Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Don't Need That Type of Marketing - Changing Cultures, Changing Minds

To a marketing pro, the absence of an established marketing program can look like a gold mine of opportunity -- no expectations, no limits, your opportunity to build and shape things, to put your stamp on everything. There's just one problem, that absence of program means that either someone (or a group of someones) didn't think it was a good idea; or they had no concept of it -- which, for them, probably translates as not a good idea.

On first glance, you might go into a situation like this with an eye on the gold mine and a belief that changing the culture might be challenging but not impossible. In all likelihood, what you are embarking upon is a sisyphean task with few rewards and very little gold.

You may have capabilities and personality traits that make it worse
Perhaps you're like me, sort of a marketing special forces unit. By that I mean, drop you into a chaotic situation where things are spinning out of control and objectives look difficult to obtain, and you are able to rescue things, to produce results, to make lemonade look like a cornerstone of the menu. Do people often call on you to rescue projects and activities that are in a desperate situation?

It's a great skill to have in a start-up environment, but when you're in a culture that doesn't understand how it got into the chaos, it probably won't understand the scope of your accomplishments. If things fail, nobody understands why they failed. And if everything is successful, there wasn't a tangible cost to getting there the wrong way.

The Problem With Marketing Recipes
If you cook, then you understand that when you're following a recipe, you often find yourself lacking one ingredient or another and substituting as appropriate. When you substitute, you usually attempt to stick within categories of ingredients based on function; substituting sugar and you might use honey, or molasses, or Nutrasweet; need an acid and you might substitute lemon juice, vinegar, or wine. We all understand these substitutions because we can taste them and tangibly understand them.

People don't understand marketing on the same level. They don't understand the difference between product marketing and PR. Where we see an ecosystem, they see a word -- marketing. While they can taste marketing in outbound deliverables, everything that went into that deliverable is umami, that sense of richness and depth of flavor that makes things taste good. And just like many modern eaters, people who don't understand are willing to eat bland, mediocre food simply because it looks like food.

Your Arguments Can't Save an Ecosystem from the Unenlightened
Your ideas are complex. They have inter-linkages and building those inter-linkages is the essence of marketing execution. People who don't understand can't see the inter-linkages; they don't understand fundamental concepts. And while you may envision a linear path to enlightenment through one piece of the puzzle at a time, few will grasp the ecosystem -- the Marketing Gaia -- unless they can see it in it's entirety ("can your team set that up in the lab so that we can review everything?"). And there you stand, like Al Gore giving his Inconvenient Truth presentation, trying to sell an audience not only on the interrelationship of things, but to bring them to the point of taking action and making a change...
  • We haven't introduced any new products, so we don't really need product marketing...
  • We're thinking about launching an ultra-low price model to compete with our low-cost competitor...
  • All we really need is an updated catalog... no a datasheet... no a catalog... can we get both...
  • This product isn't new, it's just something we've been working on for a while... can we get it out there so we can sell it...

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