Archive for the 'Marketing guesswork' Category


Marketing in a recession. What’s the difference?

Everywhere I turn I see companies attempting to leverage the much hyped “downturn” in the economy. All of a sudden, they are touting special “Recession” services and techniques to overcome impending doom. Marketing and advertising agencies are especially guilty offenders. So, in my inimitable tradition of cutting through the smoke and smashing the mirrors, allow me to deliver some straight talk (McCain and Obama aside).

When it comes to marketing, there is no difference between a recession marketing strategy versus a boom time marketing strategy. There are simply two ends of the marketing strategy continuum. On one end, there exists the Well Planned and Executed Strategy. On the other, the Wild Ass Seat of the Pants Unstrategy. That’s it. All companies are on this continuum somewhere.

If you find yourself on the right side of the continuum, you will experience more pain when the economy gets tight. It’s as simple as that.

The fact is that there are always deals going on. There may be fewer deals but even a 20% downturn means that 80% of business is still being transacted. Companies who have investing in “real” marketing strategies and programs (a customer centered message, a clear position, a consistent marketing communications effort, etc.) will naturally be in a better position to win business in this type of circumstance. Those who don’t have a best practices process in place will be victims of Market Darwinism.

So what makes a “real” strategy? Here’s a few points to help you figure out where you are on the continuum:

  1. Objectivity: If your marketing and sales programs are based purely on internal information or the dictum of a single person, it’s most likely not going to be very effective.
  2. Research: Going hand-in-hand with Objectivity is customer, competitive and industry research. Yes, it’s expensive and not as fun as building a new web site, however, if you really want to get the facts as to how customers buy, how competitors sell and how to leverage industry thought leaders to your advantage, no strategy should skip this important step.
  3. Budget: Two opposing objectives are very common in businesses: Saving Money or Growing the Business. These objectives are mutually exclusive. You can’t save your way to success and making money requires careful, investment.
  4. Commitment: Marketing programs take time to work. Pulling the plug every time the stock market hiccups destroys any momentum and equity your efforts may have created.
  5. Execution: Having a well researched, objective, adequately budgeted plan means nothing if you don’t execute. Build a team and get it done. And keep doing it until it pays off.

Good times or bad, it pays to bring your marketing programs up to par with the rest of your carefully planned business. Of course there is more to it than can be covered here. But this is a start. Marketing is a business process. The outcome (increased market share, revenue and profit)  is only as good as the process used to get there.


Mmmm, sweat sock pie.

Parts is Parts But Pie isn’t Pie.
I’m often asked to consult on very narrow parts of a marketing and advertising program. For example: “Pete we just want to you tell us why our web site isn’t producing the number of leads we think it should.” Or, “Pete, just take a look at this direct mail piece and give us your recommendations as to how we can make it better.”.

The problem is my guesses probably won’t be any better than your guesses. Sure, I can make pretty good guesses because I’ve spent the last two decades solving these types of problems but ultimately we will still be guessing. Guessing is the antithesis of great marketing.

The trouble here is that we would only be looking at a tiny slice of the pie. Figuring out why the pie tastes terrible requires looking at the quality of all of the ingredients, the process of making the pie, checking the oven to ensure it’s working properly, ensuring the pie is the right kind of pie (nobody is going to like a pie made of sweat socks – apple might taste better). The pie is simply the end result of many steps. And let’s not forget the experience and talent of the pie maker.

In my experience, no single tactic (an advertisement, a direct mail piece, a web site, etc.) can be expected to move a B2B suspect to buy. It takes a coordinated series of contacts in multiple media formats to provide maximum performance of a marketing campaign. But even more importantly, these tactics must be based on a holistic view of all the factors that drive the buying decision. These factors typically can include:

  • How customers make buying decisions
  • Competitive offerings and methods
  • Industry trends
  • Perception of the brand
  • Relevancy of the message
  • Targeting
  • Pricing
  • Placement
  • Length of time campaign runs
  • and many more factors.

