Gordon G. Andrew is Founder of Highlander Consulting Inc., a New Jersey-based firm that helps clients to create, grow and keep customers.
There are practical reasons diet companies and national gym chains spend most of their advertising budgets within two seasonal windows: in advance of the new year, when people make their annual resolutions, and in springtime, when beachgoers face the prospect of wearing a bathing suit in public.
Despite best intentions, many people who join gyms in January are likely to drop out in February, and many other new members will drop out within the next few months. Countless research studies also suggest that many people who lose weight will regain all of those pounds within a year, and likely add more.
There are valid social and physiological reasons most people don’t do the things necessary to maintain their personal health and fitness. On their journeys, they also must overcome self-imposed obstacles, and in my opinion, three of those are the same reasons marketing fails at most companies.
1. Setting Unrealistic Expectations
Regardless of our body shape, age and metabolism, we typically seek chiseled six-pack abs and movie-star good looks. In marketing as well, we often establish lofty goals — whether they involve lead generation, revenue growth or new accounts — that require a level of investment or period of time that far exceeds actual resources. Having “stretch goals” can be a healthy practice, but at too many companies, consistently falling short of unrealistic targets often results in shelving the marketing initiative altogether.
If there is no benchmark data from prior campaigns, companies are more likely to succeed if they begin with very low (or even zero) performance expectations. Whatever outcomes are achieved over the course of the campaign are then closely and consistently examined to determine what’s working and what’s not in order to make necessary adjustments. That way, there’s a much greater likelihood that the campaign will yield increasingly better results over time.
2. Searching For A Magic Bullet
Fad diets and weight-loss supplements can provide temporary solutions for people seeking alternatives that are faster and easier than changing their eating habits or exercising on a regular basis. Similarly, some companies are always seeking a marketing tactic or gimmick in hopes of generating immediate results.
Two current examples of perceived magic bullets include content marketing and marketing automation software. In both cases, companies can mistakenly believe that producing and sharing content, or consistently emailing information to prospects, is a guaranteed fast track to higher market response and business growth. But those two tactics will never deliver meaningful outcomes unless the company produces content that’s of interest to target audiences, and unless it defines and monitors the metrics it wants its marketing automation to achieve. Neither of those initiatives are quick fixes.
3. Lacking A Meaningful Plan
“Lose weight” is not a plan. Instead, a plan might be: “Lose 10 pounds over the next three months by monitoring my caloric intake; running two to three miles on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; and logging my weight every morning.”
Each time I’ve met with a prospective client over the past three decades, one of the first questions I ask is, “Do you have a written marketing plan?” Some are truthful and tell me no. Others tell me they have a plan, but that it’s not written; to which my response is always, “Then you don’t really have a marketing plan.”
Some companies do have a written marketing plan. Typically, it’s contained in a three-ring binder that never gets looked at — and those companies don’t have a real marketing plan either. As a result, all of those companies have no tangible way to plan, budget for or execute meaningful marketing activity. There is no way to calculate the return on their marketing investment. There is no real accountability — no connection with the company’s sales function or with business metrics that can have an impact on its balance sheet.
Marketing’s Place At The Management Table
Too often, marketing is marginalized as a way to “promote the brand” or to “build goodwill,” and is viewed as overhead rather than a profit center. But for company owners or senior managers who are serious about tapping into the enormous potential of marketing to grow their enterprise, there is a pathway to avoid the three most common self-imposed obstacles:
• Treat marketing as an essential corporate discipline that requires the same level of commitment and long-term perspective as operations, sales, legal, accounting, technology or HR functions. Marketing should not be ignored or reduced when business is good, nor should it be applied only as triage when business declines. Marketing needs to run at a consistent pace at all times.
• Accept that there is no “secret sauce” in marketing that will transform the company overnight. The most meaningful marketing initiatives will take planning, hard work, and ongoing scrutiny and modification to produce results.
• Create written marketing plans that are realistic and user-friendly. They need not be lengthy or complex, and can be as brief as a two- to three-page memo. Your programs should be based on actionable, measurable tactics that are focused on driving market engagement rather than opinion, and that are not sacrosanct. If they’re not working, they’re fixed or replaced.
Management consulting legend Peter Drucker said, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two — and only two — basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”
Given the actual role that marketing currently plays at most companies, Drucker — who passed away in 2005 — would likely need to modify his bold statement: “Marketing and innovation can produce results; all the rest are costs.”
Marketing’s full potential will be realized only by those companies with the insight to give the function a seat at the management table and the determination to make marketing earn its place there.
Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?