A long time ago (30 years ago this weekend, to be exact), in a galaxy not very far away (our very own, if you want to know the truth), a little movie called Return of the Jedi opened in theaters across America. It was the conclusion of the first Star Wars trilogy and, as such, was one of the most highly anticipated films – actually, events -- that I can remember. It promised to answer all of the fans’ questions, particularly after the huge cliffhanger from the previous installment, The Empire Strikes Back (“Luke, I am your father!”). The demand for the film was so pent up that lines formed around city blocks just to get in on opening day.
Impressive - most impressive. Courtesy AP file photo.
As you can see, the release of Return of the Jedi on May 25, 1983, was more than just a movie premiere. It was somewhat of a cultural milestone, a gathering where likeminded people could congregate to take part in an experience that meant something to them.
It’s very difficult to achieve this type of attention for anything these days, even outside of big movie premieres (perhaps especially outside of big movie premieres, which are a dime a dozen). Does the latest edition of The Fast & The Furious provoke an enduring sense of community in legions of Vin Diesel or hot rod fans? Unlikely.
Fortunately, businesses have it somewhat easier. They have many tools at their disposal that can help them build and foster a sense of community among their customers. It starts with providing exceptional products, of course (after all, there’s a reason why the first three Star Wars films are referred to as “the classic trilogy”), but it extends to how those products are extolled to and within the customer community, which is often a company’s best resource for promotion.
The terms “fanboy” and “fangirl” (“fanperson”?) were created to describe an individual who is so zealous about a particular company or product that they can’t see the benefits of competing companies or solutions. That guy dressed as Darth Vader in the picture above (I’m assuming it’s a guy – I don’t know of any self-respecting woman who would do that)? Definite Star Wars fanboy. And while that term is often used in a derogatory fashion, there’s still something comforting in knowing that there are people so invested in a particular property that they’re willing to go to certain lengths to support it.
Many companies have customers, but only a small number have fanpeople who are so into a company that they’re willing to publicize it on their own or actively participate in initiatives – for free, no less! -- that will make the company better. Apple, of course, is well known for their customers’ fervent loyalty, which creates a halo effect around them that encourages others to try out Apple products. But that’s far from the only example. Actually, it may not even be the best example of a successful customer community.
Other organizations have worked very hard to develop communities that not only work hard to tell others about their products, but shape the company’s business. Take SolarWinds, an Austin-based IT software provider. Recently, the company announced that members of its user community, thwack, had crowdsourced a number of ideas for new features, helping influence the implementation of certain product features. In this case, the passion of the thwack community actually had a direct bearing on the company’s products.
Other organizations also have very passionate fanpeople working for them. Companies as diverse as Red Hat, Amazon, Dunkin’ Donuts and others have legions of loyal customers that, if not willing to actually develop something for them, are at least more than willing to espouse their benefits to others. And, much like any self-respecting Star Wars fan would never admit that Star Trek is the better franchise, they usually won’t stray very far from the organizations they like to purchase from.
Building this type of customer loyalty – this fanbase – is not easy. In fact, it takes years of consistent effort. And while it goes without saying that it involves great product development, marketing communications plays a critical role as well, because it is there that great rapport with customers is can be born and cultivated.
There are a number of ways to do this, and they all stem from building a connection with the company, a sense that each customer is extremely important:
Use social media as a customer service tool. Too many organizations use social media strictly as a way of marketing the company. While it’s absolutely correct to use these channels for promotion, it’s not enough. Networks such as Facebook and Twitter should also be a means through which organizations can right wrongs, answer questions, and fix problems. In short, they should serve as an extension of a company’s customer service efforts. Don’t just use these channels to start a conversation, use them as a forum to help customers. It’s a great way to turn them into fans.
Hangout online. Google Hangouts are a great way to interact with your customers. They provide an opportunity for you to interact directly with the people who care most about your company through live streams and conversations. Not everyone has the budget or time to attend a user conference, but it’s easy to sign into Google and join a Hangout. It’s also far more personal.