Once all of the factors are considered, it may be possible to make changes to specific tactics and improve said tactics performance. But if there are systemic problems within the organization or it’s marketing planning process – these issues must first be solved before any marketing program or promotional campaign can be expected to produce a real return on investment.

But making and selling great pie isn’t as simple as it might seem. You must use the best ingredients, measure these ingredients precisely (unless you’re my mother who has an uncanny knack for tossing handfuls of stuff into the pie and it turns out great every time), bake the pie at the right temperature for the right amount of time, display the pie for your customers and receive feedback as to how much they like it. And if the majority of the customers love your sweat sock pie, then you make more sweat sock pie. You don’t have to eat it. You just have to sell it.


Hitler’s Moustache

I recently shaved off my goatee due to a terrible shaving accident. I was able to salvage a reasonable “jazz dot” from the remains of my facial manhood. (You may know this type of facial hair as an “imperial”, “royale”, “soul patch” or “nubbin”). So what does this somewhat personal information have to do with marketing? Hang in there while I spin another fascinating and insightful yarn.

My “jazz dot” is my personal homage to my former life as a touring blues musician. It also is a nod to to some of my favorite musicians. What I didn’t know was that this style of facial hair was historically worn by French officers as a badge or adornment of military rank or status (thank you wikipedia).

However, last week a 10 year old kid in my neighborhood looked at my fabulous soul patch and said, “You have Hitler’s moustache but it’s on your chin!”.

This kid had his own unique perception of my look – with none of the understanding behind my intention or my own perception. He simply dealt with what he saw and framed it within his own point of reference.

As marketing people we often generalize or stereotype target audiences, lumping them together into like-minded groups and presenting them with a message that we believe will come though loud and clear to the majority of the constituents within each group. We expect their point of reference and perception to match ours and receive the message we intend.

In reality, there is simply no way to predict how someone will translate and perceive your carefully researched and thought-out concept. You have no idea how each person’s personal experience and points of reference will impact the meaning of your communication.

Until marketing communication can truly be “one to one” this limitation will continue to exist. The good news is that the majority of your audience will “get it”. The others will probably compare you to Hitler.


SEO Ripoff.

I just paid a visit to a former client’s web site that I developed a while back. The site was the culmination of several months of strategic work – developing the company’s brand, corporate identity and marketing message. I also helped them iron out their sales strategy and create a tactical marketing plan. I taught them how to fish and they went about casting their lines without me. No problem. Everybody happy.

The first thing I noticed when I visited the site was that someone had inserted a god awful logo proudly proclaiming the site was WC3 XHTML 1.0 certified. What the hell does that do for the company? I don’t think any of the folks that visit the site give a whit about how nice the code is. (The business is a home care provider – customers are typically baby boomers looking for someone to provide in-home care to their loved ones – usually under very trying circumstances. Not only is the WC3 logo ugly and tacked on, IT IS COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT TO THE TARGET AUDIENCE. Although I’m sure the geek who put it on there is mighty proud of it.

I’ve also noticed that somebody’s been doing some search optimization. However, it’s the kind of search optimization that simply is a waste of time and money. They added some meta tags to each page consisting of some generic keywords. Whoopie. In fact, since this company’s clients are all local, this SEO genius didn’t even think to include geographic targeting. To add insult to injury, the keywords are all really common, highly sought after words – there is no way to win the search game with these types of keywords.

But the real rip off is this: The client expects to get some benefit from this so-called “optimization”. Either the SEO guy doesn’t know what he’s doing or he just milked the client for some quick cash – either way the client loses. What happened here is so common it makes me sick.

Here’s how it works:

1. The client wants to place high in Google. And they want it fast, cheap and easy.

2. They find an SEO consultant who makes a lot of promises but knows that the client will never pay for the effort and time it takes to actually deliver a high ranking.

3. The client doesn’t know any better so they sign the agreement and write the check.

4. The SEO consultant does some little stuff, makes a few thousand bucks and moves on. Usually they add some meta tags (Google hardly even pays attention to meta tags), add some obvious keywords (a real key word strategy takes research and weighs not only which words are being searched but takes into account how many other companies are using these words – it’s an art and a science that needs to be approached strategically.)

