming up with a strategy designed to aid your business increase sales in the market you’re in. The sexy bells and whistles are, of course, an essential part of the route to success. But they’re not where you should begin – and they’re certainly not the most important part.
It’s no wonder so many businesses come to us complaining about how their marketing isn’t working.
Far too much attention is spent on what I consider promotion, or communications. But that’s not the stuff that generates sales. If your marketing team spends all their time buying branded stress balls, or wrestling with trade show booth logistics, you’ve no-one but yourself to blame.
Do You Know What You Don’t Know?
Everything starts – and ends – with the customer.
If you’re not regularly talking to your customers, you’re assuming your marketing efforts are working as well as they could. You’re probably missing out on tons of sales opportunities, but you’re never going to know.
It’s not about deciding how big your logo should be printed on a tote bag. There are much more important things to work out.
- Why is the customer buying your product? What problem does it solve for them? Is it the same problem as last year, or has it changed? Does that mean your product isn’t as well suited, or does it make it even better? How are existing customers different from new ones?
- About the product itself. Its features, size, color, and/or how it’s presented to the customer. What would be the sales impact if you made certain features paid options, or included some optional features in the base product? Why do some customers buy from the competition, rather than from you?
- It’s about pricing. Not just some simple ‘cost plus X%’ calculation so you make a buck on the deal. Do you know how many potential customers you’d lose – or maybe gain – by changing your pricing? When’s the last time you looked at the margin you give to resellers/distributors?
- Talking of distribution: how easy is it for customers to find your product, to buy your product, to return your product? How long does it take for an order to be delivered? If you’re selling online, how easy is it for customers to find what they’re looking for? For what reasons are people abandoning their cart before placing an order?
Think Analog Before Going Digital
There’s a trend for every answer to be a digital one. Thinkers have been replaced by makers. World-class communications experience has given way to mediocre digital experience. But all the data analytics, martech, chatbots, and targeted ads in the world won’t matter if your core messaging falls flat in its face.
No amount of ad retargeting or marketing automation will make up for your positioning looking the same as the competition. If you don’t know how to speak to people in a way that triggers an emotion, tech skills don’t matter.
It’s no wonder that, in most markets, there’s a pervading feeling of sameness. Competitors look virtually identical. There’s a lack of boldness, differentiation, and creativity. What’s missing is originality, authenticity, and – dare I say it – even honesty.
Marketing has never been more disliked than today. How come? Because most of it is so generic. It’s vanilla. Think margherita pizza. It’s contributing to the noise, not the signal. Why is that? Because no-one’s done their homework – that’s why. They don’t know what makes the customer tick.
Marketers are asked to sell products with little differentiation, in an already overcrowded marketplace, and deliver results in 5 minutes flat due to fast-turnaround ROI thinking.
Consumers over the age of 50 have more buying power than any other age demographic, yet precious few marketers address them effectively. Most marketing to over 50s fails because it’s been put together by someone under 30. We can spot something written by someone younger a mile away – and it affects your brand’s perception. We’ve been your age, but you haven’t been ours.
Businesses think customers are the same, when they’ve never been more varied. There has to be a difference between marketing in Chicago compared to Cairo, Canberra, or Cannes. It can’t all be the same.
Rather than building a brand over time, everything now cycles around quarterly sales figures. The result is the fixation on short-term gains that can’t be sustained.
Everyone wants the single, but no-one wants to buy the album.
What You’re Doing Isn’t Marketing
Tactics may get all the love, but it’s the hard work done beforehand that defines what succeeds and what fails.
Marketing is about solving business problems. Firstly, that implies an understanding of business (a far rarer trait in marketers than it should be). But it also means understanding the business – revenue, cashflow, balance sheets, profitability – well enough to make strategic decisions that will drive tactical execution.
Most marketers haven’t a clue about the internal workings of the business where they work. They just want to post (yet) another pretty picture on Instagram. That’s not marketing.
Putting all your attention on tactics may keep you busy, and may even give you a few quick wins. But without a deep and fundamental understanding of segmentation, influence, and behavior you’ll always be fighting with one hand tied behind your back.