Marketing – the art and science of capturing attention, spreading your message, and enticing your audience to consider your offer – is a crucial pillar of business success. Yet, in the Digital Age, despite the plethora of platforms and opportunities to engage your target audience, marketing is far from simple or affordable. The landscape is ever-evolving, highly competitive, and frankly, fraught with pitfalls and misconceptions.
More often than not, the chorus of marketing advice sounds like a never-ending refrain of "everything is awesome." The industry would have you believe that the key to success lies in omnipresence – that you must be everywhere, all the time, investing heavily into every available platform, and measuring success with 'vanity metrics'. It's a maddening cycle of relentless expenditure and elusive ROI.
Does anyone in the marketing industry ever recommend restraint? A careful, strategic approach instead of the full-throttle, money-burning race? The answer is disappointingly rare. And when the industry is largely composed of independent agencies and disconnected departments, accountability often falls through the cracks.
So, how can we rectify this? How can we navigate the marketing maze more effectively and efficiently?
In this article, we will confront some of the uncomfortable truths and untold realities of marketing. It's not intended to be a comforting read, and it might hit harder than a sledgehammer. However, the aim is not to inflict pain, but rather to provide you with a no-nonsense guide, a beacon of clarity amidst the noise. Consider this your reality check, a NO-BULL**** rodeo intended to save you both time and money in your marketing journey.
1. Marketing requires a mix of sweat and money. There are no exceptions, no backdoors, no magic wands and no work-arounds.
To win at this game, you need to play it consistently and for the long haul. It's either you roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty or you pay someone else to get theirs dirty. Don't be fooled into thinking there's a cheat code or magic formula that lets you skip bleeding in with sweat and money.
There are many products and services that promise otherwise. But let me tell you, most of them are just selling you a different kind of hard work in a new package and under a different name. Swapping one pile of work for another doesn't miraculously free up your time or save your cash.
So come to grips that in order to succeed you’ll need to commit to doing the formidable work. You gotta put in the time, the sweat and yes the money.
2. Successful Marketing Requires a Team
Consider this analogy: attempting to win a professional basketball game all by yourself. That's what solo marketing efforts are equivalent to – competing against well-coordinated, professional teams with your lone skills. This doesn't mean you should give up if you're the only one in charge of marketing in your business. Instead, you need to be aware of the uphill battle ahead, understanding the degree of hard work and excellence needed to succeed.
Even as a solo marketer, you'll be incorporating assets and resources created by others, effectively turning these external contributors into an extended part of your team. In the contemporary business environment, there is such an extensive scope of work in marketing that it is rarely manageable by a single person, especially if they have other responsibilities in the business, such as sales, project management, design, or development.
This conundrum mirrors a typical shortcoming of product management. Loading more tasks onto a single person's plate usually compromises the quality of some, if not all, of the work. The expectation is that you'll work longer hours to accomplish everything, putting you perpetually at a disadvantage.
Keep this in mind when you structure your marketing efforts and build your team. Avoid overburdening your team members with a multitude of tasks that even you would find challenging to juggle. Always strive for a balance that maintains the quality of the work without causing burnout.
3. Successful efforts start with clear goals, strategy and a story.
Before you even start marketing, there is a mountain of formidable prep work that needs to be addressed. This remains true whether you’re doing it yourself or outsourcing. Any firm, agency, or consultant worth their salt is going to ask you if you have the following:
- Clearly defined goals, positioning statement, unique selling proposition (USP),
- A concrete strategic plan or integrated communications plan
- Clearly defined brand identity and brand narrative – defined down to the experiential touchpoint layer
- Clearly defined market complete with customer segments, demographics psychographics, personas, and customer journeys
- Known current cost of acquisition of a customer (CAC)
- Established customer lifetime value (LTV)
If you’re outsourcing to a firm, and they don’t ask to see most of or all of these, or plan to create them with you – take it as a red flag! If you only have vague, fuzzy demographic definitions of your target market, you will have to spend more to even have a chance at reaching them. This is needless waste! Invest in the groundwork now so you can save heaps of cash year over year.
For instance, the advertising costs for targeting female nurses in Chicago, who are married and love murder mystery shows, are drastically different from those for targeting every female aged 18-55 in Chicago. And they have different value to different people too.
