Respect the Brand (a Blog for Marketers)


No Pain, No Gain – Sounds Like Corporate Communications

Recently, I created a strategic plan for a company’s publicity event, and one of the creative ideas was to use social media and other channels to show how the company’s executive team was “in training” for the big event. The idea was well received, but what is it about starting a training regimen that seems so daunting?

When you know you need to get back in shape, it may be the pain you think you’ll experience during their initial trip to the gym (or on the running track or taking a walk at lunch). The phrase “no pain, no gain” comes to mind, as it’s really the initial foray into the training regimen that is the core issue – whereas the goals of feeling better, fitting better into clothes and having more stamina are quite clear.

Getting into a regimen of corporate communications seems very similar – many company execs would appreciate the benefits of better morale, increased awareness of company activities, and enhanced knowledge of their firm’s products and services. But making that first foray into ongoing corporate communications to achieve those long-term benefits seems to be an issue for most companies, and they just don’t do it. Crafting a strategic plan to meet your company’s communications goals is critical so the regimen becomes a daily, weekly or monthly habit.

Imagine going to the gym, looking around at all the equipment, with no idea how to use anything, what muscles will be worked, or how long to execute. It helps to have a personal trainer at the gym to lay out the schedule of your workouts, showcase the equipment to be used and explain how the workouts will help you reach your fitness goals. In the corporate world, a trained marketer or communications consultant knows the tools that will work best to communicate your message, will understand how to target your audiences, and will recommend the frequency, tone, style and breadth of communications to reach your business goals.

With your strategic communications plan in hand, it’s just a matter of getting over the “pain” of starting the program – like entering the gym or hitting the track for the first time. You may have some sore muscles the first week or so, and some adjustments may be needed during the first month, but the small amount of discomfort during the initial training phase will soon pay off, with measurable results and long-lasting benefits.


Build My Brand — In A Day, Please

MB900302845As part of my plan to grow my marketing consulting business, I set up an account on (a site for freelancers to find work through an online bid/response system).  Elance is a great site for a solopreneur, as you can look for the projects that best suit your skills, like writing or creative design or marketing strategy (where I look).

However, as great a site as Elance is for finding work, the people who are submitting bids for projects are, hmm, how to say this nicely?  A bit ignorant.

Here is a verbatim bid that I received in a recent Elance job alert (note: the industry has been redacted in case that person happens to read my blog!):

I want to hire someone who can make it so no matter what people search for in the [industry redacted] industry that everyone comes across me and my name and my credentials. I want to be everywhere online so that it’s impossible not to want to work with me. I will be the most known person online in my industry. 

Please let me know you can help? 
How you would go about this?
What’s the cost going to be?

The good news is this person seems to have goals and objectives for his/her business — the bad news is this person will receive many proposals from my fellow freelancers, ultimately selecting the lowest bidder who can slap together a few tactics to meet the person’s immediate marketing and publicity needs. The tactics will be short-lived, the results will be nominal, and the person will not trust marketers in the future.

How can this person expect someone to build a brand in a day?  A month?  A quarter?

Building a brand is not a one day, one month or one quarter activity. It’s a careful, thoughtful, strategic process that requires people resources and budget resources, then some time to percolate.  It takes constant internal communication, so all your employees say the same thing when someone asks who they work for.  It means consistent external communication, so you remain top-of-mind to your customers or clients, whether you sell services or products. It is not one and done; it is not a one-off project for the lowest bidder.

True marketers know that your company’s brand is your promise to your customers or clients. Do you typically make promises without thinking them through? Without understanding the inherent trust factor involved?  Without realizing the potential consequences of not living up to said promise?  So why would a business person think a brand can be built in a day?

Yes, the economy is tough these days, but your brand is an investment. Trust your brand to someone who understands that this is an investment in your company’s future. Then provide the right direction, provide the necessary resources, and let the construction begin!

How to Multi-Task…Dare I Say?…Well

As I have job searched or had friends tell me their job searching experiences over the past few months, it always makes me a grin a bit when I see one of the job requirements as “multi-tasking;” or “must be a good multi-tasker;” or “have experience multi-tasking.” Of course, any good Marketer is an excellent multi-tasker — it’s almost like saying they need to be able to breathe!

Marketing (done the right way) includes a marketing plan with objectives, strategies, tactics, and a means to track and analyze results. The plan outlines the various activities that will warm the market place, enhance the brand, increase visibility for the firm’s products/services, and support the Sales effort. All of these goals require that a Marketer be able to multi-task their fanny off.

