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Painful Marketing Forums

Copyright 2006 Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

In periodically cruising the online forums that address marketing topics, I've noticed that over the last few years that reading the postings has become more and more painful. It's hard to tell who is more clueless - the posters or the respondents - many of whom are self-styled experts mixing opinion and cliches to offer a range of home remedies for the perceived marketing ills of the posters.

One of my favorite postings was the one that stated: "I know I need a marketing expert but I can't afford one." That's like saying you need a doctor but can't "afford" one - well, unnecessary illness and angst is always an option.

So how do you evaluate the value of the exchanges between poster and respondent, and evaluate the advice and commentary that you read on the online marketing forums? Here are some tips:

The ability to post on a forum does not imply anything other than the ability to post on forums. In other words - a poster does not necessarily possess anything other than an opinion.

I'm always amused by the bad advice I see - someone offering a proposed solution that is clearly unworkable (that is, to anyone with some relevant experience in marketing) or an anecdotal solution. My favorite is those who cite what Microsoft does - as if that means anything. The dead giveaway is that the respondent offers a solution with having enough information to know the specifics of the situation. In other words - they prescribe a solution before doing any diagnosis. But then again, opinions masquerading as fact don't require any diagnosis.

If you don't know how to sell your product or service - then you don't even know where to begin with marketing. In other words - if you don't know where you are going - any road will lead you there. Same goes for marketing advice that isn't based on your sales realities.

What many business owners and executives (at least those who read and post to forums) fail to grasp is that the purpose of marketing, at their level, is to support sales. So an effective marketing program, by definition, has to be based on your sales realities. What are you selling, how does your customer plan to use it, how do they buy it, and why do they buy from you? The answers to these questions have to be known cold before you try to develop a marketing program - because they define messaging, channels of communication, sales ‘tipping points', competitive strengths and weaknesses, etc. You need to know these issues if you want your marketing to work.

In a rapidly changing market - a series of quick, tactical programs are far preferable to a drawn out, step-by-step textbook approach.

I get a kick out of some of the postings that appear to be a step-by-step rendition of what someone read in a textbook, usually written by some B-school professor who never sold anything in their life. After a while - you can recognize the theoretical approach a mile away. Typically, they assume that we live in a linear, cause-and-effect world. ‘Spend X amount on a direct-response (advertising, public relations, collateral, etc.) program, and you will get Y amount of sales leads - that's what the typical results are.' The fact is that certain marketing tools will work in certain markets, for certain companies, and fail miserably for others. The key is to know how and when to use the tool. But then again, if all you have is experience with a certain marketing ‘hammer' (e.g. public relations), then everything looks like a marketing ‘nail' (needs a PR program).

The key is to understand the sales process and characteristics of the market in question, and try a number of approaches to confirm that the market (and sales process) is what you think it is. Once they get traction - the program can be ramped up to get more results. It will save you the experience that a prospective client recently had. They showed me their slick brochure, which I quickly pointed out to them was designed and written backwards (most important information at the end, most trivial up front) only to find out they just had several thousand printed for a trade show. A little testing (or professional evaluation) of the layout and copy could have gotten them much more powerful collateral. As is usually the case, my candor didn't alienate them, but rather developed the preference in the future to get that advice in advance of the expenditure.

Beware of marketing cliches and outdated concepts, or ‘buzz word' solutions - which are roughly akin to political sloganeering. It may get you elected, but competence in office is a whole other issue.

Marketing, like any behavioral science - is subject to fads and trends. For example, there was the ‘chasm' fad during the go-go dot com era (to anyone with a marketing background, the chasm stuff was merely decades-old conventional product acceptance lifecycle in a new wrapper.) Prior to that was the ‘total quality' issue (remember Ford's ‘Quality is Job 1' slogan - until they realized that profits were Job 1?), and that got replaced by ‘branding' (the Army spends literally billions on ‘branding' advertising - only to abandon one theme for another - ‘Be all you can be' replaced by and ‘Army of One" replaced by ‘Army Strong'. As it turns out - the strongest Army ‘brand' is cash - the enlistment bonuses.) An emphasis on sales results got replaced by ‘buzz marketing' (do you know of any bills that you can pay with ‘buzz'?) And somehow one is supposed to pay more attention to bloggers (of unknown allegiance or credibility) than paying customers. The list of fads and trends goes on and on. They are seductive due to the anecdotal implication of success, but are seldom applicable to the situation at hand - which usually requires some diagnosis - not cliches.

The only ‘measurement' you really care about is called revenue. Nothing else really matters.

Marketing is not accounting. Successful marketing requires judgement to complement evaluation. It's not a cut-and-dried financial equation. That's why there are fewer marketers than accountants. You can try to measure all that you want - but many times the causal relationships are simply not that quantifiable. Have you even been in a situation where something you did months or even years ago paid unexpected dividends? (Such as serving on a community task force and later getting a job offer from another member who was impressed with the way you approached the issues?) It happens because there are unknown (and unpredictable) causal relationships at work. A certain amount of marketing falls into that category. You can't forecast it for revenue, but it's there. A good marketer will have a gut feel for it, and will known that certain marketing efforts will have a value beyond what can be measured immediately - and need to be part of the marketing mix. But that has to be balanced by the need for revenue.

Every company, its approach to its market and the circumstances of that market are unique.

Beware ‘one size fits all' or formulaic (such as - if you do this, then this will follow) solutions - they usually don't fit anyone. Sales and marketing is a lot like trading on the stock market - it's a numbers game. If you have a process that has been shown to give you an edge, when applied to a series of random-outcome events it will, over time, will yield the results sought. But the outcome of any particular event is still random. But a lot of people still seek the ‘sure thing' in marketing.

The Internet is a terrific source of information. But trying to diagnose a marketing problem on it is a bit like trying to diagnose a bad cough. Do you want to get a doctor's opinion, or try some folk remedies? If it's just a cold - it won't make much difference. But if it's something much more serious - by the time you found out you got bad advice - both the consequences and the cure will usually be much more severe. The same can be said for marketing advice - caveat client - be careful where you get it.

© 2006, Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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