Busyness and business – why the one is not always good for the other

October 26, 2011

You want your marketing to work.  But all too often it doesn’t.  There could be any number of reasons for this, but it seems to me that in most instances the mistakes stem from a single cause.  In this post I’m going to attempt to root it out.

Getting your message across has never been harder

Let’s begin by defining the problem.  You want to get the attention of your audience, engage with them, and then win them over to the idea of giving you some money for whatever it is you offer.  This has become really difficult.  Because you have lots of competition, because consumers are spoilt for choice, and because your audience, reeling from information overload, is switched off (see my earlier post “Touching the void”).

This means that, whatever you do, it has to be extraordinarily good – not just average, or adequate, but brilliant.  If not, people simply won’t notice it, let alone respond in the way you want.

But at least you have more ways to do it

The good news, however, is that you have an array of powerful new tools at your disposal.  These enable you to reach and interact with your audience better than ever before.  You can use websites, email marketing, blogs, twitter, SEO, pay-per-click, Linkedin, Facebook, web video, text messaging….

But there’s a downside (there always is!).  These new tools make everything considerably more complicated.

There’s only one way to solve these twin challenges

So the job of getting people to engage with you has become much tougher.  And the technology has become more confusing.  Both of these factors, either taken individually, or tackled in conjunction, make the whole process hugely more demanding.  You have to think harder – a lot harder.

This brings us to the real problem.  Thinking hard takes time.  And time is something everybody is short of.

Fast forward

Technology enables us to do things faster.  Now you can get around the world in hours, not days or months.  A smartphone enables you to communicate instantly to with people all over the globe, and gives you instant access to almost all the world’s information.  You can shop for almost anything without having to waste time and energy physically going to the High Street (with next day delivery).  And you can have a Chicken Tikka Massala on the table in a couple of minutes instead of a couple of hours.  All of which is to the good.  In these instances, and thousands of others, quicker is, on balance, better (not least because time is money).

However, this creates an expectation that doing everything quicker is an improvement.  That’s not true.  Some things take a certain amount of time to do properly, and if you hurry the process it ends in disaster.  Like making wine.  Or painting window frames.  Or building a relationship.  There’s a direct correlation between the time taken and the quality achieved.  This definitely holds true for thinking – when you rush it, and act in haste, you repent at your leisure.

Hurry up and you f*** up

So, solving marketing problems in today’s challenging environment, using the complex tools and technology, needs a lot of thought.  And to do that properly, in order to arrive at a quality solution, takes time.  But what do I see when I look at the marketing industry?  A bunch of people running around being busy, busy, busy – and creating little but chaos.  Let’s take just one instance – briefing.

You want a proper brief?  You’ll be lucky!

A trouble-shooting CEO was trying to turn around a company he’d been tasked with rescuing.  He briefed me on creating a whole new brand, and on producing the collateral to sell this internally and to the city, over the phone, while driving – I could hardly hear him and the connection was lost about 5 times before the “briefing” was completed.

Another time a leading technology marketing agency asked me to do a quick project for Microsoft.  I received a 20 page brief that night, and was asked to complete the job by lunchtime the next day.  The brief was total nonsense – it simply didn’t tell me what I was supposed to be doing.  I called the agency account handler the next morning and said “I can’t do this – I don’t understand the brief.”  She replied “Oh, ignore that document.  It’s from the client and I’ve not even read it myself.  It’s quite simple – they just want you to write a quick email.”

On another occasion I was asked to write a product fact sheet.  The brief was “Here’s last year’s version, and look at their website – you’ll figure it out.  We need it like now.”  There was nothing relevant on the website and last year’s sheet seemed to be about a different product.  When I pointed this out to the person who’d just given me the job they replied “You’re right, this is complete rubbish – I didn’t read it, and I see what you mean about there being nothing on the website.”

Not enough bandwidth

People are now being asked to multi-task like never before.  The result might look like extra productivity, but what’s really being achieved, other than greater confusion?

They’re responding to emails, and taking calls, when they’re in a meeting and supposed to be concentrating on something else.  They’re hurriedly reading documents on their smartphone, and making amendments on tiny screens, when their arse is in LA and their brains are trying to catch up.  They’re making decisions, and communicating them by email or text, when the only way to clear up the mess is a proper face to face discussion.   They’re participating in conference calls where everybody is not just physically elsewhere, but mentally absent as well.

