Common Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

The following piece originally appeared in The Portsmouth Herald  http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20140829-BIZ-408290383.  In it I deal with common mistakes companies make when engaging in marketing programs…or preparing for them:

I want to begin this column with a story:  I’m a pretty competent horseman, in spite of not having an ounce of cowboy in my DNA.  I didn’t start out that way though.  I bounced along in the usual adult classes and thought I was figuring it all out.  I lived close to the stable where I was learning, so got to watch the real riders do their thing.  One day I approached my instructor, and with a confidence that was wholly unearned, I asked to do something well beyond the current lesson plan.  For whatever reason (maybe his own amusement) he said yes.  I mounted up, warmed up, and did my thing.  For 1.5 seconds.  Then I launched, traveling through the air in Matrix-like slow motion—until I left a skid mark and a crater two feet deep with a very broken me at the bottom of it all.  But I got up, walked off, and came back the next day (well, several days) and followed the plan.  Now I actually know what I’m doing.

So what does my getting dumped off a horse have to do with marketing?  Well, many companies approach marketing the same way: do some reading, take a quick look around, saddle up…and get tossed.  For a rider, it’s about bumps and bruises.  For a company it’s about funds spent to no effect, time and revenue lost.  Build a website.  Do an email blast or send out a postcard campaign.  Run a sale.  And that’s a mistake too often made.

In my last column I talked about planning, about laying out what needs to be accomplished and identifying what needs to be done.  But part of that process is making sure that the team doing the planning understands—really understands—the means by which those goals will be achieved.  This is often the difference between tossing stuff against the wall to see what sticks and executing a plan that actually generates measurable results.

All too often otherwise bright people say to themselves “It’s only marketing.  I can do that. How hard can it be?” and then proceed to toss money at marketing vehicles that are neither appropriate nor even relevant to their effort.  PR isn’t marketing.  Social media isn’t marketing.  A website isn’t marketing.  A print or online ad isn’t marketing.  Handing out flyers in Market Square isn’t marketing.  Using all of those tools (and more) in a way that makes sense for your business…THAT’S marketing.  The important takeaway here is that it’s critical to create a strategy, a plan, and it needs to be built in conjunction with people who know what they’re doing by training and experience.  If you don’t have them on staff, hire them.  If you can’t hire them, rent them.  Leveraging their experience is the only way to drive success.

Another common mistake is one of duration, or rather, lack thereof. There are lots of axioms rattling around that maintain that it takes a certain amount of time, impressions, views, etc. before someone will be moved to buy.  The common thread for all of these bon mots is persistence—working your plan long enough to see results.  Throughout my career the most frequent challenge has been to keep anxiety or impatience at bay long enough for the program to work—or not.  Yes, “not.”  If a plan isn’t executed long enough, there won’t enough data to inform your next actions.  Cut too soon and you perpetuate a ready-fire-aim approach that’s a guaranty of disappointing results.

A challenge to executing a marketing plan, even when well-constructed, is available funding.  It’s true that a plan needs to run its course for the best chance of success, but to do that there needs to be sufficient funding to enable the plan.  All too often the lack of immediate results leads to a concern over spending “good money after bad”, and cutting the plan short as a result.  Problem is, under that scenario failure is nearly pre-ordained.  A better approach is a practical one:  determine your spend and build the best plan that your budget can support.  Better, in other words, to go deep rather than wide.  Do one or two things well, and for the right duration; don’t try to do a little bit of everything or you’ll just wind up frustrated.

I leave you with this thought: don’t do marketing until you have a plan, and make sure you have someone who can make that plan. Know what you have to spend and fit the plan to that spend.  Let the plan ride for its planned period, and all the while read the results, react to them, and adjust as needed.  A small plan done well is much more effective than a big plan done badly.

Rewriting the Formula: Groundhog Day

To the CFO it’s unnecessary and avoidable expense.

To the CEO it’s a quote in Forbes—or not.

To the VP of Sales it doesn’t help drive revenue fast enough (but things would be different if it only worked for him).

