Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
When common sense is wrong
Most businesses could radically lift their profit margins, but choose not to. Because they think no more than a year or so ahead.
People in big companies must dance to the tune of CEOs and CFOs who are in it for the fat bonuses and will be gone in a couple of years. The weaknesses they’ve engineered into the business will be some other sucker’s problem.
The boards of those companies are like smokers who’ve enjoyed the tingle of unfiltered Camels for years, because statistically they’re not getting cancer in the next six quarters.
If you’re not in a big company, there’s your opportunity.
That short-termism is one reason why the world is awash with garbage marketing. Because most of the people who control the purse strings have completely the wrong idea how marketing works.
When there’s a meeting about it, they have plenty of “common sense” tips.
I know everyone gets unsolicited advice on their expert topic from DIY punters.
“I’m not a lawyer but …”
“I’d fix this garage door myself, I just don’t have time. But I can save you some time Mister Roller Doors because I’ve worked out the problem is …”
“While I don’t have children, I have some thoughts on how you can make your kids behave better in public.”
But I’m pretty sure marketing people get more just-plain-wrong advice than anyone else. In every setting from boardrooms to barbecues.
Because everyone buys things, they see themselves as the Universal Consumer. So your CEO’s personal experiences — or even more fun, those of the person they’re married to — can be extrapolated to represent the whole market.
1. It can’t because they aren’t the market
2. They don’t even understand their own behaviour
3. Most ‘common sense’ ideas on this topic are wrong
Wouldn’t make me buy it
(To keep things readable I’ll use “ads” to mean marketing communication in general).
There’s this universal punter belief that advertising is meant to work like stage hypnotists.
You see the ad once, with its genius sales pitch, and you go into a product desire trance. You can’t stop yourself racing down to the shops waving your credit card.
People tell you “advertising doesn’t work on me”, like they believe they’re too smart for the hypnosis.
Yet they all drive similar cars to their friends and wear similar clothes. Because their buying habits are driven by a subconscious web of risk minimisation, herd conformity, laziness, and still-raw memories of romantic rejection in high school. All of which are strongly influenced by marketing.
There’s a great line toward the end of this glorious old Carlton Draught ad, where grumpy couch man says “wouldn’t make me buy it”. A heartfelt salute to writer Ant Keogh from all of us who’ve heard this crusty line a thousand times from clients, friends and family.
Have they even heard of you?
What does make people buy it? A lot of people reading this blog are from the SME or professional sectors, and so don’t have a Carlton Draught marketing budget. I’m guessing that in 2022, Carlton Draught doesn’t have one either.
Here’s how marketing works, or doesn’t: have they heard of you?
That’s most of the battle right there.
If they can recall a single characteristic about you, even a couple, that’s a massive win but it takes a long time. Most new-brand marketing plans are put together by hopeless optimists who believe they can plant a whole PowerPoint deck of attributes into people’s distracted brains.
“We will be the leading solutions provider in our field. Passionate about solving customer challenges. Our people are our greatest asset, delivering unrivalled value at an attractive price point.”
The sniper myth
You might sell people something with one ad if you get their attention at the exact time they want that product. But generally it takes epic repetition to hammer your brand into people’s brains because they’re not interested.
Your CEO doesn’t want to hear that. They want to spend less money, so they love to roll out that famous quote from the nineteenth century.
“Half my advertising spend is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”
In America it’s a quote from retail king John Wanamaker. In Europe they’ll tell you it was Lord Leverhulme, the Sunlight soap industrialist whose business still exists today as Unilever. This sketchy attribution suggests neither of them actually said it, but it will live for centuries to come.
Yes, targeting and media planning is important. You can call it wastage as it applies to tactical, promotional, get-a-sale-now marketing. And you need to do some of that to get some cash through the door.
The data bonanza of digital marketing has boosted the idea that you can target only hot sales prospects with sniper accuracy. And anything else is waste.
“Waste” builds long-term profits
It’s not always waste. To create a long-term profitable brand you’ll need to divert some of your marketing spend – for simplicity let’s say half of it – into pure awareness. Communication that isn’t a needy grab for buy-now attention. To a larger group than just hot current prospects.
Counter-intuitive brand wizard Rory Sutherland describes the benefits of costly brand signalling, like running a TV campaign or sponsoring a major sports team. The fact that you can afford to run an expensive ad to a wider market shows that you’re a big brand with solid backing. For your risk-averse, herd-following customer, buying your product is a safe bet already tested by thousands, millions of others.