4. Know Your Cost of Acquisition of a Customer (CAC) – even if it's through face-to-face interactions or door-to-door sales.
This is worth repeating and emphasizing. Regardless of how you've generated opportunities in the past, it's crucial to determine the average resources and time spent to convert a customer. If your marketing is primarily interpersonal, it's especially important to crunch the numbers to understand your customer acquisition cost fully. This includes all the labor, travel time, fuel, conference fees, time dedicated to emails, introductions, business cards—everything.
Why is this exercise vital? It's when you comprehend that your current acquisition cost (via conferences, workshops, mixers, golf games, etc.) amounts to thousands of dollars, including your time. This realization allows you to compare your CAC with other marketing strategies, such as PPC ads or promoted content. The startling truth is that many people are unknowingly spending thousands on marketing already. This baseline (the cost and your time) becomes the target to outperform with your future marketing efforts.
5. Your fundamentals need to be locked in and documented. Changing your identity and intended goals mid-journey is a surefire way to derail progress.
Why do you need everything clearly defined and documented? You’re about to spend brinks trucks of cash to drive more demand and engagement to your business. It’s a big expense and major undertaking—careful planning helps determine if and how you should proceed. Getting the plan out of your head and on paper provides a reference point for others but also exhibits commitment, clarity, and accountability. Furthermore, it allows you to stress-test the plan as best you can, before executing it. You’d think this would be common sense, but I can’t tell you how many try to skip the fundamentals.
If you're contemplating skipping these steps, here's what happens:
- Professionals will drop you as a client. Nobody wants to stake their reputation on supporting unstable, shifting plans for a brand that exists solely in your mind and is always on the move. It's a surefire path to chaos. Professionals often establish standards, requirements, terms, and boundaries with clients, and they adhere to them for a good reason—they know better.
- The amateurs and desperate will gladly help you either skip or skimp on these steps, and take you for a ride, entertaining your ready-fire-aim mentality until you run out of money. They don’t have much of a reputation to lose, and they probably really need the cash to feed their family. They have less to lose, and less to offer, because it’s a trap that ends in failure and they likely know it.
The bitter truth is, people are impatient and hungry for quick results. The desire for immediate progress can be so strong that individuals may undermine their marketing efforts, resulting in a lack of due diligence, planning, and documentation. This tendency often leads to erratic, inconsistent efforts yielding neither significant results nor useful data for refinement. Consequently, most people fail. Professionals demand documentation as it provides clear commitment and direction. Most folks prefer to wing it, shaking up the variables like a snow globe, leading to self-sabotage and failure.
6. Market research is essential – it’s how you aim.
Knowing your customer’s needs, preferences, pain points, stakeholders, influencers, demographics, and psychographics forms the bedrock of any efficient marketing strategy.
It's not merely about knowing who they are, but it's also about diving deep into their lifestyle and habits. Familiarize yourself with their media consumption preferences – what TV shows do they enjoy? What podcasts do they frequently listen to? What type of car do they drive? Which social media platforms do they prefer? What kind of content do they engage with most? What time of the day are they most active online? Each of these insights, no matter how trivial it may seem, plays a vital role in sharpening your marketing strategy.
Furthermore, your messages must echo your audience’s personal experiences, striking a chord that incites a response. Generic, one-size-fits-all messages don't cut it anymore. Today's consumers expect personalized experiences and messages that resonate with them on a personal level.
Remember, market research is not a mere box to tick off on your marketing checklist. It's a continuous, iterative process that should evolve with changing market trends and consumer behavior. What worked yesterday might not work today. Keep refining your understanding and stay agile.
These insights allow your marketing team to fine-tune campaigns for your specific audience, streamlining your budget and filtering out irrelevant traffic. Your messages need to resonate with your audience’s personal experiences. This isn't a cutting-edge practice anymore, it's the norm. So, roll up your sleeves and dig into that data—it's time to do your homework!
7. Embrace the suck because marketing is a marathon not a sprint.
This isn't your first time hearing this, but it's worth reiterating because many of us have a hard time accepting it: successful marketing isn't about sprinting, it's about long-distance running. Don't be a slave to your stopwatch; it's your calendar that holds sway here.
