Touching the void – is your marketing getting you the wrong kind of exposure?

March 18, 2011

Blog best practice states that posts should be helpful.  OK, the most helpful thing I can say to a huge number of the businesses I encounter is simple – STOP MARKETING!

Why?  Because you are wasting time and money on efforts that will bring you nothing but pain and disappointment.

It’s easy to become complacent

Let me explain.  In January I went skiing in the French Alps.  Our chalet was in Morzine, which is quite low – the weather was unseasonably warm, with no snow in the town.

On the first couple of days we skied near the resort, and the weather was sunny and hot.  Later in the week we went much further, and higher – right over the border and way into Switzerland.  Suddenly it clouded over, the temperature dropped to about minus 10 and an icy wind whipped the snow into a white-out.  On a long exposed chair lift at about 9,000ft it dawned on me that I should have brought a hat and some more layers of clothing.  Luckily a colleague was carrying spares, otherwise things could have been very nasty – it was a long way home, over several high peaks.

The moral of the story is that I underestimated the scale of the challenge that faced me.  And I see a lot of SMEs making a similar mistake.  They cheerfully venture out into the marketplace with ill prepared campaigns and insubstantial collateral only to be caught unawares by the harshness of the environment.  Instead of the nice warm feeling they were expecting from the arrival of new business they experienced the chilly blast of total indifference.

Expect to be ignored

To avoid this kind of unwelcome exposure take a reality check.  There are three huge obstacles that today’s marketers have to overcome.

  1. People are punch drunk with information.  It’s coming at them from every direction 24/7.  A ton of fresh emails every day, incessant sales calls, junk mail, people with clipboards on every street selling charities, pop-ups, press ads, TV commercials, even product placement in the programmes themselves.  Every minute of every day there’s information being thrust in their face – so how receptive to your message are they going to be?
  2. Marketing used to be easier because, once upon a time, there was demand.  Now everyone has got everything they need.  Show me someone who doesn’t have a smartphone, a car, a computer and a microwave.  What business doesn’t already have an accountant, an IT support person and a stationery supplier?  How are you going to make them dissatisfied with what they already have?
  3. Every market is crammed with competing companies, from all over the world.  There are countless providers offering virtually identical products and services, at prices that are hard to match.  How are you going to differentiate yourself, let alone persuade customers that your offer is superior to that of all your competitors, and still make a profit?

Don’t hope for the best.  Be the best

Put these three factors together and you have the perfect storm.  Does that mean it’s best not to venture out at all?  No – you just have to be realistic about the obstacles, and invest in solutions that are sufficiently well considered and executed to overcome them.  Complacency, and the mediocre marketing that goes with it, will leave you whistling in the wind.  And it’s a cold one!

If you’d like to be better prepared get a copy of “The Authority Guide to Creating Brand Stories That Sell”.

  1. Ryan James March 21, 2011 Reply

    Another great article Jim, I can picture you getting enraged whilst writing it, thinking of all those SMEs blindly thinking that their feeble, untargeted marketing campaign is going to work...

    I guess one question that springs to mind... how would you advise an SME to stop, consider and foresee the weakness of their own marketing campaign?

    Whether you're right or not, most SMEs will naturally assume that their marketing campaign is going to succeed - regardless of how well folk like us try to convince them otherwise.

    From experience, 'assumption' is typically the most common demonator. Too many SMEs cut corners and assume they know what their customers really want, consequently developing messages they think will bite but rarely hit the mark because they've never thought to step back and ask 'what is it that a company like ours can do to better service your needs?' ... and be prepared that the answer is often different to that which you had assumed!

    What are your thoughts Jim?

  2. Jim March 21, 2011 Reply

    Hi Ryan,
    You ask a great question - how would I go about advising SMEs to stop, consider and forsee the weakness of their own marketing campaign?

    I've been fairly blunt in that post because it's hard to get SMEs to even consider the possibility (despite lack of results) that their marketing is inadequate.

    I agree with you that "assumption" is the major problem. There's that old cliche - "Don't makes an ASS out of U and ME". The biggest assumption they make is that average planning, average targeting, average ideas, average execution, average copy, average design, average thinking...are sufficient to overcome the obstacles they face.

    I'm getting to the point where I feel I actually have to seriously hurt someone's feelings (not something that I enjoy doing) to save them from self harming! In the past, when I mentored members of a sales team I often shrank from the responsibility of telling them, very forcibly, that they were causing their own problems(!). The people mentoring me put it like this "Jim, if you saw a small child running out between 2 parked cars, just as a bus was approaching, would you grab the child by the arm, even if you hurt their arm...or would you let them run under the bus?"
    I'm sick of seeing so called marketing professionals letting their clients run under buses!

    Although I don't go around being deliberately offensive to all the SMEs I meet (not a great strategy for winning new business) I think that on some occasions it takes brutal frankness to get them to stop and listen to something other than their own internal monologue. Saatchi & Saatchi always espoused the principle (and still do, I believe) of "brutal simplicity of thought", and having worked there I can tell you that the brutal bit was applied without mercy - any assumption, and any instance of lazy thinking, was ruthlessly punished (three strikes and you were out, sacked)! They were in the business of excellence, not the business of making friends.

    I realise this probably makes me sound like a horrible person. Am I? I'm actually someone who has this prayer on the wall of my office:
    "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference."

    Sorry, very long answer, but a good question. I think a lot of my blog posts are going to appear quite negative, but I'm just trying to save people from themselves!

    So, if you have a client, or a potential client, who is in the process of running under a bus, and you think there's a chance you can save them, I believe you have to be courageous enough to pull them up quite hard - even if they don't thank you for it. Taking the money, and helping to create a bus accident, is not something I enjoy doing.

  3. Sonja Jefferson March 21, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jim (and Ryan).

    That's a really good post and as ever, your use of a good story really hits home. It is true that marketing has got harder and any complacency means a campaign that just won't cut it today.

    You have to be the best as you say - by communicating the most pertinent message and by giving the most value through your marketing, to build their trust.

    The crux of all this is that you have to know your particular customers and their needs better than anyone else in your space, and you can only do that by listening to them and understanding what they want. That means not guessing but actually asking clients what they want - the kind of direct feedback that many companies don't request, but is hugely powerful if you do it well.

    Just my view!

    I'm loving this blog by the way. Looking forward to the next one.


  4. Jim March 21, 2011 Reply

    Hi Sonja,
    Thanks for your positive and insightful comments. Just seen on Twitter (5 secs ago, as I'm writing this reply) that you've just picked up two new projects. Really pleased to see there are clients who get the need for valuable content, rather than "any old content to just fill a space"! Also, excellent point that the most valuable content is not just the result of good writing, but good listening.
    Cheers, Jim

  5. Christopher Stokes March 21, 2011 Reply

    Once again Jim you have written an excellent article. But my favourite bit was in your reply to Ryan "I’m sick of seeing so called marketing professionals letting their clients run under buses!" Now stop me from finding my bus....... please! Cheers, Christopher

  6. Antonia March 24, 2011 Reply

    greetings, wonderful page, and a fairly good understand! one for my bookmarks.

    • Jim June 5, 2011 Reply

      Hi Antonia,
      Glad you liked it! I looked at your webpage - sorry, where are you and what language?...not a good understand for me! Apologies....

  7. Jim O'Connor March 26, 2011 Reply

    Hi Antonia,
    Many thanks...where are right now? China?

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