Hold office hours. Twitter is one of the best real-time communication tools the world has ever seen. Use it as such. Set up a specified time when your executives can field questions live via Twitter. During this time, have these executives answer as many questions as they can – they shouldn’t shy away from the tough ones (actually, they should focus especially on the tough ones and embrace them as an opportunity for positive communications).
Host a webinar. Traditional press conferences have, by and large, gone the way of the dinosaurs. They’ve been replaced by online conferences and webinars that can be more inclusive and speak not only to the media but also to the people who actually buy products and are invested in a particular business. These can be short – an hour, let’s say – or last half a day. The trick is to make them both highly informative and interactive, and complement them with liveblogs, Twitter feeds, and more.
There’s a common theme among all of these topics: not the power of the Force, but the power of listening. Marketers are prone to telling customers what they want them to hear, but, in order to build that deep connection, they must also listen to what customers are trying to say. Ultimately, this is the key to turning a customer into a fanperson – letting them become invested in your business by hearing what they have to say.
Of course, organizations are free to try the “Dark Side” approach, if they like, which is what Nutella did when the brand’s parent company, Ferrero, tried to shut down the fan-created World Nutella Day. For the uninitiated, World Nutella Day is an annual event, held on February 5, to celebrate the wonders of the delicious spread. For reasons unbeknownst to man, Ferrero issued a cease and desist to the organizer of World Nutella Day, effectively leading them to cancel the event. Not surprisingly, fans went into an uproar, taking to the Web to decry what they felt was a ridiculous move by a corporation that was, in the end, shooting itself in the foot by not allowing its said fans to promote the brand. That cease and desist has since been lifted, and the world will, once again, be able to celebrate Nutella again next year.
Truer words were never spoken. Courtesy iwastesomuchtime.com
By and large, though, most companies understand that the direct way to a customer’s heart is through direct, honest communication and a show of respect. In fact, companies that are successful in doing this have some of the most loyal fanbases in the world. And those fans typically don’t keep their love for certain organizations to themselves; they like to talk about it among their peers and friends and congregate with others who have similar interests. They talk up companies on online forums, through social media channels, at trade shows and conferences, and with their associates. They promote brands, all without being on the payroll.
There’s a reason why J.J. Abrams is making a new Star Wars movie, more than 30 years after the first one premiered. It’s because people like me continue to feel passionate about them. As a result, we tell our children who Luke Skywalker is and we get them playing Angry Birds Star Wars. In other words, we pass the torch onto others, and get them invested just as we are. That’s what being a fan is, and why creating fans can help your company thrive for years.
My daughter's new t-shirt. She's 4, by the way.
Everyone’s favorite completely legitimate source of news – so legitimate, in fact, that China’s People’s Daily Online has cited its hard-hitting reporting and insightful commentary. But The Onion isn’t just a bastion of journalistic integrity – it’s also home to some brilliant marketers.
I’m not talking about Microsoft’s “The Browser You Love to Hate” push around Internet Explorer, which catapulted Onion Labs into existence, or any of the other crazy-yet-brilliant branding campaigns spearheaded by the organization. Instead, I’m talking about something very simplistic in scope: A job posting.
But not just any job posting – this is for a Listening Intern, a one-day unpaid position at the company’s Chicago’s bureau whose sole job is to…listen. The Onion wants potential recruits to use the following procedure for consideration:
- Watch Onion News Empire on Amazon Video
- Post a review on the Amazon page for the show
- Link to your review in your application
- List three reasons why you deserve to be hired
While a unique way to push for views of a fledgling media property, this would be a failing effort for most brands – but maybe not those with the cache of The Onion. It’s a little too soon to tell if this is going to be successful or not, but it’s certainly creative and smacks of that certain brand of madness expected of America’s Finest News Source.
So what do you think? Is this just a lame stunt or an effective way to market?