But how can people in other business disciplines learn to multi-task well? It’s like the old circus trick when the performer has plates spinning on different poles. He adds one more, then one more, and you’re never quite sure when one of them will drop. It’s a great trick, and I’m sure he practiced a lot to become as proficient a plate spinner as possible.

Business people in other disciplines have learned to spin their own plates too, but Marketers can offer some advice: Think about the most number of plates you can effectively spin at one time. Don’t keep adding plates just because it seems like a good idea. If one plate is spinning well, don’t take it off just to add a different kind of plate. Is everyone following my analogy?

A good Marketer lays the groundwork first, clarifying the brand and understanding the business goals for the specific timeframe. This is akin to getting your plates and poles together. Once the strategic plan has been prepared, it’s time for the first plate, er, campaign. You should launch carefully-planned campaigns in an orchestrated manner so you’re not cannibalizing your own sales, but instead you are creating a constant hum of activity for your products/services — similar to balancing the plates. You’re not adding plates willy-nilly, but instead you’re working to spin the best plates, or capitalizing on the most effective messages for your audience.

If a particular campaign is working well, you should support it, nurture it, and can enhance it, but only make tweaks or end the campaign when the results you’ve projected aren’t being reached any longer. The circus performer doesn’t take plates on and off his poles when they are spinning well — that would ruin the act! As to the point of not continuing to add plates just to make a bigger and better act is similar to those businesspeople who encourage more campaigns, even when sales are not being positively impacted. If campaigns aren’t well-thought out, you could run hundreds of campaigns for thousands of dollars, and sales (aka your act) will be a bust.

Multi-tasking takes preparation, practice, and patience. If you’re prepared, you can anticipate bumps in the road and adjust accordingly. If you’re well-practiced, you will be agile enough to take advantage of new Marketing opportunities when they arise. And patience is important because no campaign ever was 100% successful on launch day. Multi-tasking is important to Marketers, but it’s also important that Marketers reveal a little of the circus trick to make the act successful for everyone.


Short-Timers Need Not Apply

I’ve been reading recently about the number of high-level Marketing professionals who have only done short stints at their respective companies and it got me thinking: why is that? What is it about Marketing that has some of the highest-level Marketers staying in their positions for less than a year, or just a few years at most?

There doesn’t seem to be as many articles about CFOs jumping ship (although I know this happens), or CIOs leaving after just a few months. And CEOs are usually congratulated when they move to a new company, with new challenges, new business objectives, a new team.

I think the issue may be two-fold: 1) the length of time needed to really turn a brand around (or crank it up) is longer than some companies want to invest, which leads to 2) Marketers that are made to feel like the low man on the executive-level totem pole.

Marketers are in a difficult situation: they are usually masters of both the science and art of communicating the features and benefits of their product or service to prospective customers, but they are not held in as high regard as their other senior-level counterparts. Is this because Marketers are only seen as glorified advertising placement agents? Is it because Marketing has traditionally been seen as an outpost for salespeople that couldn’t cut it?

It seems unfair that Marketers are given the burden of creating the public “face” of a company (including communicating those messages internally), yet are not treated as equal members within the board room. Being successful in Marketing is all about the constant “drip, drip, drip” of activity across various channels — direct mail, email, the Web, telemarketing, events, PR, social media, or any combination of tools that a Marketer has at his/her disposal.

I think one of the problems for Marketers is that resources can (unfortunately) run out long before the desired uptick in awareness or sales is realized. This type of situation is a cyclical one that needs to be resolved: Marketers may not get the support needed at the onset, which can lead to less-than-desired results, which can lead to an uncomfortable situation for someone in this very public role in a company.

The solution?  Give Marketers the support needed to meet the marketing goals set out at the beginning of the fiscal year.  Have Marketers be held accountable for their objectives during the year, using metrics and benchmarks as a guide. Last, review, reassess, repeat for long-term Marketing success.


Branding is Not For Wimps

There are a number of companies out there (big and small) that just don’t seem to understand that branding is a 365-day-a-year effort. It’s not all blue skies! 

Building and maintaining a strong brand is not just putting out new print ads every quarter; it’s not just having the latest brochure on hand; it’s not just a flashy email campaign. It’s not even having the newest social media tools built into your Web site. It’s having every stakeholder in the company on the same page — every day, 365 days a year.

That kind of brand equity doesn’t come about with just a quarterly newsletter, or having a microsite with some logos posted. It’s a thoughtful, strategic approach that comes from within, is vetted by ideas from outside research, is validated by customer experience, and is constantly nurtured and maintained by the Marketing department (or whichever vendor has been chosen to oversee Marketing).

