5 Ways to Make Marketing Great Again
At a time when the pandemic has altered business in such a fundamental way, what’s become clear to many of us in the field is that organizations need great marketing now more than ever. Yet, many companies have retreated from promotional activities this year, pulling back their resources and defunding channel spending with depressed consumer demand. While that’s understandable, we think it’s a mistake to continue such practices in the long-term. In order to come out strong when business opens back up again, the time to invest in (and rethink) marketing happens right now.
For that reason, we hope this piece is timely. We had some fun with the title for sure. And aside from the obvious pilfering we did from a certain president who is leaving this year (who, we might add, stole it from a previous presidential campaign) – we wanted to make sure to address a few areas:
- Was marketing ever great?
- If it isn’t great now, why isn’t it?
- What can be done to make it great?
The Golden Era of Marketing
Many romanticize the “golden era” of marketing as the “Mad Men” days of the 1950s and 1960s when creativity flourished and dollars were poured into image-based advertising and the infusion of emotions within campaigns. Volkswagen’s “Think Small” campaign for its Beetle automobile or Coppertone’s “Get Yourself a Piece of the Sun” print ads are among those that come to mind.
It was also the time of the jingle! Slinky’s “Everyone knows it’s slinky,” or Oscar Mayer’s “Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner” can be still be recited by heart by many who lived through that era. Furthermore, it was a period when companies began to incorporate a greater customer focus in their campaigns and started using minorities (albeit in limited amounts), taking real risks in their advertising to develop outreach to new markets.
That’s not to say that there weren’t issues. During this period, marketers most certainly gained a reputation for attempting to deceive customers, as well. Romanticizing and pushing what turned out to be unsafe products or uses, such as tobacco, 7Up for babies, or our personal favorite, “vitamin donuts” didn’t exactly add to the glorification of the profession. In many ways, we’re certainly better about that now.
What can’t be denied, however, was the era certainly had elements worthy of marketing “greatness” in that a.) Many of the techniques we still use today evolved out of that period and; b.) In terms of brand recall and even ad recall, it’s hard to match what that period produced; c.) What it lacked in terms of audience data comparatively, it made up for greatly in terms creativity and exploration of new areas.
Are We Really Great at Marketing Today?
For the current era, there’s no denying that much of what we do today evolved from those roots. And it’s probably fair to say that marketing has become more sophisticated than ever. For that reason, many would argue, we’re currently living in the golden age of our industry, with the proliferation of customer data and channels that few would’ve dreamed about in the 1960s. But having access to channels and data is one thing. Executing on the little details and all the channels themselves is another. Today, there are so many options for digital marketing alone that doing them all would be overwhelming. Forget the offline pieces for a moment, just think about the effort it takes to do your website, paid media (search, display, native, video, CTV/OTT), social media, email, e-commerce, mobile, SEO, content (including video, podcasting, blogging etc.), VR/AR, AI and chatbots – and then analyzing and optimizing it all, and coordinating the messaging across everything. It’s so much that it makes even the most sophisticated marketers’ heads spin. I’d argue that our marketing, in many ways, isn’t as great now simply because we often don’t have the resources to take full advantage of what’s available and what we end up doing falls short for that reason. We see this in companies of all sizes, not just small businesses.
When I teach digital marketing at Georgetown every year, the final projects are always fascinating – the students are asked to choose a company and analyze its digital marketing, looking at strengths and weaknesses in about 10 different channels. And every year, it strikes me how many companies (based on the students’ evaluations and my own) still fail to execute on basic marketing principles:
- They operate without a strategy and don’t coordinate one channel with another.
- They leave the customer hanging at different points in the buyer journey.
- They produce content that doesn’t fit their audiences.
- They’re sloppy in their implementation of the channels they do focus on.
- They ignore their brand and focus only on “buy now” messages, or they target one area of the funnel and ignore the others.
- They waste money targeting the wrong audiences in paid media.