In reading though my Feedly the other day (yes, I’m trying that one out now). I came across this post from Hubspot outlining 20 “pearls of wisdom” from marketing experts.
These 20 tid-bits were pulled from a larger pool of 54 that you can download from Hubspot here.
I’ve pulled out my top five and expanded on them just a bit:
"Learn to love data and, for heaven's sake, write well." - Ian Lurie, Portent
This one really resonates with me, personally, since I love looking at our data. But, it also rings true – the truth is in the numbers. You can tell what’s working, what’s not, what you should continue to write about, how well different channels work for your company and more, just from analyzing the data.
"Think of it more as publishing instead of marketing. Be authentic as a publisher and create content that helps you connect to everyone else ... because they're already connected." - Mitch Joel, Twist Image
This is a great piece of advice when it comes to creating content. It should be more about putting out content that your customer base is interested in than telling them what you offer. If you can showcase your expertise on a topic they will search out your offerings on their own. Be a resource, not a mouthpiece.
"Educate more people that the tools have almost nothing to do with the true power of social media. It's what's inside those tools that matters (uh, the content)." - Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute
As marketers we all need to embrace social channels for what they are, not for what we want to get out of them. It’s not about the tool itself but about the content that lives on it and the people that interact with that content, and you.
"The approach that will win the hearts and minds of customers leverages content and context to create marketing that intersects with a customer's lifestyle, needs, and interests." - Brian Halligan, HubSpot
I think this quote really speaks to how much a company needs to understand its customers. Not just forming a buyer persona, which is a step in the right direction, but truly interacting with and understanding what their lives are like, so that content created will not just speak to their needs but also reach them where they already live.
"Don't try to do it all. It's better to be awesome on one or two channels than to overextend on six." - Cameron Chapman, Author of The Smashing Idea Book: From Inspiration to Application
We use this phrase here at SBX all the time: Don’t try to boil the ocean. While it might seem like a great idea to be writing whitepapers, posting videos, engaging on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn, blogging and more – it may actually dilute your message. Pick the channels where your target base actually engage and find useful and start there, get really ingrained. Then if you want to branch out (or see a need to) go for it.
Any pearls of wisdom of your own to add?
The last session of the day I sat in on was Startup Marketing: Working with a Lean Budget featuring SpeakerBox’s own Lisa Throckmorton.
Moderated by Paul Sherman with Potomac Tech Wire, the panel also included:
Michele Perry, Founder and President, MPB Strategies
Trevor Lynn, Marketing Manager, Social Tables
Zubair Talib, Co-Founder and CEO, YaSabe
Lets dive into some of the highlights:
- Marketing for a startup vs. an established company differs greatly – and it is not just because of money! Startups often are less likely to take a risk because they have more to lose if it doesn’t pay off. Additionally, a strategic marketing plan does not exist in many cases and there is more of a tradeoff when it comes to campaigns. Startups often have to pick and choose the few things they want to do – and the pressure is on, because they need to do those things right.
- Branding a company in the startup phase vs. focusing on marketing and sales is a balancing act. Companies are often so focused on getting the product to market that they can’t articulate the value proposition well and many times do not have clear messaging on their website. Before the brand can focus on promotion, these items need to be put in place. However, at the same time, developing a brand is very important at the startup stage in order to raise money, get employees and it has been proven that marketing programs work better if there is awareness of the company already.
- When asked about where marketing ends and sales starts, Trevor responded that at Social Tables they don’t have a divide between sales and marketing – they have “smarketing.” Essentially they do all aspects together. They know where all leads are coming from and what tactics are making a difference. Their marketing is very metrics driven and they experiment with all options to see what generates the best results.
Startups are willing to spend money wherever there is positive ROI. Content is an incredibly effective way to get the ball rolling in terms of recognition. Since budgets are limited, marketing money needs to be spent wisely and knowing your audience helps to narrow down on which channels would be most effective. Most importantly - track everything you do. Start with a baseline and continually try to make it better and more effective.
