Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Moving on. Why I quit the marketing game

I spent 35 years of my professional life as a marketing executive. I’d say 29 of those years were fantastic. I overstayed my welcome for five years in one organization, for only one year in my last gig. Frankly, that was enough. I had seen the really good and the really bad of management and its commitment to (or total disregard for) quality marketing.

I’ve known a number of other marketers who have had similar experiences. What’s the problem? I have my theories:
  • Organizations don’t give marketing enough time. They are searching for fast results and when they don’t get them they give up and move on to the next faddish approach. This gets repeated over and over again in corporate life.
  • Everybody’s a marketer. Marketing is something most people think they know, and they leave little room for the people who really understand the science of marketing. In many organizations, there’s a lot of internal competition to be the “expert” when it comes to marketing, even though few really understand marketing at all.
  • Organizations that aren’t about marketing like to pigeon-hole the marketing department in parts of the organization that rarely if ever understand or can fully support the craft. In my last organization, for example, the marketing unit was moved to report to a brand new VP who was named to “oversee marketing” but had no idea what he was doing. He had never worked in marketing and knew nothing about it. But he loved "playing media” and “being creative” and he eventually drug the entire operation back to a 1960s-style PR shop. It was sad, but nevertheless a reality.
I reached a point in my career where I could just no longer fight for the respect and freedom necessary to do the job well. I’d done that so many times I was exhausted. I moved on.

Still, I love the world of marketing. I wish my former colleagues and peers all the best as they fight the good fight. Some will win their battles. Many will lose. And that’s just the way it goes, I’m afraid.

The business of getting and keeping customers is hard enough, but made nearly impossible when your own organization fights you every step of the way.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Let's start the new year with an excellent reminder from Katy Keim of a brand's true essence:
Reputation, I think, is one of the most forgotten or neglected attributes of a brand, in spite of the fact that it’s typically the single most important factor that allows a brand to grow value and inspire loyalty. It’s the unique combination of how we perceive a brand, how it speaks to us, how we engage and interact with it, as well as the value it brings to our lives. It’s a multi-directional dialogue between a brand and its customers – a brand’s key differentiator in the marketplace. But how do we measure it?
Think of it as the point of convergence between what a brand says about itself and what others say about it. It’s the delta between aspiration and reality or, colloquially speaking, “talking the talk” vs. “walking the walk.” It’s the total experience a brand creates across multiple touch points in relation to the impact it makes relative to its customers wants and needs.
I've said many times that the work of branding is aligning an organization's identity (how it perceives itself) with it's image (how others perceive it). When those two things line up, excellent brands emerge.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Perfect pitch

Those of us in the marketing business are all too familiar with clients who are so close to their products that they're simply unable to see things in a fresh way. We constantly search for ways to break through and make connections with clients like that.

Enter Don Draper, the cheating, conniving ad exec of Mad Men. For all his foibles, Draper knows how to make connections with the toughest of clients. Even though it's fiction, I consider this particular client pitch to be the greatest of all time:

A few lessons learned: First, don't compromise your own professional expertise, especially when you know you're right. Be prepared to walk away if you have to. Second, the gentle way of leading a client to change isn't always the best way. Sometimes you just have to draw a hard line. Finally, wear a convincing poker face. (Great hair, great teeth and a well-tailored suit can't hurt, either.)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The importance of staying focused

One of the hardest aspects of marketing is NOT doing certain things. Marketing involves setting priorities, whether it's targeting a specific audience, keeping creative work focused only on objectives or scaling a campaign to fit a defined budget.

All too often, our clients try to push us to be all things to all people. They want their marketing investment to go as far as possible, and to them it only makes sense to cram as much as they can into the white space or write the ad copy to appeal to anyone who can fog a mirror. The trouble is, the law of diminishing returns applies. The less focused and targeted a marketing effort, the less effective it will be.

Try to keep your clients focused on objectives, not creative execution, which is best left to the experts.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The ALS "ice bucket challenge" and the myth of Narcissus

The latest social media flash-in-the-pan is the ALS "ice bucket challenge." Think what you like about the effort, it joins the ranks of a few brilliant uses of social media, particularly Facebook.

But it appears that the "challenge" is much more about self-promotion than it is fundraising for an important cause. What it demonstrates is the influence of the social media community, in which its members seek validation and acceptance within the context of that community.

This excellent post by Catherine Palmieri makes a compelling case for how marketers should approach social media. I think she would agree that the "ice bucket challenge" proves her point.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A lesson learned?

Somewhere, in the midst of this public relations debacle, is a lesson. I'm still trying to sort out what it is.

1. Think, really think, before you click "send."
2. Test your brilliant idea with at least one other person before going public with it.
3. Don’t go to war with the Shockers. Don’t start no stuff, won’t be no stuff.
4. All of the above.

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/2013/03/27/2736007/pep-bands-war-song-a-hit-with.html#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I beg your pardon, Goshen College

My alma mater, Goshen College, issued a news release yesterday that points to a classic misunderstanding about brand identity.  Here's an excerpt:
Goshen College Set To Rebrand Maple Leaf Athletics Logo
Tue, Mar 04, 2014 - [Leafs]

GOSHEN, Ind. - The Goshen College Athletics Department is excited to announce its plans to re-brand its Maple Leaf logo this Spring.
Known as the "Maple Leafs" since the late 1950's, Goshen will continue the tradition that comes with the moniker. Plans also call for the re-branding to stick with the traditional purple and white as primary color marks of the program.
A new brand identity, though, will be created to help better tell the story of Maple Leaf student-athletes. Additional goals include creating a system of logos which will provide options for multiple uses, more uniformly representing all athletic programs, modernizing the program's look, and increasing brand recognition for Goshen Athletics and the college as a whole.
Here's where Goshen College starts down the slippery slope of really not understanding branding: "The Goshen College Athletics Department is excited to announce its plans to re-brand its Maple Leaf logo..." Okay, some basics here. First, a logo is not a brand. Second, you don't "brand a logo," you introduce one.

GC continues: "Plans also call for the re-branding to stick with the traditional purple and white as primary color..." Really, what the college is trying to say is that they are sticking with the same colors currently used in their visual identity program.  Again, visual identity is not a brand.

But then, GC really shows they don't get it: "A new brand identity, though, will be created to help better tell the story of Maple Leaf student-athletes."  Every good marketer knows you don't "create" a brand identity. Brand identity is determined by your customers and constituents. The only thing you really control is consistency, and GC is at least trying to create a program that does that, although having "a system of logos which will provide options for multiple uses, more uniformly representing all athletic programs" will likely work against building a tight, consistent system. Further, if GC marketers think that a new logo will "better tell the story of Maple Leaf student-athletes," they've got another think coming.

What my beloved Goshen College should have said in their news release is that the college is excited to introduce a new logo for its athletics program that will further enhance the school's existing visual identity program.  After all, with a maple leaf for a mascot, you need all the good karma you can muster.