If you're venturing into an organized marketing endeavor for the first time, be prepared for a marathon that spans years, not just months. The starting point is crafting a robust plan, followed by rigorous and consistent implementation of that plan over a considerable period.
The first year is all about laying the groundwork – diligently executing your strategies, collecting data, and constantly seeking to refine your performance based on what that data tells you. If you manage to keep up this momentum for a year, you'll start the second year with a treasure trove of comparative data, putting you in an advantageous position to further enhance your efforts.
That is, of course, if you've been consistent throughout the first year and you've conscientiously collected and analyzed data all the way through. It's worth noting that many organizations stumble within the first quarter due to the sheer magnitude and persistence that successful marketing requires.
8. Intermittent Marketing doesn’t work! Inconsistent efforts stifle your growth.
Among business owners, leaders, and managers, there lurks a persistent, clandestine hope. It's the thought that you can dabble in marketing, perhaps running a short, intense campaign or pouring money into ads for a few months, reaping a return, and then hitting your stride. This kind of sporadic marketing doesn't just fall short—it actively undermines your data and sabotages your potential progress, both this year and in the future. It's wishful thinking, pure and simple.
Adopting a start-stop approach or drastically varying your budgets and ad spends from month to month is a one-way ticket to disappointment. It's like trying to build a sandcastle with shifting sands—it's destined to collapse.
True success in marketing comes from thorough planning followed by consistent execution over extended periods. And when we say 'extended', we're not talking a few months—we mean years. Yes, you read that right, successful marketing is a multi-year commitment.
9. Welcome to the Jungle – You're Not Just Competing Against Direct Rivals.
You must come to terms with a fundamental truth: your competition isn't limited to your industry peers. The battle for your audience's attention stretches across every category and sector. In essence, you're squaring off against the entire commercial world. It even exceeds that because all the non-commercial outfits, the friends, relatives, and relationships are in the fray for attention as well.
The world of marketing is an unyielding, always-on melee. If you're a newcomer to contemporary marketing, don't expect a red-carpet welcome. Remember, while you may be fresh on the scene, your competitors and everyone else have been here a while. The Digital Age has made the fight for attention as intense as a bustling Manhattan street in the '80s – chaotic, relentless, and unforgiving.
Don't expect leniency or even a second glance just because you're the "new kid." The rules of the game remain the same, regardless of how green you are.
10. Every Platform Isn't for Everyone. Beware of the "One-Size-Fits-All" “Everything is Awesome” Approach.
Remember the adage, "To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail"? This rings particularly true in marketing. Marketers, especially those who have honed their skills on a specific platform, may try to sell you on that platform, regardless of whether it's suitable for your business, budget, or success potential. After all, they've spent years mastering it and running countless campaigns there.
However, not all platforms are created equal, and what works for one business may not work for another. For instance, if your trade lies in complex sales in the professional services industry, an Instagram influencer campaign may not be your best bet. Staking everything on a one-trick pony can lead to disappointment, or worse, significant financial loss.
So, approach platform choices with caution and an open mind. Do your research, ask critical questions, and ensure the proposed platform aligns with your specific business model and audience.
11. Understand the Importance of Marketing Metrics – Don't Mistake Them for Sales Metrics
Brace for a potential mind-bender: Sales are not the definitive measure of successful marketing. Yes, they are closely correlated in an ideal scenario, but marketing fundamentally drives initial consideration, not the sale or the conversion itself.
It's all too common for organizations to scapegoat their marketing efforts when the true culprits are flaws in their product or pitch. The reality is, as long as you're in business, you'll be marketing. It's imperative to measure it correctly so you can improve and attain better results.
Value every Click.
Metrics such as clicks, time on site, engagement duration, and opt-ins are key factors you should be tracking. They can provide insightful data about how well your content is resonating with your audience.
Don't Overvalue 'Likes'.
The value of 'likes' can often be deceptive. If they weren't tied to the algorithms that affect your marketing reach, you could disregard them entirely. In the digital world, a 'like' is not equivalent to a dollar in your jar. People can easily misrepresent their true opinions online. In fact, social media platforms have started combining likes with reach metrics in an attempt to convince companies to invest more.