Never underestimate the herd power.
When you’re starting out, there will be bigger players in your field who you know deliver worse service at a much higher price than you. You think your Affordable Better Service offer will sweep all before it.
It won’t. Because most clients will just go for the one they’ve heard of. They will give all kinds of plausible reasons why they stick with your competitor. “Your pitch was great but better the devil you know” and so on. The real reason is the perceived risk of leaving the herd.
Particularly in B2B, because the rewards of delivering excellence are tiny compared to the punishment of the fuck-up.
Watch this preso or you’re a fool
Even though I’m a long-time marketing and branding guy and I’ve seen too many presentations, I watch this Mark Ritson talk* on the role of branding in B2B sales and profitability every three months or so. His bit starts at around 4 mins.
Every time I watch it, I feel excited and motivated.
Because it’s so simple and true. Everything you need to know is in there.
Not watching this preso will cost you a lot of money over the next decade.
I won’t go into details because it’s Mark’s gear not mine. But it’s an indictment of how much profit you’ll lose if you answer to cost-cutters looking for immediate returns. Branding is a minimum 4-5 year project, and after that, the profits come rolling in.
We’ve tested it with our own money. Scene Change was a test lab for the sort of marketing ideas that my agency clients rejected as a bit too “creative”.
“Creative” being code for “even thought it’s based on sound commercial thinking, the idea makes us uncomfortable, our boss will fucking hate it and we are not willing to risk our careers recommending it.”
From day one, we spent money marketing to our entire industry, not just the 5% of that group who were potential customers.
We took out full-page magazine ads when that was still a thing, an insane expense for a new business. Each year for a decade we gave away about 500 interesting t-shirts at the annual industry conference. We launched our own alcohol brand as an awareness-builder. It still took about five years to get some traction.
Despite horrendous 2021 cash flow, we kept investing in online brand awareness through the wretched second year of COVID shutdowns. Because we wanted to hit the ground running when events returned. It worked.
Now we’re a much larger brand that makes very adequate margins. And we’re in a position where it would be near impossible for a new player to take us down.
That’s not only down to brand communication, it’s also tech reinvestment and talent recruitment/retention. But all of those things form part of your brand, and each helps the other. It’s stronger than a brand built purely on messaging.
Don’t overthink, get out there
People in your internal meetings tend to over-think things. They’ll look at your ad or press release and analyse each word to death. As if your target market is going to sit down and focus on it like it’s a long-awaited new season of their favourite TV show.
Don’t wait for perfection. Any given piece of marketing communication is rarely wrong or wasted. Because it all makes people aware you exist. So stop waiting.
Doesn’t matter if you don’t have a big media budget. Write the blog post. Talk to editors about what stories they’re interested in, and write them. Take the trade show stand. Commit to the regular social posts. Do an informative, educational, non-salesy email rather than spamming people with daily offers. Speak at the conference. Go on committees in your industry association. Run online training sessions.
You build a brand with communication that gives, rather than demanding a sale right now. It shows you’re in it for the long haul and are hence trustworthy.
If you have a genius marketing idea that you think might go viral, do that too.
But it’s the pedestrian long-term regular stuff that gets your name into customer brains.
If you can stick to the program consistently, for the years that it takes, you’re going to be miles ahead of others with their goldfish attention spans, their constant staff and strategy churn, and their endless postponement of action.
PS Spooky development: I posted this story, opened Twitter, and top of my feed was this thread from globally-respected marketing thinker/researcher Les Binet on this exact topic. I don’t even follow him on Twitter (cue dramatic algorithm music).
He suggests 60% brand building / 40% sales promotion.
* Shout-out to B2B sales champs Mark McInnes and Tino Ho from The B2B Sales Society for putting this on. Also stay on after Mark Ritson and listen to Cian McLoughlin, his thoughts are always worthwhile.
Why not buy this nice book?
Want to break free of a job that sucks and live life on your own terms? All that plus more entertainment than your average business book: Undisruptable: Timeless Business Truths For Thriving In A World Of Nonstop Change out on Penguin Random House.
Every week since it came out 8 months ago, it’s the #1 Review-Rated biz book on Booktopia. On paper, electronic or audio book with me reading it. Get it here:
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For those of you in geo-blocked countries, here’s your non-Spotify audio: