Why you’re bad at marketing

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Look, let’s be blunt — we’re living in Trump’s America now! — and say that most marketing campaigns are reams of hot garbage. They sound like used car salesmen trying to talk you into anal sex. It’s just buzzwords, up-sells, vomit, lies, and gags in most cases. And while an old-school CEO might screech that marketing campaigns are not important — “Where’s the ROI, Billy?” — let’s again be blunt: they are. See again: Trump’s America. That was a writ large example of marketing campaigns. Harvard’s even discussing it now!

(PS, you could probably make an argument — although it wouldn’t be popular at a cocktail party — that Hitler was the greatest marketer of all-time. See some parallels? Indeed.)

I can answer the main question here — why your marketing campaigns suck — fairly quickly. In fact, let’s start there and then try to fix the issue!

The main reason your marketing campaigns suck

In short, it’s because we over-focus on the process of campaigns, and under-focus on the purpose of them. This is very common with a lot of first-world work. We are generally big fans of replacing “measures of quality” with “measures of quantity,” because for many, the goal of work isn’t actually to do a good job. It’s to be seen as relevant by someone else, who will then give you more money. I don’t think I can say it any more simply than that.

Marketing departments have a suspect relationship with ROI. The executives — the senior decision-makers, if you will — want to see the money. Where is the money? How can we get more of it? You can’t necessarily say “sales went up 72 percent because of these marketing campaigns,” although we often try to say that. Because of this suspect relationship with ROI, you have a lot of KPI chest-pounding and “process for the sake of process.”

That’s the main reason your marketing campaigns tend to suck. Instead of thinking about “Hey, who are we trying to reach and what do we want them to know?” — we dive right into tasks and version control. Not great.

There’s more, though.

Some other issues with marketing campaigns

I love me some Trello. I use the boards personally and professionally now. As a result, I started reading their blog. Here’s a cool new post on four mistakes you’re making in marketing campaigns. What are those four?

  • The campaign’s not transparent to the whole team
  • The tools aren’t centralized
  • Menial tasks are time-consuming as opposed to automated
  • No retrospective/follow-up

I’d agree with all four. You gotta take this with a small grain of salt because Trello wants people to use their boards, and their boards help solve these problems. So obviously this is their approach / what they’re pitching. But … I’ve seen all this first-hand too. Let’s run a quick funny story.

On “not transparent to the whole team,” I worked a gig once where the marketing silo had sub-silos. You had one crew running content, one running social, one running email, one running “digital biz,” etc. These sub-silos never fucking talked to each other. So email is doing A, social’s doing B, and content’s doing C. The content getting produced is barely getting on social, so what’s the point? Meanwhile, everyone’s screeching about the latest and greatest in marketing campaigns. They’re checking boxes. Nothing productive is happening. I spent months of my life there, ultimately got shit-canned from the job, and now consider it largely a blessing.

In short: for marketing campaigns to actually work, you need to communicate with each other.

So how do we make marketing campaigns better?

Here’s what I would say:

Start with a core question or pain point: This worked for Instagram, which became a fairly successful brand. If you’re just launching a campaign to launch it, that’s meaningless. It needs to speak to something ultimately.

Think about how you want to present it: What channels, mediums?

Now consider who needs to be involved: Team members, roles, ownership.

I try to think about work in different ways, and I also try to call out some managerial BS we’ve all experienced. If that kinda sorta interests you, I do a newsletter every Thursday. Feel free to join up.

Begin to communicate: Kickoff meetings, provide context, start with vision/purpose of the campaign — do not start with tasks.

Check for understanding: Does everyone get what we’re trying to do here? Any push back?

Ask the involved people what else they are working on now: Tap into ideas around “priority alignment.”

Now define the deliverables and timelines: Set that out. Put it in a central place / software program that everyone can see and easily access.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Ask questions like this. See if people are struggling or need guidance/support.

Keep doing all this and iterating: Isn’t that supposedly the lesson of the “move fast and break things” modern age?

This is the flow I’d use. What most marketing leaders do is this:

  • “Who owns this?” (“Who can I publicly shame when this doesn’t hit its goals?”)
  • “What are the tasks and deadlines?” (“I need to feel useful because I realize a robot will come for this job”)

See the subtle difference between the bold and the bullets?

The overall picture of marketing campaigns

Most marketing departments have an “on-brand problem.” What does that mean? It means they talk a lot about being “on-brand,” but what they really mean is “adjusting a logo on a PDF by a few centimeters.” That’s not your brand. Never has been, never will be. Your brand is how your customers understand, appreciate, and use whatever it is you provide to them. That’s what you gotta work on, and that’s what marketing campaigns need to address.

Compounding the issue: average CMO tenure is about 48 months or less, most CMOs have no clue about digital marketing even remotely, and many startups are scaling fast sans marketing teams.

What does all this add up to?

Low-context nonsense dubbed as “marketing campaigns” does nothing but add noise to an already noisy mobile-first world. But if you start from a place of value, then move to a place of process and execution, your marketing campaigns can suck a lot less.

Written by

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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