Oh, the Damage We Can Do

If anyone on your marketing team ever says that direct marketing is dead and all you need is one well-placed ad in a major HR trade and one great press release to attract your buyers like flies to a Venus flytrap – fire them immediately.

We’re always sharing with our HR Marketer members what they should do when developing and executing their marketing and PR plans, but we’ve never put together a list of what they shouldn’t do.

And now we don’t have to because we found a great article that does just that. It’s by John Graham, president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm out of Massachusetts. He’s also the author of Break the Rules Selling and The New Magnet Marketing.

John’s article is entitled “Refining and Shaping Your Company’s Marketing Program” and the following are “13 common ways self-appointed marketing experts damage and even destroy beneficial marketing efforts.”

Enjoy (and pay attention)!

1. Basing decisions on personal opinion. This is the number one killer. Listen carefully. If you hear such words as "I think," "I feel," "in my opinion," "I never listen to," "direct mail is dead," "we tried all of that," or "advertising never works," when a marketing program or project is discussed, you are talking to a killer.

Marketing isn't any more for amateurs than is accounting. Personal opinion is no substitute for experience and research.

2. Lack of follow-through. Experience suggests that those who talk the most about marketing tend to know the least, do the least or both. The more they talk, the less they do. They come to meetings ready to do battle, but when you ask them for specific information, the best they can do is send you a PDF file.

These are the people who espouse high expectations, but when it comes down to translating ideas into action, they come up empty.

3. Failing to do enough. The talk is bigger than the budget – or the commitment. The meetings are always about developing a comprehensive, proactive, consistent marketing program. Then when it gets close to Implementation Day, there is a scaling back and eliminating of components.
Successful marketing demands a carefully crafted and expertly executed plan that meets its objectives because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When elements are cut out, pared back and otherwise altered, there is a diminishing of the overall impact and the program falls short.

Every element of a marketing program will not be highly successful. Failures occur. If the program is sufficiently robust, the failures will "crash" the overall effort.

4. Procrastinating. Many companies are filled with decision makers who can't bring themselves to make decisions. These are the people who have learned to avoid trouble by endlessly delaying what should be done. They are "rational obstructionists" in that they always have what sound like good reasons for not moving forward. In this way, projects and issues either go away on their own or someone else picks them up.

These are the people who see themselves as protectors, not procrastinators. Invariably, they defend their inaction under a shroud of "I am only thinking about what's good for the company." You're in trouble when you hear those words.

5. Refining it forever. One of the most effective ways to kill a marketing initiative is to discuss it and evaluate it endlessly. Make sure there are always a few copy changes – that slows things down. Or ask for a couple of days to review it – the 7th time. Ask to see an alternative graphic. Change one color or another – and then back again. Go on a photo shoot and then say, "You know, somehow or other it doesn't quite hit the mark." And when all else fails, tell them, "I'm not sure the time is right for this."

Every marketing project deserves the best possible execution, but "picking at projects" is a very effective way to make sure nothing happens.

6. Getting everyone's opinion before doing anything. This is commonly called "buy in." While there are times when it's valuable to have everyone on board before launching a marketing or sales effort, there are those who use it as a well-honed technique for avoiding action. Keeping everyone involved and informed is essential, of course. But "buy in" can be code words for "What might happen if I make a mistake?"

The issue is leadership. "Decisiveness is the ability to make difficult decisions swiftly and well, and act on them." Organizations are filled with people who dance around decisions without ever making them," write Larry Bossidy, Honeywell International chairman and co-author of Execution.

7. Jumping from one idea to another. Too many are expert in the practice of "Mexican Jumping Bean Marketing." They try an ad or two, jump to direct mail, they do nothing, and then get out a newsletter (only one, of course).

On and on it goes, no plan, no strategy, just what they heard at the last trade show meeting or saw a competitor do. These are, of course, the first to stand up and make it clear that marketing is a waste of money and what they really need is more sales.

8. Lack of vision. Maurice the Pants Man was a well-established and highly successful single unit retail store in central Massachusetts. Finally, the owner wanted to retire and sold the company to several self-assured "businessmen" who quickly opened a dozen or so more locations as part of a growth plan. The panache of the original store was missing, however, and only the name remained. All they did was create another blah retail operation that lacked character and identity to set it apart from thousands of similar operations. They went out of business in record time.
There was no vision, no life, no feeling. There was nothing to grab the customer. Without the unique, compelling vision, businesses end before they begin, although it sometimes takes the owners a bit longer to figure out they were never actually in business.

9. Short-term results. While the worst business debacle of the last 80 years remains fresh in everyone's mind, the lesson of focusing on short-term results is yet to sink in (if it ever will). There appears to be an unavoidable relationship between the effort devoted to driving stock prices up to the speed of the demise of so many companies.

The role of marketing is to create customers who believe that doing business with a particular company is prudent; it is not just to get business on the books. It is help to align with customer requirements so that both buyer and seller walk in step with each other. Interestingly, when this happens, sales and satisfied customers are created. But it happens over the long-term. This suggests that companies starving for customers may have been getting marketing wrong for a long time.

10. Risk averse. If you want to watch self-described businesspeople turn to mush, listen to what they say when they are confronted with a comprehensive marketing program. "Yes, I know where you are coming from, but why don't we try sending out a postal card first and see what response we get. If we make some sales, then we'll invest more in the program." They talk like entrepreneurs and act like wimps.

There are many reasons for Dell Computers' success, of course. But at the top of the list has always been courage-taking chances. While competitors pulled in their advertising, Dell was seen everywhere. When others were downsizing because of dwindling sales, Dell decided to go into printers and printer supplies, taking on Hewlett-Packard.

11. Waiting to see. This is a favorite, particularly when sales sag. Instead of acting quickly and decisively to gain the advantage, many companies take a wait-and-see attitude, hoping that things will turn around by themselves. Of course, if you were to ask them if they see themselves as leaders, they would smile broadly and tell you that proactive is their favorite word.

Wait-and-see does have a basis in fact. More often than not, they wait and see what the competition decides to do. Those who take this posture often see themselves as entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, all they know are the right words. They lack the guts to take action. Wait-and-see generally results in a competitor taking the lead by grabbing market share.

12. Turning to marketing only when the bottom falls out. Marketing is often implemented as a desperation move. When it fails to produce emergency results, the fault rests with marketing.
If a company is strangling from a lack of sales, it needs to take drastic action. The U.S. auto manufacturers have learned this lesson. Based on market projections, they've taken drastic action to stimulate sales. But this is a marketing strategy, based on a careful understanding of what the customer values. Currently, it is "zero interest" for longer periods and extended warranties.

13. Waiting until the last minute. Far too many marketing people (and often salespeople, as well) suffered from the deadly Last Minute Syndrome. As one marketing director said with glee, "It just goes with the territory, doesn't it?" Not my territory, it doesn't. Others swear they are more creative at the 11th hour. Nonsense.

While an adrenaline rush may come from racing around and upsetting everyone involved, it does not go with good marketing. The last minute tornado technique goes with poor planning, sloppy execution, unnecessary mistakes and cutting corners to get the job or program out the door. Furthermore, it shouldn't be tolerated and neither should those who practice this approach.