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We all know that the business world is brimming with myths, misconceptions, and misteps. Over time, organizations—and their executives—wind up with an insulated view of their businesses and a distorted view of the marketplace. CMOs face the especially difficult task of aligning products and services with branding and marketing efforts. The rise of the Internet, social media, and other forms of digital media haven’t made things any simpler. Getting a handle on today’s business environment is nothing short of daunting. Here are a dozen classic marketing mistakes and what CMOs can do to improve bottom-line results.
Let’s face it: Marketers believe in their products as if they were their own kids. They all deserve to be on the honor role, and they’re only one step removed from greatness. Alas, most products aren’t all that special; minor differences in features are completely lost on consumers. What’s more, customers—armed with price comparison apps and the Internet—are more sophisticated than ever about understanding features and ferreting out the best price.
Tim Koelzer, managing partner at marketing consulting firm EquiBrand, said that it’s vital to focus on brand building and a more holistic interaction with customers. “Without patents, technological insulation, or barriers to entry, a company’s brand—the relationship a company has with its customers—is one of the few things it can own forever,” he explained to CMO.com. In other words, dial back the marketing pap and position the customer at the center of the business.
A certain segment of your audience—perhaps a majority—will view your marketing efforts as spam. Even those who opt in are likely to sour about the relationship over time. Unfortunately, very few marketers do anything to distinguish their e-mails and text messages, which often miss the target badly. The result is inundation, clutter, and a signal-to-noise ratio that leads to consumer attention deficit disorder.
“The answer is not to send even more messages,” stated Eoin Comerford, president and CEO of Moosejaw, an outdoor recreation retailer with 10 U.S. stores as well as a strong online presence. Recently, the company created an augmented reality app that generated more than 250,000 downloads. It also has offered promotions for free beer and other items. “One of our core values is to ‘Be Notable’ ... our messages need to be so good and meaningful and unique that every interaction compels a customer to tell a friend about Moosejaw,” Comerford noted.
In addition, organizations must find a way to put Big Data to work and customize messages and other content. It might sound like Business 101, but many marketers overlook a basic fact: Content must be fresh and engaging. Noted Joey Bergstein, CMO for household products manufacturer Seventh Generation: “Tap into things and issues that your consumer is passionate about. Be part of their life rather than trying to disrupt their life. And be provocative–give them something to think about, talk about, and to share.”
Great companies don’t sell products; they sell a unique experience and cater to customers’ needs. “Relationships are a two-way street. Every marketer needs to think about how their products enhance a consumer’s life or reinforces a shared value,” Seventh Generation CMO Bergstein said. “Brands that win create value for their consumers by making their lives better.”
Think about it: When you step into an Apple Store, you’re not merely buying a computer, tablet, or phone—there are a dizzying array of other options and manufacturers hawking similar products, after all. You’re buying into a philosophy, a brand, and an entire way of approaching your digital life. “The keys to lasting relationships are consistency and authenticity,” Moosejaw's Comerford explained. “The first step is knowing who you are and who you stand for ... hip and trendy, down home, wacky, whatever. Then you need to hire people that can authentically represent that brand personality.” This extends from the CMO to the receptionist.
Hand-in-hand with creating customer relationships is also realizing that not all customers are created equal—a fact many CMOs also overlook. For instance, a customer might purchase several items, but demand a high level of support, complain to others about the product, and, ultimately, cost the company money. Meanwhile, another customer who buys a single product loves it and is a heavy influencer of others winds up flying beneath the radar. Marketers must learn to more fully understand the relationships they have with customers, said Accenture consultant Jason Breed. Typically, “The data exists to market and sell more effectively, but companies usually don’t put it to use,” Breed told CMO.com.
Nobody would deny that market research and focus groups are useful. They provide insights that might otherwise escape CMOs. However, they are merely a starting point for understanding customer and the overall business environment. Too often, “they inhibit creative thinking,” said Joy Liuzzo, president of marketing consulting firm Wave Collapse. She told CMO.com that market research often fails because people don’t ask the right questions or focus on the most important issues.
Sometimes, market research also “places too much burden on customers to tell us what they want when they don’t know what they want,” Liuzzo added. CMOs, she said, must “foster an environment of exploration in their research teams rather than tasking them to provide numbers that merely prove a plan. An environment of exploration produces quality research that fosters creative thinking.”
