David Cliff puts marketing under the spotlight, discussing why so many do it so wrong and giving tips for success.
Something I often experience when coaching is how the very best of people in their field often resent the apparent success of those they consider less able than themselves.
We all have egos and all want to see ourselves as a cut above the rest. Evolutionary psychology would say this is the modern version of creating survival advantage in the hypothecated social world that is substituted for the primal one. But that’s not what it’s really about.
People can have all the experience in the world, be excellent at what they do and there still is the assumption that this in itself will attract business and success.
As any good marketer will tell you, this is just simply not the case and the mediocre, well-marketed will always trump a superior product or service that neglects this vital aspect of business practice. The management theorist, McClelland, indicated that we were motivated by three primary ‘meta-programs’: power; affiliation and achievement. The power aspect is self-evident, and we know the ‘affiliators’ in business; those that turn up at every event, the social butterflies, and the ‘links within links’ approach. But there are high achievers who set out in business and believe that simple merit alone will win the day
I’m sure a few of these do succeed, but by and large we all know that it is who you know, rather than what you know that wins through ultimately. In a marketing sense, this is about a simpler theorem: ‘being known’, rapidly followed with ‘known for something’. Identity link to function is central to people understanding the marketing message, so they can identify with who you are and what you do. Getting that ‘out there’, regularly, repeatedly, accurately and unequivocally is central to people understanding where you are in the market space so that although they may not want to buy your product or service now, you are anchored in the mind for when circumstances create a frame of relevancy where you can be linked to the emergent need.
A demotivating factor
So many people are demotivated by marketing, while intellectually cognizant of the fact that the pitch you do now may lead to a customer later, they are usually crestfallen after several attempts have resulted in no tangible result. The reality is we may have to defer the return on investment from marketing, in some cases for months or years before a particular opportunity fully crystallises from our efforts.
For some, it’s just all too much and it is easier to hide behind the arrogance of being good, but not necessarily receiving a lot of business because the effort of marketing for an achiever is great, given one does not appear to tangibly achieve within a given timescale.
We cannot neglect marketing, no business can. While there is no right way to market, approaches that are ‘marketing avoidant’ are simply completely unhelpful to one’s business. One has to bridge the self-other divide to recognise that, however one has honed their skills, perfected one’s product or service, it matters not a jot if the rest of the world doesn’t know about it and can clearly understand what it is that is on offer.
In a sophisticated world, some offerings are extraordinarily complex. Take my own field; ‘coach’ is a term that one can literally drive a bus through in terms of being semantically packed with meaning. The same goes for ‘consultant’ but even these days, increasingly the term ‘solicitor’ has something to do with the law but with so many sub-specialisms, clear reference structures for the customer are an inescapable part of one’s marketing strategy if one is to create the ‘relevancy fit’ between those that offer and those offered to.
One has to think carefully to develop this ‘relevancy fit’, ensuring that clear, simple unequivocal statements are made that highlight quality, distinctiveness, appropriateness for use, etc. Marketing takes effort. I know many companies that purport a marketing strategy. I sit with them and they tell me ‘oh yes, we are already doing that’, yet they’re not getting the results. Many market with all the aplomb of somebody covering their ears and stamping the ground to search for mines. Yes, you will find one eventually, but at what loss for the effort involved! While there are no ‘right’ ways to market, the neglect of the marketing strategy, excessive conservatism or excessive capriciousness and complexity, are a balancing act that one must weigh when getting a product or service out there. Most importantly, marketing is something that needs to be considered at the board level, not just dumped on the shoulders of the marketing department without regard to the fact that everything one does markets the company.
A consistent marketing message
Marketing is critical to organisational success. I know one company that won’t receive my patronage because their vans are driven so badly and inconsiderately by their staff, leaving an unpleasant association with the brand. Yes, my intellect could surmount this and look at the merits of their goods or services on offer, but am I likely to?
Marketing must be congruent with all activities in the organisation, from the courtesy of drivers, to the consistency of messages that are backed up by real customer service pledges that deliver, or the range of experts who actually need to prove just that to folks. In a world of information bombardment, it is often the subtle, subliminal messages that we use to confirm the validity of marketing messages we overtly receive. A genuine smile can sell far more than slick graphic design.
So let’s not be complacent about ensuring thoughtful, congruent marketing in your organisation. Don’t delegate it to marketing specialists on the basis that it’s something we don’t want to intellectually engage with. If you do, you’re missing out, your organisation is missing sales and customers will view you from afar as you lose another foot in the minefield!
David Cliff is managing director of Gedanken and chairman of the Institute of Directors’ Northern Sector Group.