Why this rant and rave? I’ve been job searching now for two months, and there seem to be a lot of Marketing job openings, but I have yet to see more than a small handful of openings on Monster or the other job boards that really showcase how a true Marketer works. So this means the companies that “get it” will get the right Marketer to work for them…and the other companies will continue to do what they’ve been doing and wonder why their Marketing isn’t working. It’s the strategy, people.

It’s no different than if you had someone from your Accounting department only paying some of your vendors, or someone from Sales only selling a few days a week. Of course no one would ever condone those practices in their business. Then, why does Marketing get the short end of the business stick when it’s time to cut costs? Now more than ever, companies need to work at building and maintaining their brand, with qualified Marketing professionals to lead the charter. Yes, Marketing is partly art (the brochures and Web sites still need to look good!) but it’s definitely a lot more science. Not rocket science — just show me why you’re better, different, more valuable, and I’ll buy. Definitely not a job for wimps.

Shiny New Stuff Can Still Be Trash

I have to admit — I like technology and appreciate technology (heck, I even marketed technical workstations to engineers, and had to understand the nuts-and-bolts of that technology).

BUT I am not the most technologically-savvy person out there. I may have an iPhone but still use a paper DayTimer, I know the ins and outs of Outlook meeting invites but still write myself Post-Its, and I have a number of email accounts but still like in-person chats. So why are so many Marketers ga-ga over all the shiny new social media tools like Twitter and blogs (aka like the one you are now reading)?

I love shiny new things as much as the next person, but I am just not in love with some of the tools now available to Marketers. It’s not that these tools are trash, but having something shiny and new for the sheer sake of it doesn’t cut it. I definitely don’t have time to read 100+ tweets on a TweetDeck every day. Instead, I have a few Web sites that I check daily, a few LinkedIn groups whose discussions I monitor, and some Twitterers that have something interesting to say on a constant basis are the ones I follow. Oh, and maybe some celebrity blogs that I read every once in a while for a good laugh. But for God’s sake, when do all these Marketers have time to do their jobs if all they are doing is reading their compiled tweets?

There needs to be a point where you look at your business objective, and choose the RIGHT tool for the job — not the shiniest tool, or even the biggest mix of shiny and new. That’s like saying “I’m hungry, so let’s take everything out of the fridge and freezer and make it.” No Marketer who is worth representing the discipline should be condoning the use of a blog if they can’t verbalize the strategy behind it.

Social media is getting lots of air time now because Marketers really haven’t had anything new in their tool box in a while — believe me, I’m a bit tired of print, direct mail, and email. My beef is that everyone who has a Facebook account (regardless of their discipline) thinks Marketers should use social media to do their job. People, put down your iPhone and think about your business objectives. Then, let’s have a serious strategy discussion before we choose our tools.

We Can’t All Be The Beautiful Princess

It’s a well-known story from our childhoods — the beautiful princess gets the castle, the prince, and the kingdom. Then we grow up and realize that it’s just a story! It occurred to me that many business executives and the Marketers who strategize for them still believe this fairy tale. They think that if you sink enough money into campaigns, and make pretty Web sites, and keep re-doing sales decks and other collateral, the customers will just pour in the door and sales will continue to increase.

The problem with this line of thinking is the fairy tale isn’t true and, in this economy, you can’t afford to wait for that princess and all the other related magical things to materialize. This economic environment is actually a perfect time to step back (although not too long, and definitely not more than a business quarter’s worth of time) and really look at your Marketing efforts.

Are you ugly (because we can’t all be princesses!)? That’s great! There’s a differentiation point. Do you have the biggest wart on your nose? No problem! Market it as the newest feature to have. Being the “beautiful princess” is not enough any more, because there are a lot of other princesses in waiting with more money, more staff, more geographic reach. Now is the time to look in the figurative mirror and analyze what is different about your product or service and capitalize on that differentiation.

People are tired of the constant noise in the market place, and they really just want life to be easy. It’s a Marketer’s job to really target their unique message to the people who have a specific need, and that will inevitably make their customers’ lives easier. Instead of putting on a sparkly gown and twirl, twirl, twirling around at the ball like all the other princesses, a Marketer needs to strategize how to put that ugly mug or big wart to good use. These are points of differentiation that — when targeted at the right audience — will be attractive AND will make the sale in the long run. And that’s a beautiful ending to our story.


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