12. Remember, Social Media Platforms Are Out for Their Own Profit, Not Your Success
Take a moment to reflect on the evolution of marketing on social media platforms. The trend is clear: at every juncture, they've found ways to charge businesses more to pad their own bottom lines and increase dependence on their platforms. This is why organic reach on these platforms is practically nonexistent today.
These platforms are interested in your goals only as far as they contribute to their own gains, leading to an increased flow of dollars in their direction. They resent traffic leaving their platforms, even though your ultimate goal might be to garner focused attention on your terms (like a website click).
To keep users from exiting, they introduce numerous features and bells and whistles, all designed to keep users within their enclosed garden. This is akin to letting you buy drinks for a potential date but never letting you take them home – not exactly a win-win relationship.
While social media platforms do provide access to your target audience, they're far from being reliable partners in your business journey. They're gateways, not concierges.
13. The Default Settings on Advertising Platforms May Not Serve Your Goals
Consider this trend: when you attempt to run a campaign or promote content on social media, you'll notice the interface typically recommends an automatic, 'easy-mode' that targets a broad audience, or aims to "maximize" clicks. However, what's often left unsaid is that these platforms may gain more clicks by showing your content to users outside of your target audience. A common tactic is displaying content to the 65+ or retired demographic, who often have more time to scroll through these platforms. Unfortunately, the default settings on these platforms might not help your message reach the precise audience you want.
Moreover, the entire advertising mechanism leans on a system akin to rigged auctions. Imagine owning a cow, taking it to an auction you control, and having the ability to manipulate the entire auction process, from the algorithm to the bid.
Ultimately, the default setup on these platforms tends towards waste. While they can help marketers amass clicks, the platforms' overseers know that the end client—the company being marketed—is less likely to identify WHO is clicking or IF these users align with their target audience. Although there are methods to filter out the noise, these typically just shift the cost from waste to management, thus perpetuating a system that encourages bad behavior by default.
14. Solid Marketing Efforts Can't Salvage a Subpar Product or Sales Process.
Let's make this crystal clear: Top-tier marketing campaigns can't fix a mediocre product or an ineffective sales strategy. No matter how loud or attractive the marketing noise, it can't cover up the clinks of a faulty product or a sales process that's not quite hitting the mark.
This is why savvy organizations adopt a more comprehensive product management approach, aligning every aspect of their operation – from product development to sales to marketing – towards a unified objective. It's not just about making noise; it's about ensuring that the noise is backed up by real substance and effective strategy. By bringing the entire product under the gun, it’s not just marketing that can change, the product itself can be changed based on feedback from attempting to engage the target audience.
15. Beware of The Expense of Being Big Tech's Lab Rat
Prominent Tech Companies have the capacity to weather the fallout from product & feature flops without damaging their reputation too severely. Some take advantage of this by rolling out products or platforms not even suitable for a beta release. This culture of deploying premature products encourages users—like Joe Public—to invest time and energy into mastering them. It isn't limited to completely new products; often, they incorporate new features within existing products, too.
These large platforms, employing a 'ready-fire-aim' approach to market testing, do so at your and your business's expense. Their losses are substantially mitigated because YOUR BUSINESS essentially absorbs them by outsourcing research and development to you. They don't phrase it like that, though. Instead, they frame it as an exhilarating opportunity to join in at the ground floor of the next big thing.
Identifying these companies isn't difficult—just look for how many unsuccessful products they withdraw from the market. What most business gurus fail to mention are the billions of dollars and countless hours businesses and individuals lose by investing in these alpha or beta products marketed as complete offerings.
Stay alert to these companies and their costly experimental tactics. It's crucial to be discerning when selecting the distribution platforms for your marketing and deciding which features to incorporate into your strategies. Don't fall victim to their next experiment.
Pro-Tip: Asking about what platform, product and feature flops a marketer has had to wade through or notice is an EXCELLENT filter for determining their skill and integrity. If they have an “Everything is awesome” opinion, they are either lying, ignorant or undiscerning. Either way you don’t want a rosy liar on the payroll signing you up for Big Tech’s next disaster. Respect the discerning, weathered professionals out there. They don’t paint the landscape with rainbows and kittens, because they probably know the landscape. You want experienced pros on your team who can help you dodge the bullets and buckets of bankrupting bull**** in the marketing world.
