THE BIGGEST OPPORTUNITY IN MARKETING
SINCE AL GORE INVENTED THE INTERNET.
Modern marketing has a silver bullet – at least as close to one as we’re likely to get anytime soon. For those in the know, it’s the biggest opportunity in marketing since Al Gore invented the Internet. The most surprising thing about this silver bullet is it’s nothing new. It isn’t AI or any other new technology. In fact it’s just a list of twelve basic marketing principles. But together, these twelve principles have been proven to work over and over again by time, experience and research. Before I reveal the list, allow me to set the stage by providing some context as to why these marketing principles have more power today than ever.
Never in the history of advertising have so many otherwise smart marketers acted so stupidly. Common sense and irrefutable evidence be damned, we have taken an advertising tactic called direct marketing and crowned it king. For all intents and purposes, the business of marketing has become the business of direct marketing. Despite the noble efforts of those with much bigger brains and influence than me - Bob Hoffman, Mark Ritson, Byron Sharp and Les Binet and Peter Field, to name a few, way too many advertisers and agency folks are worshipping at the altar of short-term direct sales. Way too many have fallen victim to the groundless guidance and dubious decrees of self-proclaimed marketing gurus, ad ninjas and growth hackers. Way too much money has been blown on rampant fraud, fake followers and inflated impressions. And don’t even get me started on the immoral use and abuse of personal data.
We know over investing in targeted, short-term sales activation tactics (direct marketing) in lieu of mass, long-term brand building ones is hazardous to business health. Reams of recent studies unequivocally prove it. Yet instead of pulling back from short-term tactics, marketers are doubling down on them. Lamenting the ad industry’s love affair with short-termism, Professor Mark Ritson recently posted the following graph on LinkedIn.
Seems the instant gratification of short-term sales for marketing directors desperate for results right freaking now is just too enticing to pass up for long term growth later. And who can really blame them? CEOs are under tremendous pressure to deliver quarterly results. Pretty much everything you read on and offline about marketing applauds short-termism. And in a breathtaking alliance of deception agencies, marketing media and martech have sucked the fun and profits out of advertising by convincing marketers the bulleted bunkum below is true:
• Martech and the Internet have made advertising more effective
• Old-school, mass market, traditional advertising isn’t effective anymore
• Online, highly targeted, direct to consumer advertising is most effective
• New online technologies have made TV, radio, outdoor and print obsolete
• Creativity is overrated
• 100% of your ad budget should be invested in online tactics like social media, content marketing, influencer marketing, retargeting, SEO, SEM, voice search, AI, virtual reality, etc.
• Short-term sales activation is more effective than long-term brand building
• Highly-targeted, personalized one-to-one messaging outperforms mass messaging
• Integrated, long-term campaigns are a waste of money
None of the above is true. While this is bad news for the unenlightened, it’s great news for those of us who know better. As more and more marketers pour more and more of their budgets and efforts into unproven and less effective tactics, an enormous opportunity presents itself. It’s time to zig to higher growth and profits while everyone else zags to ho-hum creative, lackluster results and lost brand equity.
Now before I go further, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I am not and have never been anti online advertising. Unlike the digital first and mobile first crowd, whose very names expose their bias to online tactics, my agency subscribes to a 100% agnostic, evidence based approach to media planning. The only thing that matters to us is what media mix will best deliver our clients’ objectives. Which means our recommendations almost always include a combination of online and traditional offline channels. (See Principles #7 and #8 below to find out why.)
The evidence clearly shows that a mix of online and offline channels yields the best results. Problem is, the pendulum has swung way too far to the online side. That’s because – in general - online is way more efficient at harvesting short-term sales than offline tactics. In an effort to harvest as many short-term sales as possible, we’ve created as Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s Will Lion calls it “the efficiency bubble”. In the process, we’re making advertising less effective. Why? The correlation between efficiency and effectiveness in marketing is weak at best. By putting most of our eggs into the efficiency basket we’re giving up tons profits in opportunity costs by not investing in more effective tactics.