- Finally, when it comes to marketing for startups – resist the urge to boil the ocean. When startups are all over the map, campaigns don’t go over as well and are not successful. Pick a few areas and really focus in on them while measuring and tracking the results. Stay focused and give it time. Results won’t happen over night, it is a process that involves continual testing, so stay focused and make decisions based on practicality rather than desperation.
That’s all from us from MAM summit today! Check out the Twitter stream for more detail on these great sessions.
This afternoon I sat in on a panel on how to effectively integrate marketing and sales – a question I’ve actually be asked by clients before so I was very excited to see what this group had to say.
The session was moderated by Fred Diamond, President, Diamond Strategic Marketing and panelists included:
For this session wrap-up I’m going to run through the questions and responses from the panelists, who provided their valuable insight on how to truly get marketing and sales integrated and working together.
Is true sales and marketing integration possible? If so, what does it look like?
Val: Yes. Marketing is a tough field and always has been. Marketing success is tied to revenue and the success of sales team. At CQ Roll Call we instituted an agreement on revenue goals – we work together as a team to develop goals instead of just giving marketing a quota. It’s about communication and anticipating what the other side’s needs will be and what they are faced with every day.
Debra: There are several different dimensions of integration but basic communication is key – the marketing person needs to be on sales calls and if you’re not then you’re not getting it. Also, both sales and marketing are very metrics driven but it’s imperative that the marketing and sales metrics be in alignment. You need to have a shared understanding of what the customer journey is – this will allow you to discuss it intelligently. Additionally, it’s necessary for both sides to to understand what you’re selling and how you’re telling that story. Sales should be a partner in developing the narrative of who you are and what you sell.
What should sales expect from marketing and what should marketing expect from sales?
Debra: Marketing should be taking what is confusing and making it clear and meaningful and straightforward so the sales team can take it forward. Could be taking that story forward on the website, through thought leadership or through events but doing so is the main deliverable for marketing.
Steve: In my experience in business development what I expected from sales was for them to be a feedback channel from the clients. Having good customer relations with existing customers and talking to them about what is working and what is not working for them is integral to understanding what customers are looking for. Both sales and marketing need to understand the client needs.
Val: Everyone these days is doing consultative sales and the transaction/journey is a taking a longer period of time. However, a good sales person should be building relationships with the customer and then carrying those relationships through the sales cycle. On the other side, marketing people have a tendency to want to help everyone and sometimes we need to take a step back to remain focused.
How do we suggest sales and marketing come together?
Steve: What I’ve tried in my career that has worked, although it requires a very thick skin is to have marketing and sales/business developing come together after losing opportunity and dissect what happened and why the opportunity was lost. In order for this to work there needs to be no finger pointing – we all succeeded or failed together. Leadership has to set the stage for not beating up on one side or the other and make it clear this was a team effort.
Val: It’s so easy to get defensive but we need to nurture an environment of no finger pointing. It’s easy for silos to form, even when we’re supposed to be working together so it’s necessary to bring teams together and share information. Personally, I keep senior leadership out of these meetings because it changes the dynamic and creates more tension and finger pointing. Doing this over lunch (or drinks!) is a good idea too. You must have communication between the two groups in order to succeed.
Debra: Trust matters no matter what you’re trying to achieve. What was effective for us was after rolling out a new product we sat down constantly with the sales team to understand where does the discussion pause or get hung up. We started working through it to remove the barriers to the process. We worked together constantly to identify the roadblocks, one after the other, and remove them from the table.
Today we’re coming to you live from the second annual Washington, DC Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit (MAM Summit). We sponsored and supported the MAM Summit last year and are excited to be a part of the event again this year. We’ll be bringing you recaps of a few of the different sessions today and you can also keep up with the happenings over on Twitter by following @mamsummit or #MAMSUMMIT.
This morning I’m excited to sit in and bring you a recap of the B2B & Enterprise Marketing: What’s Working panel. The moderator of the panel is Limor Schafman, President, Keystone Tech Group and panelists include:
This group provided a very lively, engaging and fun session – which ironically was one of the things they wall agreed B2B marketing should be; rather than what it often ends up being, which, according to the panel, is dry, dull and boring.
A few of the highlights/main points from the session include:
- The marketing landscape is different than it was just 10 years ago and we owe this largely to social media. While social media channels serve a purpose, and if used appropriately can be useful, Ken also felt that they often play an integral role in creating disharmony and panic. With the rush to be on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. companies are losing site of their strategy and are just shouting to the masses. One way to combat this chaos is simply to Just. Take. A. Deep. Breath.
- Just because something works for a B2C company doesn’t mean it will work for B2B. Again, Ken pointed out that all you have to do is take a look around Facebook, which is now is replete with long abandoned spots of corporate sites. This could easily be chalked up to the fact that with all the developments in social media and technology it’s easy to get distracted by chasing down the latest and greatest shiny object (SQUIRREL!). It could also be attributed to B2B companies trying to replicate B2C strategies without thinking about the right way to connect with their audience.
- This leads us to probably the greatest piece of information to come from the panel, and I will say this loudly so everyone can hear, KNOW AND TALK TO YOUR CUSTOMER. Not that “spray and pray” was really ever effective but today companies have more information and insight into who their customer is and should be using this information to their advantage. As Bob London and Ken pointed out, every minute you spend focused on social media is a minute you aren’t talking to your customers and we often get so focused on social media that we forget we’re trying to have a conversation with people. Use the data you’ve captured about your audience and create content that will resonate with them. Sure, it might be a lot of work to develop different messages or content for each audience but the results are sure to speak for themselves.
- The group cautioned though that it’s a mistake to think we just need more conversation and to try to cram more through the existing channels and instead we should be focused on making sure the conversation is meaningful. Forget how you are doing on Twitter or Pinterest, it doesn’t matter. To paraphrase from Ken, what you need be doing is focusing on how to differentiate yourself in an ever-rising sea of sameness. Focus on the message and deliver your message and content in the right place at the right time. See above regarding a lot of work but good results.
- Lastly, along those lines, Bob Ragsdale also imparted his wisdom that every marketer needs to not only know, understand and connect with their audience but also be able to boil your message down to a simple 6-8 words. It’s easy these days to get caught up in chasing the shiny objects that companies/marketers can lose track of what their core messaging is. It’s necessary to have the self control to know what your audience is really asking for, know what your core differentiator is and then come hang your hat on it come hell or high water.
There is probably so much more to say and you can catch anything I forgot over on the Twitter stream. All in all it was a great session and I’m glad I was able to sit in and be a part of it. Stay tuned for more recaps from the SpeakerBox team today!
Recently wireless provider T-Mobile did something that very few companies have the nerve or inventiveness to do – they created a completely new business model that, if successful, could shake up an entire industry.
Last month, T-Mobile’s colorful new CEO – in a hip and fun yet understated fashion – announced a new way of doing business with customers, one that effectively did away with the traditional subsidized phone pricing/high monthly rate structure in favor of, in T-Mobile’s view, a more straightforward, cost-effective and consumer-friendly approach. In doing so, T-Mobile repositioned itself as “the un-carrier,” effectively staking a claim against the other major U.S. wireless networks. In effect, T-Mobile is saying to AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, “We are not one of you, and we do not want to be seen as one of you.”
The truth is, though, T-Mobile can’t afford to be seen as one of them. For years the company has been viewed as coming in fourth in a very competitive U.S. wireless market, bleeding customers and teetering on the edge of irrelevance. T-Mobile had to do something to shake things up. Their backs were against the wall, and they had to heave one into the end zone in the hopes of playing catch up.
They did – and their numbers are looking up.
T-Mobile is just one example of a company that got extremely creative when they absolutely had to. Of course, there are others, many in recent memory. Microsoft drastically altered their entire operating system with the roll-out of Windows 8. Nintendo was losing huge market share to Sony and Microsoft in the video game wars, which is what led to the awesome success of the Wii. Even the almighty Apple was on its deathbed in the ‘90s, until Steve Jobs came in, cut everything that wasn’t working, and introduced the world to the iMac.