And those are just a few examples of the marketing sins committed by some of the largest companies in the U.S. (And sure, perhaps that’s not a fair comparison with a period like the 1960s when there were fewer marketing channel options and much less to do. But just because we have more and know more, I’d argue, in fact, we should be able to do better than we are.)
5 Ways to Make Marketing Great Again
So, how do you make marketing great again for 2021? We’d suggest there are five core areas:
1. Rethinking and re-focusing on your brand.
In an age of data, it’s relatively straight-forward to search out those who express some sort of customer intent to purchase and target them heavily with ads or other messaging. But spraying a buy now message in front of someone that doesn’t know you is like asking to take home a first date without first going to lunch, taking them to dinner, or even going to a movie. It might work in some cases but why should a customer buy from you if they don’t know you or what you stand for? And OK, maybe you push this lower-funnel messaging in front of your existing customers but even then, you’ll likely experience more fatigue from your audience than anything else. After all, if that’s the only thing you ever communicate to your own customers, aren’t you just telling them they’re just another purchase to you?
The truth is, you need balance and hit all parts of the buyer journey. But like the 1960s marketers understood, what’s perhaps most important is becoming top-of-mind to your audience. The more you can invest in those kinds of memorable brand touchpoints, the better. These days, in my opinion, too many companies skate by on this idea that they’ve already established their brand in the market and either don’t reinvest in it or don’t continually renew it. Marketing then just becomes all about generating today’s revenue and not tomorrow’s future. If you look at Nike, Apple, Target, they are continuously reinventing themselves and that’s why they’re successful. Why not tap into emotion and storytelling, the two most powerful avenues for any brand identity, and you might find that you can reach new buyers in ways you couldn’t imagine before. If you’re a small business, it doesn’t have to cost a ton of money either. You can do it through content distribution or other means. Just take the time to let it work. As we suggest in point no. 3, your marketing should be thought of as an investment.
2. Let your marketing team take risks. And stop blaming them when those risks fail.
We’ve seen data become its own self-fulfilling prophecy. Because your existing audience behaves one way, or responds to one thing, you just keep giving them more of that. That’s actually a best practice in age of digital. But sometimes you have to step outside that framework. Like the marketers from the Mad Men era, you have to take risks to try to lure in new audiences. Sometimes, maybe these are hunches, maybe it’s a technology, or it’s maybe it’s a new brand campaign. Whatever the case, you won’t succeed in the long run without taking some element of risk in your marketing. What are the brands you recall after all? The ones who played it safe? Or the ones who took some risk?
Recently, there was an interesting piece about how Tropicana ran an ad promoting the drinking of mimosas during the day as part of a light-hearted campaign highlighting how people survive the pandemic. It caused such a backlash that Tropicana had to remove it. And sure, some argued after the fact that the ad fell outside the established brand identity – a no-no in terms of execution. But on the contrary, isn’t that what marketing should try to do? Push the envelope in terms of awareness? And yes, it did fail. But let’s also state for the record that in order for marketing professionals to take some risks, we have to stop blaming them if something goes wrong when they do. Giving your department the freedom to take more risks has to be part of your strategy in 2021. After all, with the pandemic continuing to rage as it does, the only risk you really face is doing the same thing you’ve done before.
3. Help the customer succeed and truly make them the center.
Way back in 1991, Regis McKenna, often described as the man who put Silicon Valley on the map, wrote an interesting piece in Harvard Business Review entitled “Marketing Is Everything.” In it he wrote: “Marketing has shifted from tricking the customer to blaming the customer to satisfying the customer—and now to integrating the customer systematically… In fact, companies that continue to see marketing as a bag of tricks will lose out in short order to companies that stress substance and real performance.”
The piece itself was rather wide-ranging but the thrust of his argument focused around the lack of a systematic approach by some companies to integrate the customer fully into the equation. What he meant by that is that all parts of the company – everything from the R&D, product development, marketing and sales, and customer service – had to revolve around a consistent approach to customers, enabling a feedback loop to help information flow from them back to the organization. The sad part about his commentary is that, 30 years later, we still see the same issues in many companies:
- They still engage in work silos and don’t share customer information between departments.