There are oodles of agencies, media platforms, marketing gurus, data analytics companies and media buyers with a huge vested interest in convincing you otherwise. Their aim is for you to put 100% of your marketing budget into online tactics. And their propaganda is working. While advertising spend on long-term, growth building campaigns through traditional channels is decreasing or flat, online short-term, direct sales advertising continues to grow beyond its ability to generate a decent return. An orange farmer can’t expect to harvest more oranges without watering and taking care of the trees he has to grow new ones.
So now you have the context, here are 12 timeless marketing principles that together are as close to an advertising silver bullet as there’s ever been.
THE MORE YOUR BRAND STRATEGY PROFITABLY DELIVERS WITH WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS WANT AND NEED IN WAYS YOUR RIVALS CAN’T OR WON’T, THE MORE LIKELY YOUR MARKETING WILL BE SUCCESSFUL.
Strategy first. Tactics and execution second and third. Perhaps the most widespread mistake I see happening is the abandonment of brand strategy. With our always on economy and the desire to be a fast mover there is a growing and loud philosophy that says it’s more important to do than to plan. Yes, doing is absolutely critical but doing without first strategizing why, for whom, how and what you expect to achieve in both the long and short term is like firing a gun and then aiming it.
Successful brand strategies only happen when you understand and gain consensus on the purpose of your business, your long and short-term objectives, your strengths and your limitations. Once all these are understood and agreed upon, they must be compared to and aligned with what your customers really want and need that your competitors are unable or unwilling to fulfill.
Sounds easy enough. It’s not. A great brand strategy is really an overall business strategy. It should answer why you're in business and drive everything you do. Based on the brand strategy, you'll also need a great creative strategy - one that details how you'll demonstrate and message business purpose.
A successful creative strategy inspires both your agency and employees to create legendary brand experiences through an integrated advertising campaign and every customer touchpoint on and offline. Companies with successful brand strategies have:
Better employee morale
Better customer service
Better long-term stability
Higher customer loyalty
Less employee turnover
More positive publicity
Smaller media spends to acquire the same mindshare
Perceived higher values
Higher margins than their competitors
In our experience, most agencies and marketers are at best only paying lip service to this crucial step. Here are the crucial steps to developing a better strategy. They’re iterative, so skipping steps will result in an inferior strategy.
1. Know Your Customers
It’s not enough to know who they are, where they live and what they like. You need to do the appropriate research to find out that one thing they want and need that only your brand can satisfy. We find research works best when you:
Analyze first and third-party data to uncover possible insights
Pursue hypotheses about these insights through in-person or online qualitative research
Test and confirm your hypotheses through statistically viable quantitative research
To find out how Immortology uncovers insights you can use to dramatically grow your business, click here.
2. Know Your Competitors
You need to study their strengths, their weaknesses and understand which ones are real threats and why people choose them over you. You need to understand their unique position in the market so that you can truly differentiate yourself from it. But most of all you need to know what their Achilles heel is - the things they are unwilling or unable to do that your customers want. To find out more about how we can help you find the competitive intelligence you need to grow your business, click here.
3. Know Yourself
Self-analysis is hard and you’re going to need to hire an objective third-party to help you with this one. You’ll need to codify your long and short-term business objectives and make sure they’re realistic for the market you’re in and the budget you have to spend. You’ll need to define your core values and honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll need to define why your company exists and who you really want to be when you grow up. You’ll need to compare and contrast these findings to make sure they don’t conflict with what your customers really want and need and you’re not too similar to your competitors. To find out how we can help you take a good hard look at yourself – warts, opportunities and all – click here.
4. Find Your Higher Business Purpose
So after you’ve completed Steps 1, 2 & 3 it’s time figure out what your brand’s Higher Business Purpose is. This is the most important step because your Higher Business Purpose is like a mini business plan that will drive and guide everything your brand does moving forward. When we say Higher Purpose, we’re not referring to a pie in the sky, Kum Ba Ya, save the world kind of a purpose. No what we’re talking about is defining how your company can profitably make people’s lives better that’s different from your competitors. In essence it synthesizes all the learning about your business, your competitors and your customers into a powerful statement that acts like a brand promise and value proposition on steroids. Warning. Seek the help of a professional on this one. To see a few Higher Business Purpose statements we’ve written click here.
