Is the concept of marketing like the concept of ‘art’ – does its definition have any impact on its effectiveness? I suppose the answer depends on who you ask and what’s at stake in their response.
Historically, Marketing has been all about transactions: creating and measuring critical exchanges of value between the ‘buyer’ and the ‘seller’.
Google defines Marketing as, “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.”
The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
The new age of marketing has been largely about storytelling…
Author and marketing expert Seth Godin says “Marketing is the act of overcoming fear, telling stories, doing work that matters and engaging with a world that’s going through revolutionary change.”
…which others might describe as ‘non-marketing marketing’
According to former Apple VP of Worldwide Marketing Communication Allison Johnson, Steve Jobs hated the word ‘marketing’. Johnson explains,
“marketing is when you have to sell to somebody. If you aren’t providing value, if you’re not educating them about the product, if you’re not helping them get the most out of the product, you’re selling. And you shouldn’t be in that mode.” (incidentally, Johnson mentioned that Jobs hated the word ‘brand’, too).
It should come as no surprise that an elastic concept like ‘Marketing’ (as wide in application as it is deep in variation) conjures up a range of definitions, from the clinical to the philosophical.
From its official conception in America in the 1950’s, marketing (the used car salesman of college degrees), has developed a bad reputation among many consumers and entrepreneurs for being pushy, manipulative, slimy and difficult to keep up with. As our world has evolved, gone digital, social and viral – the marketing landscape too has transformed – from billboards to blogs, phone books to boosted posts. A stable, predictable world has gone bat-shit crazy and for better or worse, marketing has led the way, through all manor of commercial, social and political channels.
So.. what is marketing? Why does it matter?
Well, if you’re reading this, it’s very likely that you’re an entrepreneur or at a minimum, interested in marketing from a commercial viewpoint– so let’s save our philosophical discussions about marketing as it relates to Presidential Elections, Lion Murder and Terrorist influenced tourism for another time.
If you stand to gain by understanding and learning to embrace marketing and all its imperfections, then
this bud’s for you… this blog’s for you.
However, I should just make it clear right up front, that I’m not interested in defining marketing. Let’s get straight down to brass tacks and define effective marketing:
Effective marketing is an on-going, engaging conversation, supported by an entity for the purpose of driving behaviour or change within a specific group.
In this definition of effective marketing, I include a desired outcome: a result, a purpose. Please be clear, there is no reason to engage in marketing if you are not sure why you’re doing it. Also notice, there is nothing in this definition about sales or selling. Marketing is bigger than commerce, bigger than transactions:
Wielding fear in the ‘news’ to convince one nation, race or religion to fear another, that’s marketing.
Rebranding the ‘shelter dog’ as a wonderful pet instead of a dangerous outcast, that’s marketing.
Spreading the ‘truth’ that eggs, milk, carbs or butter are healthy, unhealthy and healthy again, that’s marketing.
But… since we agreed not to go off on tangents about social change, let’s stay on the topic of marketing for your business.
Revisiting our definitions…
Is it a coincidence that Apple, one of the most masterful marketers in history and also the most profitable company in the world (reporting $18 billion for a single quarter’s earnings in 2014, the highest single quarter of profits in corporate history) condemns ‘selling’ in marketing? Not likely.
Microsoft: Effective Marketing, You’re Doin’ it Wrong!
The not-so-secret ingredient.
You may have heard that to sell effectively you must convey the benefits of your product or service, not the features and facts. To be an effective marketer, you must connect with your customers emotionally.
Microsoft, as illustrated in the video above, is often a great example of marketing through information overload; they just can’t seem to resist the urge to use features, facts and fine-print to try to sell their products. The result of this approach is results in competition based on those facts and figures: logical measurable means, which include price (not a great position to be in, strategically speaking).