16. The Power is in the Numbers: Data-Driven Decisions Win
The magic of modern marketing lies in the data. It's data that informs your decisions, guiding you to target the right demographics, tweak your campaigns for optimum performance, and pivot smoothly when the market conditions change.
But here's the catch: To extract truly valuable insights, you need a substantial amount of data. We're talking about thousands, not hundreds, of impressions and interactions. This treasure trove of data could take years to accumulate organically.
So here's a hack: front-load your investment in marketing campaigns. Yes, it may seem counterintuitive to spend more upfront. But think about it this way – each impression or interaction is like a tiny nugget of feedback from your target audience. These tiny nuggets can collectively give you a comprehensive snapshot of what's working and what's not.
Sure, along the way, you're also aiming for conversions and sales. But your primary objective in the early stages should be to gather data – data that can power your decisions and help you refine your marketing efforts for maximum impact.
17. Gathering Data is Pointless If You Don't Analyze It
Collecting data for the sake of it accomplishes little. Yes, many people activate analytics, which is a commendable first step, but what truly matters is your interaction with this data. When was the last time you scrutinized that data? How often do you review your analytics? Do you know your top-performing content? If so, how?
Moreover, analyzing your marketing efforts isn't solely about raw traffic analytics. You need to consider the variables at play. For instance, if you're using paid media to promote some of your content but not all, the paid distribution will inevitably increase traffic to the promoted content. This might make your other content appear underperforming when that might not necessarily be the case. It's crucial to keep track of how your content is distributed to guide your analysis.
Aggregating all your data in one place is pivotal. Track every click, the time spent on the material, how it was promoted or distributed. A spreadsheet could work for this, but I'd recommend using a no-code tool like AirTable or Notion, which can be linked to automation tools like Zapier to funnel in the data.
Bear in mind, data collection alone doesn't improve your marketing strategy. It's essentially pointless if you never scrutinize it or turn it into actionable insights. Let the data guide your daily efforts and inform your strategies.
18. Let's Go Analog: Digital isn't the Only Game in Town
You'd be amazed at how often I hear people say QR codes are dead, and yet, they're popping up everywhere – on billboards, menus, graffiti, car stickers, you name it! This crossover tech perfectly exemplifies the fusion of the real and digital worlds, underscoring the importance of the physical in our increasingly digital lives.
So let's not disregard the power of the real world in our marketing strategies. There's a universe of opportunities beyond the digital sphere, waiting to be tapped into. Next time you hand out a brochure or a business card, consider throwing in a QR code. And don't forget to set up a system to track it all. The real world isn't just surviving; it's thriving! It's all about mixing and matching the best of both worlds to maximize your impact.
19. The smaller your campaign budget, the lower your odds of success.
It's time to clear up a few misconceptions: size really does matter, especially when it comes to your marketing budget. Here's a truth bomb:
- The heyday of organic reach has come and gone.
- The era of generating hundreds of leads for Starbucks money is dead – at least for now.
- Relying on your content to spontaneously go viral isn't a viable strategy – it's a shot in the dark, the chances of success mirroring those of hitting a Mega Millions jackpot.
- Your competitors are investing in paid advertising, and the days of bargain-bin pay-per-click rates are behind us.
- The price tag on marketing campaigns themselves are never going to be as cheap you initially hoped.
So, how much should you invest? It's a question that inexperienced marketers tend to sidestep, but let's tackle it head-on. What we're really after is the minimum ad spend at which a seasoned professional would be willing to take the helm of your campaign. Let's call this the 'minimum effective budget.'
Remember, your campaigns need to garner sufficient exposure to yield statistically significant data. There's a sweet spot here, a budget threshold where it becomes easier to gauge traction and glean useful insights for optimization. This varies by industry and market, but you're looking at a minimum of $3,000 – $4,000 per month for ad spend alone, excluding the cost of skilled professionals to manage the campaign.
Yes, it may seem steep, especially if you're new to the marketing arena, but it's crucial to understand the risk-reward ratio of your efforts. If your budget is more modest, it doesn't mean you shouldn't run campaigns, but you should brace yourself for a potentially slower, tougher climb to success.
20. Content is King: The Fuel and Force Multiplier for Your Marketing Efforts
You might have heard it a thousand times, but the phrase "Content is King" holds as much truth today as it did decades ago. Content is the fuel that powers your marketing engine and acts as a force multiplier, enhancing the impact of all your marketing efforts.
