Don’t Let It Drive You Crazy

By Josh Field

I started my marketing career while in high school, writing descriptions of the floor covering merchandise to be featured in my father’s weekly newspaper ads. Upon college graduation, I wrote copy professionally – everything from radio and TV scripts to print ads, billboards, brochures and direct mail pieces – for a Tucson, Ariz. advertising agency. I was earning $700 a month and dreaming of being the next David Ogilvy, running a global agency on Madison Avenue in New York.

I then headed to Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, one of the country’s top B-Schools, with its world-renown reputation for marketing and an all-star academic lineup featuring professors such as Philip Kotler, Sidney Levy and Brian Sternthal. In 1986, with a master’s degree and a fresh outlook on marketing, I began a professional career that allowed me to work on some of the world’s greatest brands – including Purina pet foods, Chex cereals, Coca-Cola and Mary Kay.

Whether working with a multi-billion-dollar global enterprise or a local mom and pop retailer, the fundamentals of marketing were the same – identify the unfulfilled needs of consumers and develop creative products and solutions to fill those needs. Three decades later, those basics remain consistent, however the strategies and tactics to address them have become exponentially more complicated.


Before the Digital Revolution

Despite the perception of my children, the 1980s were not the Pioneer Days, yet marketing may as well have been. We read the local newspaper for community news, tuned into Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings for the national headlines, perused TIME magazine and The Wall Street Journal to understand the issues, needed a copy of TV Guide to tell us what to watch on television (which consisted of less than 20 channels), relied on the Yellow Pages to look up businesses, and clipped coupons from the Sunday newspaper. TV commercials were either a source of information and entertainment or an opportunity to get a snack or go to the bathroom. We listened to our favorite bands and singers on the radio and waited for the local DJs to announce concerts so we could call in on our land-line telephones to try and win free tickets.

The practice of marketing was a well-established one-way communication from companies to consumers, oftentimes based on demographics or audience profiles. Companies selling laundry detergent targeted Baby Boomer moms during midday soap operas and in publications like Ladies Home JournalGood Housekeeping and Woman’s Day, while dropping $1.00 off coupons in the Sunday circulars. Pickup trucks were advertised to men during sporting events and in publications like Sports Illustrated. This style of marketing, known as “push marketing,” intended to persuade and convince prospects to choose a specific brand based on increased frequency of the communication, regardless of the content or information needed by the individual prospect to make a decision.


Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.40.44 AMJourney to Purchase

Sales, marketing and advertising professionals used to (actually, many still do) refer to the prospect funnel as a metaphor for how consumers make buying decisions – essentially start broadly at the top of the funnel using broad reach marketing tools such as network TV and national magazines to create brand awareness, and work prospects through the process until a sale is made at the bottom.

It was up to the marketer to perceive the content needs at each level of the funnel to ensure the prospect kept moving through the process toward the desired result. Tactics such as, “Call today for a free estimate,” “Send for free brochure” or “Come in for a test drive” could compel the undecided consumer to take action.

While this method was used successfully for decades, it lacked specificity of message, speed and two-way communication between the potential buyer and seller. Marketers assumed they controlled the journey to purchase, and it was simply a matter of walking the prospect through the steps to make the sale. Today’s most successful marketers understand the journey is not linear at all, and is, in fact, controlled by the consumer and not the marketer. The skilled marketer must use all the tools available to best help the consumer through his or her journey to arrive at a mutually beneficial win-win scenario.

Consider this example: A prospect is watching TV and sees a news report on a whale watching cruise to Alaska. “My family would love to see whales in the wild,” she thinks to herself. Two decades ago, the prospect may have called her travel agent, who would pull brochures, outline different Alaskan trip packages and itineraries, and mail a proposal to the prospect within a week or two. Today, the journey progresses with a search on the Internet. Entering “whale watching cruise” into Google reveals other destinations besides Alaska, such as California, Boston and Hawaii. Turns out summer is the best time to see whales in Alaska, but Memorial Weekend is a great time to see the migrating humpbacks and finbacks off Boston Harbor. Sophisticated Internet marketers note the visit to Boston’s whale watching websites and begin remarketing and targeting the prospect with information about Boston’s other summer attractions, from taking in a Red Sox game to shopping on Newbury Street to dining at Faneuil Hall. The Alaskan cruise has transformed to a family trip to Boston with a half-day whale watching excursion – all in a matter of hours.

This exemplifies the new normal in today’s marketing – a consumer-driven model in which the customer “pulls” in the content or information to best make a decision. Hence, you can see how the Internet has become a key filtering agent in the process. Not only do company websites, topical blogs and news sites provide informative content, but social media allows both satisfied and disgruntled customers an opportunity to share their experiences, recommendations and criticisms.