“The part of the brain that controls decision-making does not control language –facts and figures don’t drive behavior ” – Simon Sinek
On the opposite side of the spectrum, however, there’s Apple. Their undeniable effectiveness, both in marketing and profit, is derived from their ability to consistently connect emotionally with their audience. To say Apple’s success is down only to their marketing is to grossly over-simplify (their core capabilities run thick through their entire culture, which is why their success is so difficult to replicate). But by focusing their communications around the pure pleasure of using Apple products and illustrating the aspirational lifestyle that ‘typical’ Apple customers have (via fiercely simple campaigns) they have created unparalleled levels of caché associated with owning Apple products. Best of all for Apple, this pleasure-driven strategy means they can name their price and people will stand in line to pay it. A much better position than to be competing on price!
Apple sells not settling for average.
“People don’t buy WHAT you do they buy WHY you do it” – Simon Sinek
(if you haven’t seen this video –take 18 minutes and watch it right now… then come right back!)
This is one of the great ‘truths of marketing’ (which you’ve no-doubt heard repeated ad nauseum): to inspire behavior among your people (a purchase, a click, a referral) you must connect emotionally with them.
Why does it matter?
- If you can connect with your people on an emotional level, you can effectively drive behavior (a purchase, a click, a referral).
- If you can effectively drive behavior, you are able to impact your two tracks to revenue (making more transactions, or more per transaction)
Storytelling is not enough
So, if people don’t buy WHAT you do they buy WHY you do it – how do you sell them the why?
Godin’s definition of marketing includes this idea of storytelling – a concept that’s now popular among contemporary marketers because it can be an incredibly effective tool to, yup you guessed it, connect with people emotionally.
But this concept gets grossly misinterpreted (by entrepreneurs and corporations alike) who take this concept as a cue to talk endlessly about themselves and how great they are. All the efficacy of this concept is lost when you simply write a 10 paragraph ‘about us’ page, produce ads based on ego, or spend your time with your clients talking all about you, without one critical element of storytelling… you have to answer one question for your client, both bluntly and subtley – confidently and consistently:
What is in it for them?
A story about you is only worth telling if your client can relate to it – can see themselves in it… A photo is only worth using if it will stir up a feeling in your customers’ gut, copy is only worth publishing if it is entertaining or gives great value back to your client for the time they’ve invested in reading it.
Selling WHY YOU DO IT is not about YOU – it is about YOUR AUDIENCE… their needs, wants, pains, desires, fears, objections and problems.
Actions: how do we do all of that?
If we accept this definition of effective marketing:
“An on-going, engaging conversation, supported by an entity for the purpose of driving behaviour or change within a specific group.”
…and we know that we need to sell WHY we do it, rather than WHAT we do… in order to connect emotionally with our potential clients… Some fundamental questions arise that need to be answered each and every time we sit down to create piece of ‘marketing’:
Who is the entity?
This is your business.
What behavior do you want to drive or change do you want to create?
Generally, this includes 1-3 measurable objectives you would like to achieve via the ‘conversation’.
What is the topic of conversation? What WHY are you selling?
What problem are you solving for your customer*? What is the benefit you provide, the lifestyle your product or service can create? *Please note, this requires an intimate knowledge of your customer, which is clarified during the ‘marketing senses’ phase.
Where will the conversation occur?
What are the platforms you will use to host the conversation? Sometimes called channels, it is critical to identify the places where the conversation will look and feel natural and have the opportunity to build momentum.
How will you ensure the conversation is engaging?
The topic itself might be enough (it often is) but engaging elements: photos, video, copy and style(voice) are instrumental to truly engage your people*.
*see ‘specific group’ below
Who is your specific group?
You need to need to need to KNOW your audience inside and out. And you need to speak ONLY to them. Not with an intent to be exclusive, but to get their attention. Prove get it. Prove you get THEM.
A Final Note: Marketing is a messy, 24/7, iterative process.
Planning is key in marketing, but that’s only the beginning of the challenge. Sometimes, the conversation starts without you and you have to choose whether or not to jump in and if so, what to say to avoid seeming the awkward parents crashing the party. Sometimes, you plan one set of objectives for your conversation, but unpredictably horrible or magically profitable (while still totally unplanned) outcomes take shape instead. Worse yet – sometimes, nothing happens at all. How do you measure nothing?
It’s important to keep an open mind and build an agile culture so that you’re ready to respond appropriately, whichever direction the conversation leads.