Friday, February 27, 2009

A Long-term View of Marketing Wisdom

I read a lot of books about marketing. My bookcase is full of them. And I have learned quite a bit from those who wrote those books. (My theory is that authors of marketing books have one really good book in them and, after that, they just re-hash that theory over and over.)

What bothers me about many books on business/marketing (especially more recent ones) is that to sell that book or at least to create greater awareness of it, the author had to bash all marketing approaches that preceeded their book. Most of us who have been in marketing for a decade or two have seen different philosophies come and go with respect to how to sell things.

My "marketing hero" was Rosser Reeves, who brought the advertising world the Unique Selling Proposition in his landmark book, Reality In Advertising. Rosser's philosophy of sticking to one relevant point and hammering away at it with as much TV as you could buy sold a lot of products. Smart marketers still think about Rosser's lessons when they review advertising.

However, in his day, Rosser debated relentlessly with his friend David Ogilvy and with Bill Bernbach, who founded Doyle Dane Bernbach and ushered in the creative revolution. The truth is, all of them had valid points about how to sell things and their philosophies, when implemented, sold a lot of products for a lot of companies. They all worked, to some extent, depending on market conditions.

Were any of these three thought leaders correct in every way vs. what their competitors believed? Of course not. Each had some wisdom and tried to apply it as best they could to create sales for their clients.

What is happening today is that virtually every book you read is trying to tell you that everything you ever learned about marketing is irrelevant in 2009. We all (ought to) know this is simply not true. They want you to think that their approach is the new (and only) way you are going to sell anything to anybody.

A lot of brand-building happens before the first word is spoken about the brand.

I am certainly not saying that there is nothing new under the sun. For sure there is. Consumers have a voice now that they never had. Smart organizations can listen to them much more inexpensively than they ever did in the past. And they can communicate back with with those consumers when consumers are not happy with their brands. And they better.

What are our clients to do? Should they be doing "experience marketing" or "word-of-mouth marketing" or building "brand communities" or what? The truth is, they need to be doing it all. Or at least most of it. Because most of it will work.

However, they also may want to think about continuing some of the other, more traditional brand-building tactics that worked for them in the past. If they don't know what worked and what did not, they need to find ways to determine that. New technologies have made it amazingly simple and inexpensive to measure customer attitudes about brands. No one really knows how we form our brand preferences. We sometimes think we do but those are secrets that marketers will not uncover for a long, long time.

So much of what is written these days has to do with reach tactics. But clients need to think first about why their brand is relevant to their customers. A lot of brand-building happens before the first word is spoken about the brand. There is so much up-front work to do if the customer is going to find satisfaction with the brand. And satisfaction is paramount.

So, go ahead and buy those marketing books and I will, too. There is wisdom in them. Combine that wisdom with what you aready know to be effective. The goal should be to add to that snowball of marketng wisdom that you have been rolling along for years.

Thanks for reading. More to come.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dismantling Critical Infrastructure

I recently heard the CEO of a marketing communications firm talk about the advantages to organizations of maintaining marketing budgets in the face of this economic crisis. While I agree with him philosophically, I think the issue is broader than just maintaining a marketing budget during these tough times.

What I am witnessing almost daily is the dismantling of critical operational infrastructure of many organizations. And, as these organizations know, the building of that infrastructure was not easy. It took time to design the processes that were needed and to build an infrastructure to support that process. Then, they had to hire all those people and ensure they were trained adequately to support the process. THAT was a lot of work!

Now, organization after organization seems willing to throw out that infrastructure for the sake of what? Profits? Or real survival? I think this is a key question every "for profit" CEO and their board of directors need to think about. If it is actually the survival of the organization, I support those decisions. But I am not so sure that is always the case. There is increasing pressure on every publicly-traded company to deliver profits every year. And, most senior-level executives will admit that sometimes future opportunities are sacrificed for present profit. Even when those future profits might have far greater potential than the current market situation might offer. That is a reality of our "give it to me NOW" society.

In addition, I fear that businesses may be reacting like some of the journalists I have been listening to and giving in to a panic that only makes our situation worse. These challenging times call for courageous leadership from CEOs (and their boards) everywhere.

During the last recession, I owned a small consulting practice, which I sold in 2005. Near the end of 2002, I realized that I needed to revise my goals for that year and the near future ... that the ambitions I had entered the year with were not going to be realized. The insight I had at that time was that I needed to do whatever I could to make sure that my company made it through to the other side as unscathed as possible, regardless of what my personal lifestyle (that came from salary from the business) became in the interim. I knew that my company needed to be ready for that inevitable recovery when it did come.

What I am witnessing almost daily is the dismantling of critical infrastructure of many organizations.

Interestingly, I had witnessed three competitors close their doors and I did not want that to happen my business. So, I made the changes that allowed me to survive those difficult 18 months so that I could rise with the tide that came in 2004. And rise it did and my company did. But in those dark times, I made a decision that I would take very little income (and minimize my debt) so that I did not harm its ability to compete when things began to turn around. In essence, I sacrificed current profits for future profits.

As I look at these times, I cannot help but wonder if some organizations would not be better off if the shareholders made a decision to forgo profits in 2009-2010 for the sake of maintaining as much infrastructure as possible. To be sure, some cuts most likely have to be made. But there is also a sound argument for maintaining as many people, particularly in critical customer service areas, as possible. Every business owner will have to make this call themselves as they consider goals beyond our current economic conditions.

Thanks for reading. More to come.

[Photo used under the Creative Commons License courtesy of Flickr.]