5. Gain Consensus
OK, so now you have valuable customer insights, you know your competition, you understand yourself and have defined your Higher Business Purpose. The next step is to make absolutely sure the key stakeholders in your company will commit to the brand platform you created. Verbal agreement is not enough. All stakeholders must sign a pledge that they believe in it and will support it. Then you’ll need to follow-up every quarter and measure what percentage of your company employees and customers know and understand your purpose. As the percentages rise, so will your market share.
6. Create A Master Plan To Fulfill Your Higher Business Purpose
This is where you develop a strategic plan, an integrated media plan and creative ideas to bring your Higher Business Purpose to life. These three items are combined in a master schedule for the calendar year called an Integrated Marketing Communications Plan or IMC for short. Your IMC plan should be reviewed every quarter and revised to adapt to market and business changes/opportunities.
• An Overarching Creative Brief defining specific goals, key messaging, desired actions, prioritized tactics, mandatories, overall budget, etc. This document will guide and inspire every brand communication project you pursue.
• Tactical Briefs for each paid, earned or owned medium defining target, desired actions, target/media specific key messages. Based on the Overarching Creative Brief, Tactical Briefs define specific goals and actions for a particular marketing tactic.
• An IMC (Integrated Marketing Communications) Plan is a calendar, media plan and marketing plan for a year rolled up into one document with the following information:
All marketing tactics
Media deadlines, placements and runs
THE MORE DIFFERENT AND DISTINCTIVE YOUR BRAND, THE MORE LIKELY YOUR CUSTOMERS WILL NOTICE, RECOGNIZE, RECALL AND REDEEM YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE.
In How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp makes a compelling case for having distinct brand assets and consistently activating them across as many consumer touchpoints as possible. Your brand assets are consistent sensory and linguistic cues that make your brand more recognizable and easier to remember. They include:
Tone of Voice
While having distinct brand assets is necessary, way too many brands are implementing Dr. Sharp’s findings at the expense of differentiating their brands. Distinctive brands have brand assets that people easily recognize. Differentiated brands, on the other hand, are perceived as being different from their rivals in a meaningful way. For example Target has a distinctive mark that well, looks like a red target. Disney is different from other theme parks and entertainment companies in that it is unrelentingly focused delivering “magical experiences” that make its customers feel the wonder of childhood no matter their age. It also has a distinctive mark – Cinderella’s castle underscored by Walt Disney’s playful signature. And while differentiation has probably been oversold in the past, it is still a vitally important and worthwhile objective. At Immortology, we’ve always preached that brands should aspire to be both distinctive and different from their rivals. We’re not alone. We highly encourage you to read the following articles by Tom Roach and Mark Ritson who both have written very convincingly and entertainingly why all brands should be different and distinct.
Bottom line. Having a brand that is both different and distinct will more likely be noticed, recognized, remembered and redeemed by people when they’re ready to buy. Brands that are recognizable are 70% more likely to get purchased than ones that are not. Brands that are perceived as uniquely different produce 38% more revenue and have 61% higher profits than brands who are not perceived as uniquely different.
THE MORE PEOPLE YOUR ADVERTISING REACHES, THE MORE SUCCESSFUL IT WILL LIKELY BE.
Despite what you’ve heard, targeting that’s too tightly defined can actually stunt growth. Here’s why. For most companies, 50% of growth comes from new and infrequent purchasers. This is in direct conflict with Pareto’s law which states 80% of sales come from 20% of current customers. In How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp presents data that proves growth is directly correlated with increasing the reach of your advertising and penetration of your product. To maximize growth, you should concentrate your marketing efforts on acquiring new customers – not retaining old ones. To do this, your advertising should reach every buyer in the market for your product or service your budget will allow.