To the CIO it’s an incomprehensible bundle of mushy stuff that has no value (except for the occasional cool shirt or tchotke).

To everyone else it’s easy, so what’s the big deal?

To me it’s Groundhog Day.

“It” is Marketing. Yes, the department that, when things are going well, isn’t credited with any of the success, but when times are bad, is the accused source of misspending and unproductive activity.  Rome burned, Nero fiddled.  Company’s in a funk, Marketing’s eating shrimp at a conference.  OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by all that much.  What I want to put on the table for this blog is why this perception exists, and why it has persisted for so long.

While I am primarily a CMO, I have also run field and inside sales teams, channels organizations, and business development teams so I’m not a Marketing-ista (you may use that if you like).  I’ve been able to look at both sides, sometimes in the same job.  But even with that perspective it surprises me that around the executive table (and therefore across their respective departments) there is often a view of Marketing that I argue isn’t—or maybe more properly–doesn’t need to be true: there’s no accountability in marketing; there’s no measurement; everything’s a big deal—I just want a stupid brochure; can you run an event in Denver for me on Thursday—and invite 50 people? (And make sure they’re the right 50 people!)

Contrast that to, say, Product Development or Engineering, whether you’re making a software package, a Bluetooth headset or corn flakes.  The strategic plan is one thing, but resources, allocation of those resources, testing, rework, and a raft of variables complicate the path from idea to delivery.  That said, ask that same team to do something unplanned and the department head breathes fire and no more is said about the matter.

IT gets to say no.  Finance gets to say no.  There’s no time, there’s no budget, there’s no one to do what is asked.  You’ll have to wait until November or the next budget cycle—maybe.  But when was the last time you or your Marketing team got to say “we can’t fit it in this year’s budget” without some other part of the organization saying, “well, I’ll just go do it myself…”

Would it surprise you that I think it’s our own damned fault? Yes, as marketers we bring many of these things on ourselves. But before I share my solutions, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.  If you’re a marketer, kvetch away (or tell me what you’re doing to change that formula).  To my CxO readers (friends and strangers) what does your Marketing team do (or what do you wish it did do) to have a positive impact on your company?

Let’s keep the dialog going!

Rewriting the Formula

“We’ve given you, like, a million leads!  You don’t follow up on any of them!”

“All the leads you give my team are crap!  We need good leads!”

The two lines above—or some variation—are probably the most often-used in the annals of Sales and Marketing interactions.  So who’s right?  Marketing people often think that Sales guys are lazy, knuckle-dragging order takers who couldn’t find a deal if it bit them on the nose.  Sales execs often think that Marketing folks are academic pukes who spend their lives second-guessing the Sales team but who couldn’t close a deal if their lives depended on it—and who are terrified of anything resembling accountability.  So who’s right?  Both are.  And neither are.

One of the challenges, I think, is that Sales has a more focused mission, or at least one that can be described more succinctly than Marketing’s: find a deal, close a deal.  Rinse.  Repeat.  I don’t want to imply that this mission isn’t tough, sometimes brutally tough; it‘s just focused.  And yes, there are differences between “hunters” and “farmers”, and “strategic account execs” and “telesales reps” but the objective is the same.  Reel ‘em in, sign ‘em, and on to the next.  And I say again, it’s really hard if you’re the one having to do it.

Marketing, on the other hand, is really an umbrella term for everything from public relations to collateral development to product strategy and roadmaps and a laundry list of other functions depending on the company and the industry.  But often the output of Marketing’s work effort, at least from the Sales team’s perspective, is a brochure or an opaque, long “201x Marketing Plan” document that is filled with jargon and directives.  “How does that help me close a deal?”, quoth the salesman.  “Good question”, says I.

What I propose to discuss in this blog—with your help, I hope—is the Sales/Marketing nexus.  How the groups could and should work together, and even explore if the current division between the functions even makes sense in today’s business world.  I want to talk about a shared vocabulary.  A shared accountability.  A common goal.  Something that can bring the teams together at more than the executive level.

Stay tuned.