It’s not that these organizations did not have the creative juice to come up with these innovative products or ways of doing business before. It’s just that they did not have to, not while everything was coming up roses. But there’s something about the scent of failure that can do one of two things: make companies quiver and hide, hoping to ride out the storm before the waves break over them, or get them to come together in the most cohesive way possible and have them take strong, creative, gutsy risks that allow them to break free of what wasn’t working – and perhaps revitalize them.
I love seeing this happen because these are the ways that business becomes truly exciting. Scary, no doubt, but exciting. And quite often it pays off. Perhaps not immediately, but in the long-run.
PR and marketing certainly play their own role in this. When a company does something different, so totally off the wall…well, that’s a pretty compelling “sell.” Not only does the business get revitalized – so does the marketing. It’s much easier to break through the clutter of the news cycle when there’s something really unique to pitch. It’s even better when it’s something that’s completely unexpected from a company that is doing something outside of the norm, or one that’s engaging in activities that will disrupt an industry.
I’m not suggesting that organizations should change things for change’s sake – if something is working, then perhaps there’s no reason to make adjustments. But organizations that do not continue to push the boundaries, even during times when things are going well, need to pay particular attention to the traps that may lie in wait in the future. After all, I’m pretty sure that the former executives from BlackBerry never imagined a world in which that company, once at the top of its game, would be fighting for its life.
The point is, to be creative means to infuse life into your organization – whether it’s into your marketing or your business itself – and to continue doing so throughout its entire lifespan. In other words, treat your business like every day might be its last. Don’t let it get to the point where its back is against the wall.
- Pete Larmey
In public relations and marketing, one of the biggest concerns is community, or rather how to build one. There are so many factors to consider, from the likeability of a company’s products and the size of the user base to building brand loyalty, that community building often slips into the background for most organizations.
One client of mine, SolarWinds, a provider of IT management software, defies the status quo when it comes to community – they’ve managed to build, sustain and grow an active, vocal community of users that, in my purview at least, rivals that of some mainstream open source projects. How do they do it? By maintaining a deep understanding of their users, which, more often than not, are self-described geeks, both from a technical and a cultural perspective (I count myself among their number).
Now, SolarWinds has launched a month-long endeavor to help engage and grow their community…by killing its heroes. The SolarWinds Sci-Fi Bracket Battle is a vote-driven tournament, where science fiction icons, like Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and Star Wars’ Darth Vader, face off against each other for the title of Intergalactic Champion.
One might think that the geek clique would not take kindly to their favorite characters being shunted into a Thunderdome, but that line of thinking couldn’t be more wrong.
SolarWinds’ users have leapt full force into the Bracket Battle, generating tweets, Facebook posts and message board discussions. The community has even gone so far as to tweet the authors and actors behind these icons to try and bring them into the debate. It’s a beautiful thing to see a community engaged, and it’s something that SolarWinds is doing very, very well.
“Bill Nye never has to put up with this crap.”
The history of science is an inspiring one—filled with the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance. Until about 1985.
Then, things get a bit murky.
In June of that year, all of the folks who’d been previously stymied by science got together at a mountain retreat in Colorado and hired Wayne LaPierre to help formulate a new strategy:
“Here’s the truth of the matter,” said LaPierre. “The only person who can stop a good guy with a dataset is a bad guy with a dataset.”
And just like that, junk science was born.
Three decades later, it’s been elevated to an art form. Though, naturally, the people responsible for this elevation aren’t scientists; they’re marketers—using scientific concepts deceptively.
But not all junk science is created equal. Here are just a few of marcom’s favorite schools of practice:
1. “The Science Is Unsettled” school
As elegantly demonstrated by the evolution "debate," disciples of this school will use the existence of any dissenters (no matter how few or how discredited) to illegitimize huge areas of general scientific consensus.