THE MORE PEOPLE WHO NOTICE YOUR ADVERTISING, THE MORE SUCCESSFUL IT WILL LIKELY BE.
An estimated 84% of advertising is ignored – so just being noticed is a huge advantage. That’s why the number one priority of advertising should be to get noticed. Instead of being afraid your ad won’t be liked, be afraid it won’t be noticed. A million impressions is 100% meaningless if it generates 0% attention. Every single piece of communication you put out there from your business card to your your social media ads to your TV spots should aim for maximum attention. Data from The Long & Short Of It by Les Binet & Peter Field shows that aiming for fame – making more people notice, remember and share your ads – can massively enhance the performance of an ad campaign. Here’s a simple goal we aim for with all our communications. Make your ad the most interesting, entertaining or informative thing on the media channel in which it will appear or start over.
THE MORE PEOPLE WHO REMEMBER YOUR ADVERTISING, THE MORE SUCCESSFUL IT WILL LIKELY BE.
While getting noticed is critical, getting remembered is crucial. If every single person in your market notices your advertising but only a few remember your brand, your advertising is a failure. To maximize effectiveness your advertising must clearly differentiate your brand from competitors in a meaningfully distinct and emotional way. The more distinct and surprising your execution, the more memorable your ad will be. The more memorable your ad, the less you have to spend on media frequency and the more likely people will choose your brand over a forgettable one when it’s time to buy.
THE MORE CREATIVE YOUR ADVERTISING, THE MORE LIKELY IT WILL BE NOTICED, SHARED, REMEMBERED AND GENERATE A HIGHER ROI.
People don’t hate advertising. They hate boring, unoriginal and pushy advertising. And according to most people, the majority of ads they see are all the above. Having advertising that people actually welcome and enjoy is a huge competitive advantage. And the ads that people welcome and enjoy are creative ones.
Research has unequivocally proven, people pay more attention to creative ads, recall them better and talk about them more. Clients who utilize them spend less on media and sell more. According to research conducted by Peter Field for the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), creative ads are 11 times more efficient at selling stuff than other ads. What’s more, consumers have more positive feelings about companies and their products that utilize more creative advertising.
In fact, according to a recent study by Nielson and Nielson Catalina Solutions creativity beats reach and targeting in driving sales, accounting for 47% of an ad’s impact. The same study also found that creativity outperforms media channel which only contributes 30% to lifting sales.
And if that’s not enough proof, James Hurman concludes in the The Case For Creativity that creatively awarded campaigns deliver 11x the ROI than non-awarded ones.
THE MORE MEDIA PLATFORMS YOUR AD CAMPAIGN RUNS ON, THE HIGHER THE MEMORABILITY AND THE ROI.
If you’re only running ads on one or two media channels, you’re leaving money on the table. A massive study by the Advertising Research Foundation concluded that each additional channel a campaign runs on increases ROI. Five channel campaigns are ideal with a 35% higher ROI than one channel campaigns. What’s more, seeing a brand advertised on different media engages long-term memorability.
THE MORE YOUR MESSAGE IS CONSISTENTLY INTEGRATED ACROSS ALL MEDIA, THE MORE POWERFUL IT WILL BE.
One of the biggest issues with a short-term, direct approach to advertising is it tends to generate lots of inconsistent messaging in an attempt to reach and connect with disparate groups of people. This inconsistency in messaging inherently leads to confusion and can destroy any positive impact. A recent study by the ARF called How Advertising Works Today found “campaigns with varied creative strategies can actually cancel each other out and become less memorable”. On average, cross-media campaigns unified in message, look and feel are 57% more effective than those that are not. Here’s the kicker. If you really want to see better results make sure your advertising campaign is united by a central creative idea. (Think Dos Equis’ The Most Interesting Man In The World, Old Spice with Isaiah Mustafa and Allstate’s Mayhem campaigns.) A Kantar Millward Brown study found campaigns unified by a strong central creative idea perform 64% better across all brand KPIs.