5. The client never gets any benefit from the work.

Real SEO takes a long time to be effective and many man hours. It is an ongoing process that effects everything from the site’s architecture to the content to any number of other variables. The secret is to test, tweak and test some more until you get where you need to be on the search engines. And you are never finished because it is highly competitive and Google changes the rules constantly.

I’ve been searching on the so-called keywords in Google. The client’s site is nowhere to be found.

But if the “SEO consultant” told the client that – they would have lost the couple thousand bucks.

Sad. Very sad. What really hurts is that these people are truly good people. They deserve better.


Sticking Your Neck Out

I have to admit, I always knew what “sticking your neck out”  meant, but it wasn’t until I owned my own business did I really get the literal meaning of the phrase.  Obviously, it means taking a risk and I’ve learned that risk taking is as much of growing a business as taxes, complaining employees and going to the bank.

Of course, the key is to take measured risks. I’ve been doing some work with NASA lately and as I study the agency’s history and culture, one thing has become crystal clear – at NASA, it’s all about taking measured risks. And at the same time, doing everything to mitigate these risks. If these brave souls were afraid to stick their necks out our civilization would look very different. Granted, there have been instances where things went terrible wrong but ultimately, NASA achieves the impossible every day.

One of the key benefits that a marketing process delivers is risk mitigation – it reduces the possibility that you’ll be tossing vast amounts of cash down the proverbial toilet on advertising, sales promotion, web sites, trade shows and the endless list of expensive tactics that are supposed to be “investments”.

By investing a relatively small amount of money on the front end, a solid marketing process can get to the heart of what makes customers buy. You can check your teams assumptions and learn hidden information that gets to the gut level needs and desires of prospects. You’ll update your data on market and industry trends, take a hard look at your value propositions and take stock of where you are and where you want to go.

If you choose to hire an outside facilitator, a good one will bring valuable objectivity to the process – questioning what seems obvious and keeping your team on the right track – ensuring an optimal outcome and avoiding the risk of another expensive team exercise that never gets anywhere.  This facilitator needs to be someone who has a certain gravitas – this is no job for a wall flower. The idea is to leave the comfort of what is known and make the giant leap to the unknown. Only when you embrace the unknown can you truly take control of your marketing and sales programs and make the decisions that mean the difference between life and death.

“Marketing” is different things to different people.  In my world, marketing is a process that creates a factual foundation upon which to make strategic and tactical decisions. In a nutshell, my process asks questions – some obvious, some tough. I objectively evaluate the answers based on two decades and hundreds of assignments. Together we identify any “gaps” and, after prioritizing these gaps, go about getting the information needed to complete the picture. This information comes from customers, competitors, industry experts – and many other sources. Once the facts are in place, the strategy becomes obvious to everyone and it is easy and efficient to roll out tactics.

Then, when you stick your neck out, you don’t get your head chopped off.


So easy a caveman can do it.

Marketing has become an overly complex, obtuse exercise in corporate guessing. The new ABC show Cavemen is a prime example. Apparently Gieco and ABC thought it would be so funny to take their 30 second commercials and extend it to a half hour sitcom. Their marketing program was brilliant – very funny web sites like and had so much verve and humor.

The trouble happened when they delivered the goods. Or, rather DIDN’T deliver the goods. The show is not funny. It’s getting killed by bad reviews all over the ‘net. I’m sure they did all sorts of focus groups and data analysis to reassure themselves that they had a great idea. They just forgot that it had to be funny.

Sad, really. What’s next? A show about the Apple and PC guys? I hope not. No wonder people think marketing is a joke.

Who is Pete Monfre

CLICK HERE to visit my web site

I'm a serial entrepreneur, marketing and media guy, raconteur, writer, producer and consultant. I write this little blog to help you unravel the mysteries of marketing and selling, to expose the silliness that masquerades as marketing and help you make better decisions that will grow your business. And I have fun with it. Why not comment? That way we can have a conversation. Or better yet, hop on over to my web site and drop me a line.

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