Monday, July 09, 2012

Marketing seems Easy, but it’s not

Most functions in business are clearly difficult. Someone in purchasing knows that Finance has an advanced and specialized skill set, so does R&D or the legal department. Most people even know that they could not be in Sales. However, most people think that Marketing is easy. Even some marketers, the weak ones, think it is easy – they are a level of, as they say, “unconscious incompetence.” I used to have a boss, a man with an operations background, who loved package design, but who was almost totally color blind, and did not understand why it would make any difference at all.  Often we are faced with a sort of mental blindness that prevents others seeing why there is any value in training or experience in marketing. The fact that much in Marketing is, or should be, data driven, is hard enough, but many concepts are even tougher to understand. For example, we glibly say, “sell the sizzle, not the steak,” or “talk benefits, not features,” yet, so many people seem to find it difficult to tell the difference, particularly those who are close to the product.

While I have written about being data driven in the past, this post is going to concentrate on the non-quantitative aspects of marketing. Four out of five advertisements, websites and social media campaigns fail to address the primary needs of the target customer in a way that is meaningful to them. They fail to be meaningful to the audience, differentiated in a way which makes sense, and relevant to the needs of the target market. In addition, they often pack in a laundry list of features, thus confusing the audience and weakening the message. “Positioning is sacrifice” – it the options you leave out that make the message so strong. These cannot be quantified, yet they are critical and very difficult to sustain. So often, the CEO or CTO pushes for something which weakens the message. In B2B it can be even more complex as there may be many target audiences depending on the buying process in a company. For enterprise software, for example, there are one million software companies, of which one hundred thousand are trying to sell to any one large corporation in a year. The large corporation may have one thousand software products in use in the organization, and anything from 5 to 50 people participate in the buying decision, most of whom can say “no,” but few can say “yes.”

Quite a few years ago, as we were getting ready to launch high speed data to consumers at US West, I had constant battles with the CTO. I kept on tying to get him to listen to the customer, and he would keep on telling me “I am the expert, not the customer, who has no knowledge of the technology.” Explaining that understanding current problems and getting some feedback to how it could be used, was of little use, until I tricked him into listening to customers by inviting hi to dinner in what was the back room of a focus group facility. He still kept on wanting to tell them how it worked though!

While marketers do themselves a disservice by failing to be sufficiently data driven, thus contributing to the short stay of CMOs in their position, we do not do a good enough job of making clear some very simple concepts, such a positioning, or added value. As a result, many non marketers expect the new CMO to come in, sprinkle marketing pixie dust over the business and make it fly! Disappointment is inevitable. Marketers have an ongoing obligation to demonstrate how it works, and what has to be done to make it effective.