Just Because it Looks Easy…

Until recently, and for many years prior, I owned horses and rode very frequently.  I was pretty good too. Riding is one of those things that most people look at and say “how hard can it be? You sit in the saddle and hold on.”  I thought so too.  My first ride lasted exactly 22 seconds.  I know this because of where the second hand of my watch stopped when I created an Alan-sized furrow in the ground after the horse I was on decided that he would like it better if I were not on his back.  He was running at the time.  Once I was able to remember my name, find my glasses and locate the remnants of my dignity it occurred to me that there may be a bit more to riding a horse than jumping on and going.

Truth to tell, I see that a lot when it comes to marketing as well, and arguably with increasing frequency as more tools emerge to ostensibly simplify and enhance marketing capabilities.  While there’s a lot to like about many of these tools and technologies (and I use them myself) there’s the danger of confusing availability with, well, ability.  In other words, having access to marketing tools doesn’t mean you’ve got the experience or wherewithal to use them effectively.  Many of them, especially the digital and social media-focused products, often offer up templates, workflows or even content to make a user’s life easier, and often they really do work at least at some basic level.  The problem is, easier access to tools means they’re used more and more often, and the more marketing-saturated your prospects get.  The result is, everyone’s websites look the same, everyone is sending out the same emails with the same templates, and you get lost in the noise.

Of course, there’s more to this than just easy access to and indiscriminate use of digital marketing tools.  (Spoiler alert: cynical comment follows.) Vendors abound who are more than willing to take your marketing dollars and run a campaign of some sort for you leveraging their “deep domain knowledge and marketing savvy” to “supercharge your business.” And you know what? Sometimes they do a good job and you really do get results.  More often, though, you get bupkis.

To pile on, unlike technical disciplines where symbols and markings and terminology are inscrutable to the uninitiated, marketing seems accessible to anyone who wants to take a crack at it, just like riding a horse.  In fairness, not everything about marketing requires a guru to execute, but to be effective it does require a technical skill set, albeit one that has a less mysterious cache than, say, a NASA engineer.  True marketing requires a lot more than just “doing stuff”.  And marketing is a lot more than sending out a bunch of emails, putting up some Facebook posts or subscribing to a coupon book. It demands planning, it calls for understanding your prospects, where they are, what they want, what they will respond to—and then laying out the steps to reach them along with the metrics for assessing results.

Quality and brand image are paramount to the success of your business, and marketing leads the way for how the world sees you.  Branding has received more than its share of criticism over the years because many of those efforts are hugely expensive and, at least outwardly, look to observers to be more about the exact shade of blue or green to be used than about more substantive matters.  That’s not fair, of course, but sometimes branding exercises can get bogged down in such things.  My rule of thumb has been to never let great be the enemy of very good.  By that I mean that a professional brand and materials is usually just fine without having to be fine-tuned into the ground.  More important to me is that the message of the content speaks to the customers’ needs and issues, and reflects the business’s approach to addressing them.

Most important of all, however, is to use resources, in-house or external as they are available, who have proven marketing skills.  Writing internal reports doesn’t mean you can write ad copy—or a comprehensible brochure for that matter.  Just because one of your team does the PTA newsletter doesn’t mean they can put together a compelling email blast.  And just because most of your staff spends their free time hunched over their phones thumb-typing clever posts on social media doesn’t mean they are competent at capturing your message in 140 characters.  As with riding a horse, it helps if you can actually ride.

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