This is closely related to the “It’s Just a Theory” school of junk science, whose primary purpose is the (often deliberate) misinterpretation of the word “theory” in a scientific context.
As I'm sure you know, a scientific theory is a hypothesis that has been repeatedly tested and supported by evidence. It is not, as we use the word to mean in common English, some harebrained explanation that your Uncle Lou cooked up for why the Dodgers haven’t been playing well. But junk scientists will use the fact that something is called a “theory” as prima facie evidence of its invalidity, when in reality it proves the opposite.
2. The “Sounds Like Science” school
This school’s disciples use statistics to make an argument sound more authoritative—though the data underpinning those statistics is typically unsound.
A popular version of this (and one of my pet peeves) is “qualitative survey abuse.” There are, of course, many necessary uses for qualitative measurements. However, dressing up subjective opinions as statistical research because the actual quantitative numbers would be difficult to obtain is (at best) a meaningless exercise. For instance: “58% of executives believe that social media will gain in popularity this year” tells us very little.
3. The “Bad Reading of Good Data” school
In this permutation, two groups of observers view the same scientific dataset and come to completely different conclusions—suggesting that each group is entitled to its own opinion.
There was an interesting case of this practice in the news recently, when Tesla’s Elon Musk disputed a negative review of his Model S in the New York Times.
The Times’ reviewer, energy and environmental reporter John Broder, had driven the test car from DC to Boston, and he wasn’t impressed. But Musk had data captured from the car’s onboard computer, which indicated (he said) that Broder had been driving the car “improperly.”
To make a long story short, it appears that though the data was accurate, Musk’s interpretation of it was labored. What Musk was doing, it seems, was cherry picking specific data points to support his preferred, predetermined conclusion—that Broder was lying.
Such a practice is, of course, anathema to scientists.
“I don't consider creativity to be a virtue we should celebrate. That's not the hero of the story of over-reliance on data. Courage is the hero: The courage to think for yourself and go your own way. And the courage to value progress over deference, and standing out over fitting in.”
Author, Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits That Masquerade As Virtues
Too often as marketers we get hung up on doing the things we think we should do, rather than what we actually should do. This applies to the tactics we employ, our approaches to building strategies, the way we work with others, and more. We base our actions and thought processes on decades of accepted norms – always rely on data to make informed decisions, teamwork and collaboration to drive programs, the belief in fairness and deference to others to achieve goals, etc. These approaches could all be considered “sacred cows” within today’s corporate environment.
One person who believes that these cows should be upended is Jake Breeden, author of the new book Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits That Masquerade As Virtues.
I can attest that the author knows what he writes about. I’ve known Jake personally for nearly two decades now, having worked with him in a couple of different environments, first at a public relations agency in Boston and then at Duke Corporate Education, a global learning and development company that works with some of the world’s leading corporations. Since then Jake has gone on to form his own company, BreedenIdeas, and regularly consults with CEOs and other top-level executives. He’s also a regular on the speaking circuit, routinely traveling the world to discuss the challenges that face these executives, and advising them on how to overcome those challenges. He’s a smart guy, and a good friend.
With the recent publication of his book I thought now would be an excellent time to have Jake share his perspective on how readers of The Sounding Board can take steps to tip their own sacred cows.
SpeakerBox: I'm excited to read the new book. In particular, I'm looking forward to learning more about how business leaders need to and should subvert conventional thinking in order to succeed, because that's something we strive to encourage our clients to do on a regular basis. And though I know the book covers all walks of business life, can you elaborate on how some of the themes that you touch on are directly related to marketing executives?
Jake Breeden: Marketing has many sacred cows. The first I'd encourage marketers to reconsider is measurement.