Think about trying a new restaurant – you hear the buzz around the office and decide to check it out. The restaurant website shows beautiful images of the interior and their signature dishes. You view the online menu and realize the plates are quite costly, so before plunking down $75, you look up the restaurant on Yelp.com, only to find a mixture of both positive and negative comments. Next, you turn to your friends on Facebook for their opinions and get a handful of “save your money,” “rude servers” and “if you’re looking for great Northern Italian, try this other place instead.”

As a marketer, our job is to manage all the key touch-points where consumers make decisions throughout their journey; just getting them into the funnel is no longer sufficient if you have no control over the messages available later on in the decision process.


Know Your Audience

When I sit down with a new prospect, one of my first questions is, “Who is your audience?” In other words, who is the prime prospect that can benefit most from what you have to offer? The typical response is a demographic description (e.g. “women heads of household with children under 18” or “owners of businesses doing $2 to $10 million in revenue”). The problem with these answers is they are usually too broad, indicative of the old “get ‘em in the funnel” mindset. Probe their responses and you see most businesses really don’t know who their best prospects are – perhaps it’s a lack of mining their current sales data and customer information or not understanding the competitive market as well as they should.

Regularly studying your website analytics reveals a lot about your target audience – what type of information are they searching for? What are the most frequently visited pages on your site? From what ISP address are they coming? Which search engines do they use? How are they finding your website? What links do they click on?

By now, you’ve probably figured out that one of the most important tools in your marketing arsenal is your company website. But there are numerous challenges inherent to maximizing the effectiveness of this tool. Stale content, poor design, lack of interactivity, inability to reconfigure properly on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets can and will work to your detriment. Think about the funnel again; if an interested consumer finds his or her way to your site only to have a negative experience, you may have lost them. It’s no different than a prospect calling your office and having a bad experience with your customer service representative, receptionist, or automated answering system.


Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.40.59 AMArt vs. Science

Let us not forget that the roots of marketing are still in the creative and attention-grabbing presentation of solutions to consumer problems or unfulfilled needs. With so much technology now comprising the marketing mix, it becomes even more critical that every company department and individual interacting with customers understands the communication objectives and messages. Poorly designed banner ads, blog headlines, email subject lines and company websites are counterproductive, even when properly targeted. And the creative types – graphic designers, copywriters, photographers, and bloggers – must adapt to the changing environments in which messages are received. Simply resizing and repurposing content across platforms often doesn’t work.


So, Is Digital the Answer?

New digital tools certainly allow for laser-focused targeting, but you must know where you’re aiming first and what consumer behavior you’re trying to elicit. When social media started to gain critical mass about five years ago, nearly every business jumped on the Facebook bandwagon. “It’s free advertising!” they would say as they cancelled contracts with traditional media like print and broadcast. Fast forward to 2015, and social media is becoming so segmented and oversaturated with advertising-like messages – try managing your company’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ pages in addition to your current job responsibilities – that companies can neither effectively control their message nor respond to their online friends and followers fast enough.

According to the research study, “Digital Distress: What Keeps Marketers Up at Night?” recently released from Adobe, less than half (48 percent) of digital marketing professionals feel highly proficient in their field. In fact, a majority (82 percent) of digital marketers reported not receiving any formal training in digital marketing and instead are just “learning on the job.” So do they think digital campaigns are working? Only 9 percent strongly agreed that they knew their digital marketing is working. That leaves an alarming 91 percent who are questioning the effectiveness of this medium and why most experts recommend only allocating about 10 to 20 percent of your company’s total marketing budget to Internet marketing and social media.

Unlike many business disciplines, such as accounting and manufacturing, where the end result is relatively black or white (i.e. the end result is either correct or incorrect), marketing has always been viewed in shades of gray, and therefore trial and error is oftentimes standard operating procedure. The key to success is staying at it consistently over time, as the unseen company will inevitably be forgotten.

So what do you do? If maintaining current market share is your goal, your investment in marketing should be at least 3 to 5 percent of total annual revenue; if growth is your goal (and if you’re not growing, you’re probably dying), then 8 to 10 percent of revenue should be allocated back into marketing tools and programs. These guidelines can vary by sector, with consumer packaged goods companies, for example, investing in excess of 20 cents of every dollar earned back into marketing. Unfortunately, too many businesses view marketing as an expendable cost of business rather than an investment in growth. Consider all the expenses to run a business – from accounting to distribution to manufacturing to customer service – and then ask yourself, “Do any of these contribute more to revenue growth than effective marketing?”

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This article appears in the February 2015 issue of SpaceCoast Business.
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