- They develop products and services the customers don’t want or need.
- They treat customers as mere revenue, rather than truly wanting to help them.
We often say this, but helping customers succeed is perhaps one of the primary goals of any organization. And while marketing can help focus on this, it’s not the only department responsible for it. Reinforcing the customer success into every aspect – research, product development, sales, customer service, your website and social media will help make the marketing you do even better. But, as we see with a lot of companies, you can’t have each department just do its own thing. Building in those systematic customer checkpoints, having a discussion of what customer success is (and what it looks like), and working together as a team to put it all together matters. As McKenna said 30 years ago: “That is why marketing is everyone’s job, why marketing is everything, and everything is marketing.”
4. For once, invest in it.
Let’s just say it: Your marketing team won’t succeed unless you give them the tools and resources to do so. Too often many companies just think about marketing as simply a cost – one of the necessary evils of doing business that we try to limit as much as we possibly can in order to profit as much as possible that year. But that kind of thinking would be similar to getting in a boxing ring with a champion and tying one hand behind your back. On average, existing companies spend about 11 percent of their revenue on marketing and that’s probably not nearly enough to sustain or help grow the way companies expect. This is where a lot of other departments chime in: “Marketing isn’t efficient” or “marketing isn’t doing its job.” But can you name another department that’s tasked with both growing short-term results and audiences for the long-term? It’s the one area that requires continuous investment in resources and dollars to do it well.
What can be said is that the ones who are successful at marketing do it as a longer-term investment. They don’t necessarily require marketing to have a payoff this fiscal year or this quarter, but take the risk to invest long-term in growing their business. Yet, too many businesses still have this short-term approach to their marketing. They require any spend or resources to produce revenue now. So, what do many marketing departments naturally do? They focus on only those “buy now” messages or those lower in the funnel that prove the quickest route to this immediate-term revenue, while ignoring the longer-term brand building messages that we mentioned earlier. What’s funny, is that companies don’t require the same payoff for technology investments, R&D, or even the long-term cost of office space. Yet, we know and understand all those things are critical to building a company over time. Marketing should be treated no differently.
5. Train your marketing staff to be better.
Let’s ask the question this way: How many paid media specialists do you know who could talk about what your organization’s brand stands for? Or, could talk about even talk about how to represent the brand in what they do? Is it even a consideration? Could your email specialist also run your paid media campaigns? Could they help produce the content they promote in email?
The truth is, marketing is so specialized right now that questions about other areas of marketing are left to others. And that’s not saying specialization isn’t a necessity right now. It absolutely is, given the knowledge needed in each channel. But your marketing isn’t going to be great unless your staff gets out of its own silo and becomes more well-rounded and familiar with the bigger picture.
And look, it’s not your staff’s fault. We have come to the point where many organizations treat their marketing professionals as robots doing some repetitive job and they’re burning out partially because of it.
The better approach?
How about cross-training them on several different disciplines so they can see how other areas work. Your email manager could train your paid media manager and vice versa. As marketing leader, could you provide your own training sessions, like a lunch & learn, talking about a few areas you know well? Or, you can encourage your team to take some time to learn new things on their own, through a marketing boot camp training or other corporate marketing programs.
The upshot of all this: With a team that continues to learn other areas, we know you’ll get better marketing – and better results.
We know it’s been a hard year for many of you in 2020. But that doesn’t mean the new year can’t be better. With so many businesses going under and others under-performing, we’d argue now, more than ever, it’s time to make marketing great again (#MMGA). We wish you the best of luck in all your marketing endeavors!
Whether you’re an individual or a business, our goal at Marketing Nice Guys is to help make your marketing great again. Learn more about our full-service Marketing Consulting or Marketing Help Desk support options. We also provide corporate marketing training and marketing boot camps open to the public. Contact us anytime.
 Besides, was Tropicana really harmed by it? The long-term negative effect is doubtful. And even the negative publicity did more to put the brand top of mind than perhaps the ad itself.