Too often, marketers bow down to the altar of ROI, working to isolate and understand the value of each marketing tactic. There are two problems with this approach:
1. You limit your flexibility as a marketer. More measurable marketing tactics, things like direct response ads, keyword purchases, and email campaigns can be an important part of the mix. But so too are less measurable tactics like promotion, sponsorship and publicity. Too often, timid marketers don't make the case for a fully integrated, long-term marketing campaign. Instead, they let the tyranny of measurement lead them down a narrow path.
2. You reduce the role of marketers in your company. As marketing becomes measurement, marketers become little more than walking algorithms. And eventually, they'll be replaced by actual algorithms. Marketing professionals must have the courage and influence skills to make the case for marketing investments without supporting data. They need to get their head out of the Excel charts and engage in more leadership.
SpeakerBox: That's pretty bold, particularly considering the stats driven marketing culture we live in. Do you think that marketers need to retrain themselves in some way to break free from this way of thinking? Any suggestions on ways they can do that? Is it almost like going back in time to a more "innocent" time when metrics were not as easy to gauge?
Jake Breeden: I'm not suggesting marketers go backwards. I'm suggesting it's time for the pendulum to swing back a bit, away from data and towards intuition.
Phase one was spray and pray, which had a pretty long run: 100 years or so. For the past twenty years -- and especially for the past ten years -- marketing has been paying for its Mad Men era sins. Call this second phase “Data as Dogma.”
Now we need to move to a third phase in which marketers re-assert their leadership. What should marketers do to break free? First, don't be bullied by the data. It's just a collection of past experience. And there's no such thing as raw data, as David Brooks pointed out in a recent NY Times column. Every piece of data contains a point of view. Data is argument. When a CFO demands to know the ROI of an investment, marketers need to respond by changing the terms of the conversation. Move past justifications and “making the business case.” Don’t spend energy begging, spend it doing. That's what I mean by leadership.
Don’t gin up spreadsheets to justify your thinking. Instead marketers should embrace experimentation. Make small bets and learn quickly.
The truth is, given the rate of change and volatility and the richness of variety in the world, you really can't know anything for sure that's worth knowing. The best we can hope for is the leadership to make bold decisions, the accountability to look at the results, and the humility to keep learning from the process.
SpeakerBox: That seems to be one of the themes in your book as well – encouraging managers to think more creatively and for themselves, rather than sitting back and relying on traditionally accepted forms, which can often become crutches. One of the driving forces of creativity is often passion, but these crutches seem to work against both passion and creativity.
In the book, you mention something called "harmonious passion" -- can you describe what that is, and how marketers can successfully translate this passion into programs that can, in turn, inspire passion in customers about a particular product, service, or brand?
Jake Breeden: I don't consider creativity to be a virtue we should celebrate. That's not the hero of the story of over-reliance on data. Courage is the hero: The courage to think for yourself and go your own way. And the courage to value progress over deference, and standing out over fitting in.
I've got a chapter in my book on the downsides of creativity. Too often, creativity is merely a mask for narcissism. When an old idea will do just fine, there's no value wasting the time to come up with something new. And newness brings risk that is often needless.
In addition to writing about creativity, as you pointed out, I write about passion. Passion is a double-edged sword. When it drives you, it hurts you. Instead, workers must control their passion. This begins by choosing your passion.
When your passion chooses you, it becomes obsessive and unhealthy. For example, if you feel a compulsion to work, that's an unhealthy sign. In the short term, you'll burn midnight oil and impress others with your gusto. But Robert Vallerand at the University of Quebec and many others researching with him have demonstrated clearly that obsessive passion leads to burnout and bad behavior. Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods and Marta Stewart are part of a long line of obsessively passionate winners who have been derailed by the side effects of obsession.
On the other hand, when you choose your passion and you control it, you live in harmony with the thing you love. The object of your passion doesn't take over your life. So leaders shouldn't spend anytime looking inside to discover their passion. Pick something and throw yourself into it. Pick a passion that's helpful to others, and get on with it. Stop wondering what you're passionate about, and start working on something. So long as you're doing something valuable for someone else, you'll find the joy and exuberance that comes from harmonious passion.
- Pete Larmey