Embracing content creation is not a choice but a necessity. Whether you're writing it yourself or having it transcribed, you need to be constantly creating and feeding your marketing efforts with high-quality content. This process requires a well-thought-out content strategy, one that is in harmony with your brand identity, positioning, target audience, and integrated communications strategy. It should also be in line with your broader strategic plans.
Done right, your content becomes a long-term asset. It transforms into evergreen content, always relevant, always adding value, and becoming a conversation starter at trade shows, coffee meetings, and boardrooms. What you say and how you say it matters significantly. Your content should be rich in timeless wisdom, offering valuable insights and ideas that your audience can learn from and relate to over time.
Once you've mastered the creation of timeless content, you can begin to mix in timely content regularly. This combination ensures that while your brand stays relevant with up-to-date content, it also retains a solid foundation of timeless wisdom that continually provides value.
But remember, timeless content comes first. It's easy to get caught up in the allure of creating content based on fleeting trends or what's hot right now. However, that approach alone won't get you ahead. It's like trying to launch a rocket without enough fuel; you'll never reach escape velocity. The balance between timeless and timely content is crucial to a successful content strategy.
Content has reigned as king for decades, and it's high time to stop fighting this reality. Embrace content creation, and watch it multiply the effectiveness of your marketing efforts exponentially.
21. If you are starting with Zero: A Blueprint for the Bootstrapper.
If you're starting your marketing journey with a zero dollar budget, you might feel like the odds are stacked against you. But don't be discouraged – it doesn't let you off the hook, it simply means you'll have to pave your own path. Let's break it down:
All-in Sweat Equity:
Since you won't be able to afford paid marketing efforts, you'll need to commit yourself to putting in the time, energy, and creative effort that's required. Remember, many successful enterprises have started in exactly the same position.
Even without a budget, you still need to meticulously plan your marketing strategy. This includes conducting comprehensive market research, understanding your target audience, developing a robust content strategy, and outlining an integrated communications plan. This stage lays the foundation for all your future efforts.
With your strategy in place, you'll need to create an abundance of high-quality, engaging, and valuable content. Aim to develop 104 pieces of evergreen, well-researched, and strategically selected content. Include generous illustrations and make sure it's published in a manner that aligns with your brand's identity.
Utilizing Your Content:
Use this created content as a conversation starter during face-to-face interactions, follow-ups, and online discussions. If your research and planning stages were accurate, this content will help generate interest, drive conversations, and eventually, produce leads and deals.
Patience and Perseverance:
Understand that this is a long-term game. It will not yield overnight results. You must commit to this strategy for at least a year. To boost the impact of your content, consider creating video versions of your top-performing pieces.
- Start with clear goals and documented plans. “Ready. Aim. Fire!” is more affordable than “Fire. Aim. Fire.” where no one has time to make ready.
- Create evergreen content each and every week.
- Collect all the data and analyze it in ONE place. Automate the gathering of data if possible, use Zapier, Notion, AirTable, etc.
- Data is useless if you never review it. Use the data to inform your daily efforts.
- Integrate content in the customer experience. Reinforce the value of your content in your sales efforts – Drive conversations using your content as supporting artifacts and touchpoints.
While social media can be a powerful marketing tool, don't fall into the trap of thinking you can achieve success by simply flooding the platform with low-quality, rushed content. Instead, focus on creating high-quality, meaningful content that genuinely serves your audience. Always remember: You are building a brand that serves customers, not an image that just amuses them. Your ultimate goal is to deliver tangible results, not simply to gain likes and shares. It's all about value, consistency, and long-term relationship building.
Conclusion: Marketing is a Long Game
Successful marketing is not an overnight sensation; it's about continuous, sustainable growth. It's a strategic process of building brand recognition, generating quality leads, and nurturing enduring customer relationships. This process is gradual and evolutionary, demanding a commitment to consistency, patience, and a keen understanding of your audience's needs and preferences.
If you're an established business trying to master the complex landscape of marketing – especially within the digital realm – and you're ready to take the next step forward, feel free to reach out. It may be a challenging journey, but with strategic planning, constant effort, and a dash of creativity, the rewards can be game-changing.