It’s human nature: You know how your company’s products work, so you assume that everyone else understands the benefits, features, and ROI. That’s the first step toward marketing fail. But it gets worse. Too often, Liuzzo pointed out, market research only affirms what you already know or merely guides you to the answer you desire. In reality, reports, surveys, and analytics aren’t a substitute for viewing and understanding how customers actually use products and services. “There’s only one way to get deep consumer insight: Watch them or ask them,” EquiBrand's Koelzer said.
One of the biggest mistakes corporate executives make—and marketers certainly aren’t exempt—is becoming too insulated and detached from the actual business. It’s wise to step out of the office and venture to the front lines on occasion. Sitting with sales reps, customer service agents, and technicians provides a real-world view of the questions and problems that arise. It offers a more complete picture of the business and helps break down the silos. If you want to understand your customers, then you have to understand the way they think and interact with the business.
You know the old saw, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Well, too many marketing experts dilute a marketing strategy. As Koelzer put it: “A committee should aim them rather than tame them. … Its goal should be to provide strategic direction,, but stay out of the way and let creative people create.”
Best-practice companies often use relevant consumer testing as the tiebreaker when an internal struggle occurs, he noted. If you insist on having everyone add their two cents worth and hammer issues out by committee, then expect a lot of wasted time and effort, as well as a campaign that’s mediocre and completely forgettable. These days, too many ideas, approaches, and self-serving goals are floating around. Brainstorming is good, but the buck must stop at the CMO's office.
Yes, social media is big. Yes, it can help define your brand and catapult sales. But it’s not a replacement for conventional marketing techniques. Although the tools and technology may change, the fundamental principles and methods for marketing remain the same: It is still about uncovering the needs and desires of customers and providing a product or service that’s relevant and differentiated. In fact, “the term social media will likely go away in a few years. It will cede back to the language of listening to customers,” Koelzer said.
Likewise, it’s easy to get swept up in the buzz about mobile apps, online tools, and location-based services. But many Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and others continue to favor the conventional Yellow Pages and direct mail. It’s also easy to wind up with skewed thinking if you listen to the constant drumbeat of media hype and paint-by-numbers vendor solutions. Know your audience and stay focused on marketing in the most effective and direct way possible.
It’s hardly a bulletin that product life cycles have become compressed and companies must be more agile and flexible. But one point that’s often lost in today’s high-octane and fickle business environment is that consumers don’t necessarily react to a single ad or campaign. It takes repeated and consistent messaging to snare attention and change behavior. Unfortunately, thinking long-term is a growing challenge. With the C-suite and shareholders constantly pressing for better results—and returns—it’s tempting to move on quickly if a campaign doesn’t stick right away. However, a mélange of ideas and themes usually results in chaos and confusion. Think of it this way: Consumers are a bit like teenagers. They need to hear a compelling message dozens or hundreds of times before it really sticks.
It’s tempting to use today’s media as a way to control the spin cycle. But today’s consumers and watchdog groups are smarter and more adept than ever at uncovering a company’s dirty little secrets and exposing dishonesty. Former Exxon CEO Tony Hayward learned this lesson after the massive Gulf Oil Spill of 2010. He claimed that BP had “organized the largest environmental response in this country’s history” and noted that “safety, people, and performance have been my watchwords.” Not surprisingly, actual events, combined with a near total marketing debacle, sunk Hayward, who ultimately resigned.
Koelzer pointed out three components to building a strong and lasting brand: maximizing customer relevancy, maximizing competitive differentiation, and maximizing credibility and attainment. “A lot of companies forget about the last component and fail to deliver operationally,” he said.
The best brands stand for something tangible. “Marketing is built on real values and an authentic belief in what the company is doing,” Seventh Generation’s Bergstein said. “There in total internal alignment and this translates into a message that resonates with customers.”
Within any organization, competing and conflicting points of view will always exist. But, on a certain level, the marketing focus is as simple or complicated as an organization makes it. “About the only thing most companies can and should align with is meeting customer needs. If you fully understand the concept, it’s possible to move forward on the same page with surprising efficiency and effectiveness,” Koelzer explained.
Naturally, the devil is in the details. This means getting the entire organization in sync about core values and how they impact thinking and messaging—from the contact center to the CEO’s suite. Companies like Apple, Nike, Starbucks, and Southwest Airlines inherently grasp the concept of defining a core vision and mission and building products and marketing campaigns around them. Different parts of the organization—sales, support, operations, human resources, and marketing—fit together like Lego blocks. At this point, true synergy and purpose exists. It’s possible to build a marketing approach that makes a difference and leaves a legacy.