Marketing is easy is obviously a provocative, a gimmicky, some might say even a “marketing” title.
I once called out Ted Coine (a customer relationship guru) when he said that any investment in customer service would be ROI positive. That’s just not true. Nordstrom provides great service, but if they paid for your transportation to and from the store, it would not automatically raise their profits (and might destroy them). Adding customer service has a cost. Sometimes that investment adds more value than it costs, and sometimes it doesn’t. But to say every customer service investment is ROI positive is patently not true.
But after a little back-and-forth, Ted’s final counter-argument was: For most companies, “customer service is so abysmal that to be reasonable sends the wrong message.”
I feel we have the opposite problem with marketing.
Everywhere I turn people are telling me how complicated and ‘hard’ marketing is – and how it’s getting harder and more complicated all the time. Usually this is followed up by a pitch to buy their “black box” product that will solve your marketing problems or at least reduce your marketing costs by 20% (20% seems to be the number that is thrown out there as big enough for someone to care and small enough to still be believable).
What I believe is that marketing is not very hard and we make it far more complicated than it needs to be. I believe complication can add a small amount of value, but to paraphrase Tim, “Most company’s marketing is so abysmal they don’t need to do complicated things to create value – they need to fix a few basic, simple, easy things to get the vast majority of the impact.”
Basically I’m arguing that most of the time the problem in marketing today is not a lack of complicated solutions that are hard to deliver, but rather ignorance of the simple solutions that will create almost all of the value.
I think most marketers are spending their time on the wrong things.
Marketing is Hard
I hear it all the time. In many ways it’s true, but in most ways it is an excuse.
It’s an excuse to seem superior, as in “I’ve spent my life doing marketing and it’s hard.”
It’s an excuse to sell something, as in “You need our help to market your product. Pay me.”
It’s an excuse for ignorance, as in “Half of advertising works, we just don’t know which half, so let’s just go ahead and spend and see what happens.”
But if marketing is not hard – if marketing really is easy – then why do so many people think it’s hard? I believe this is because marketing has five characteristics that make it look hard:
- Marketing is noisy: Just like sociology, there is a lot going on that makes measurement of marketing hard. If you spend $1000 on marketing and it generates $50,000 in sales over the next month that is great (assuming you have better than 2% margins), but if your monthly sales fluctuate on a month-to-month basis by $1M, it will be very difficult to know if your marketing had any effect (without spending a lot more than $1000)
- Marketing uses best practices to cover for ignorance: In the 1800s learning how to be a doctor was hard. Unfortunately going to a doctor did not improve your chances of survival. Imagine if you travelled back in time with some simple techniques: Wash your hands, keep injuries clean, apply pressure to bleeding, keep sick people separate from healthy people and do not throw their feces into the drinking water. Those techniques would be “easy” and you would be far more effective than the doctors back then. Marketing is just now coming out of its 1800s medicine phase. Eventually, like medicine, marketing may get hard, but we are in a special time right now when the stuff we know works is pretty easy. It is all the “best practice” stuff that can be hard – but for most of that stuff there is no evidence that it actually works.
- Marketing can be random: This could be a sub-point under marketing being noisy, but it’s worth calling out separately. You can do everything right and your marketing may not succeed (you could also do a lot wrong and still be successful). I will expand on this more in posts over time as it is a very hard thing to internalize as we tend to believe that if Result B followed Action A then Acton A must have caused Result B. When we look back with hindsight it seems obvious that Michael Jackson, Harry Potter and Google would all be successful, and that obviously the things Michael and J.K. and Sergei did caused that success to happen. I am going to argue that none of that is true. And that understanding that is very important to doing great marketing.
- Marketing can be time consuming: Just because something is easy, doesn’t mean it doesn’t take effort or money. I will explain the step-by-step process you could use to promote any blog post you make, but that doesn’t mean that I will do it for every post I make on this site – because it takes a lot of work (or it takes a lot of dollars to pay someone else to do the work). I will also explain how you can optimize your search engine marketing – but that doesn’t mean I will be spending my personal savings advertising this site on Google. Which brings me to…
- You have to Market something: And not all “somethings” are the same. If you are selling a product that doesn’t have profitable margins, then no amount of paid marketing is going to help you. This, and the law of small numbers (which I will cover in a post), is the biggest challenge facing most start-ups: They don’t know if they have a product they can afford to market. Which is why I argue that the best time to hire a strong marketer is AFTER you have a strong, proven product (but I do have some techniques I will share that will help you know relatively cheaply if you have a strong product)
This book is my attempt to reduce some of the ignorance that exists in marketing and show how easy it can be.
This book is being written the way Charles Dickens used to write his novels – a little at a time (although I likely won’t have cliffhangers every week). My goal is to write something here once a week or so, share it through the regular social channels and potentially build a following of others hoping to remove the curtain from the marketing profession. I plan on responding to any comments shared on the site, or sent directly to me. For more about this site and why I feel qualified to write anything on this topic for public consumption, please see the ABOUT page.
Next: What is marketing?