THE CLOSER YOU GET TO THE IDEAL MIX OF SHORT-TERM DIRECT ADVERTISING WITH LONG-TERM BRAND BUILDING ADVERTISING, THE BIGGER YOUR GROWTH.
Offline (traditional) advertising is best at generating demand. Online (digital) is best at fulfilling it. You need both to maximize growth. This is as close as we’ve ever gotten to a Unified Theory of Advertising. According to the Advertising Research Foundation, the optimal media mix for maximizing advertising effectiveness for most businesses is 78% traditional and 22% online. For targeting Millennials the ratio is only slightly different with 71% traditional and 29% online.
In Effectiveness In Context, Les Binet and Peter Field present evidence that all brands need brand building and sales activation to maximize growth. Most companies should invest a minimum of 60% of their ad budgets into long-term, mass market, brand building campaigns and no more than 40% into direct, short-term sales activation tactics. However, the average business puts 72% of its advertising in online media – almost the direct opposite of what they should be doing. For companies that sell directly to customers/consumers through their own or third-party e-commerce sites, the above ratios should be even more skewed towards offline, mass media like TV, radio, outdoor, print, etc.
Still skeptical? Consider this. With all the targeting capability and data you can imagine, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple not only spend heavily on traditional channels, they are all increasing their investments in long-term brand advertising because an over-investment in short-term, online marketing can lead to diminishing returns and sales declines.
THE LONGER A GOOD CAMPAIGN RUNS, THE HIGHER THE ROI.
Research by Les Binet and Peter Field in Media In Focus – Marketing Effectiveness In The Digital Era prove short-term ad campaigns will leave you short-changed. Campaigns that run for at least six months generate much higher growth than those that run for less than 6 months. Again, it’s not an either or thing. While investing in long-term campaigns will yield more than short term ones, to maximize growth you need to invest in both. In addition to having both long and short-term executions, the most successful campaigns will also be integrated in look and feel and unified by a highly creative idea.
THE MORE YOU EMBRACE THE FACT THAT YOU AND YOUR AGENCY ARE NOT YOUR CUSTOMER, THE MORE LIKELY YOUR ADVERTISING WILL BE SUCCESSFUL.
The minute you become responsible for selling a brand or product, you lose your objectivity. And no matter how unbiased you think you are, you’re not. Trust me, it happens to the best of us. It’s why surgeons are not allowed to operate on their family members. It’s too personal. And when things get too personal in marketing mistakes like Pepsi’s inadvertent social justice parody with Kendall Jenner happen.
As marketers, most of us live and work in a pretty tight little bubble. It is an echo chamber where dissenting voices of reason are often drowned out by a loud and myopic chorus of sheeple. Case and point, a recent study by Ebiquity called Re-evaluating Media found that marketing and agency pros have a personal bias towards the effectiveness of online media that simply doesn’t stand up to the evidence. They ranked online video, social media and online display higher than radio, newspapers and magazines even though the evidence proves otherwise. Knowing who your market is and understanding them from an unbiased, evidence-base point of view is called market orientation. Mark Ritson has written an in-depth article on this subject called The First Rule Of Marketing Is You Are Not The Customer that’s much more enlightening than my feeble crack at it here.
THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO ABSOLUTES IN ADVERTISING.
Like the Easter Bunny and pleasurable root canals, there is no such thing as a sure thing in advertising. Anyone who claims they can deliver x leads, ROI, CTRs, CVRs, shares or likes, etc. with y technology, technique, tactic or media channel, etc. is absolutely full of it. The only guarantee in advertising is there are no guarantees in advertising.
Does this mean if you follow the 12 principles above your advertising will absolutely deliver a higher ROI? Nope. It just means it's more likely to. And that's as close to a sure thing as you’ll ever get from an honest ad agency.
Looking for a marketing silver bullet for your business? We’d welcome the opportunity to be your secret weapon in the war against forgettable advertising. Feel free to contact me directly for a free consultation.
David Smith | Founder & Creative Leader
919.667.3717: c | 919.969.7500 ext. 3717: o