In modern business parlance they don’t have the bandwidth they need to handle all these tasks simultaneously.  And nor does anyone else.  The result?  Ill-conceived projects, hasty decisions, thoughtless actions, scrambled communications, silly misunderstanding, and marketing campaigns that are FUBAR.*

You’re fired

A great example of this “hurry at all cost” mentality is “The Apprentice”.  The main reason why things go so horribly wrong every week (apart from too many big egos on each team) is the fact they have to do so much in so little time.  This makes for great TV, but lousy business.

It’s enjoyable to see these people fail.  But it’s instructive to ask “why?”  I don’t think the answer is as simple as “they’re stupid”.  I believe the correct lesson to learn from this is that even good people, who are trying their very best, will make stupid mistakes if you don’t give them the time they need to do a job properly.

Think and grow rich

The smart person, the one who can see things going wrong, asks questions.  But in today’s environment this is generally viewed as “being difficult”.  The response is along the lines of “can’t you just get on with it?”, “we don’t have time for this” and “if you can’t do it there are plenty of people who will.”

This attitude is at the very heart of what’s going wrong.  If you want to produce quality marketing, marketing that harnesses the power of the latest technology, and successfully engages consumers, you must make time to think.  And question.  And discuss.  And think again.  Time is money, as we all know.  But spending time on the thinking part can save a huge amount of money in the long run.  More than that – it can bring in more money.  That’s the whole point of marketing – not to keep marketing people busy, busy, busy, but to bring in more revenue.

*FUBAR – Fucked Up Beyond Recognition

  1. Caroline J October 26, 2011 Reply

    Oh Jim - I agree with 100%! And it isn't just with a marketing strategy that people don't spend enough time thinking about things. As you infer here - Questions are the Answers.
    I'm really enjoying your posts - can't wait for the next one!
    PS. I fell for the link to the Wiki! I should have known better...:)

  2. Jim October 27, 2011 Reply

    Hi Caroline,
    Many thanks for your loyal readership (royal leadership? I'm still dyslexic...why do they make that word so hard to spell? Anyway...).

    You're right, questions are the answers, and it's not just marketing strategy - I'm ashamed to admit I'd forgotten about that book, but checking the shelf I'm glad to see we kept a copy of that one.

    Hope you and Davina are well, we must meet up sometime.

    All the best,


  3. Stewart Stanbra November 1, 2011 Reply

    Really enjoying your newsletters Jim....great info for us as we develop our marketing strategies! :)
    I hope you are well.

    • Jim November 2, 2011 Reply

      Hi Stewart,
      Glad it is useful stuff - thanks for texting me re article in Telegraph.
      How's it going?
      Kind regards,

  4. Simon Barber November 1, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for a thought provoking news letter...enjoyed the articles. Can you also put [email protected] down on your email list. I have told Kate (my new marketing lady) how good you are, and I know you wouldn't want to disappoint.

    • Jim November 2, 2011 Reply

      Hi Simon,
      Glad you liked newsletter - I've put Kate on Mailing list, as requested.
      Hope all is going well?
      Kind regards,

  5. Christian Digby-Firth November 22, 2011 Reply

    Apart from amending your explanation of FUBAR (it’s worse than you say – Fxxxed Up Beyond ALL Recognition) I’m with you on this one, Jim.

    How many times have we creative folk pointed out that time “saved” now will be spent, with interest, on de-FUBARing later? How often do we deliver to a “yesterday” deadline, then wait two weeks for feedback?

    And as you say, quality and efficiency are the first things to suffer. One copywriter I knew put a sign above his desk: Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick any 2.

    I doubt it made much difference.

    Oddly, I’ve noticed another trend that might seem to be the opposite of chronic busyness, and that’s a sloth-like lack of urgency in actually taking projects to completion. Could it be that those hyperactive people fear, when the job is done, they’ll have nothing left to be busy about?

    No doubt the business psychologists among your readers can explain what’s going on.


    PS: I’d forward your post to my clients, but the ones it would really help will be far too busy to read it.

  6. Jim November 22, 2011 Reply

    Hi Christian,

    Thanks for your contribution - really like the Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick any 2 (!)

    Another reason for sloth like project completion/sign-off might also be fear of getting an invoice?

    All the best,


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