Plow Through Marketing Hurdles

The MadPipe team talked with resident Digital Ecologist® Daniel DiGriz about how to break the holds, bottlenecks, and barriers that leave brands and organizations in a marketing rut. We culled these insights.

What are some of the barriers to internal teams being effective at marketing?

Leaders get in their own way. They can hobble the process by alternating between being overly visionary or theoretical and pushing for instant action and results. That’s because they occupy a couple of roles. Sometimes they’re the brand’s thought leader—looking over the next horizon, and sometimes they’re the company’s cop—ensuring people tow the line. If there’s a bottle neck at the leadership level, you’ve got to fix that first, or it’ll continually blow the organization’s best efforts to make systematic progress toward a goal—even though that’s what the leadership really wants. The best way to overcome this hurdle is to clearly differentiate roles in the marketing, and assign everyone a role, even the CEO. Marketing is that important—leadership should be formally involved, rather than be on the outside and informally interfere.

When internal staff are involved in marketing, do you have to walk a delicate line?

It’s saving face and silos. When there are entrenched staff members, they worry about looking good. If you’re trying to simultaneously change the way you approach marketing and maintain the illusion that you know exactly what you’re doing, you’re going to be uncomfortable. Some even hit a wall and leave. Politics kills it right off the bat with the team members that are most interested in managing their reputations. Silos do the same thing; people get the idea that an area of marketing is their turf instead of the brand’s. That makes it impossible to integrate it into an overall, unified strategy. We welcome taking ownership, but that needs to be ownership of the performance, not control. If the company is basically healthy, we can have the talk and break through that barrier without the staff member either obstructing or going limp. In poorly-led organizations, we’ve seen people actually working to ensure new strategies fail, or malingering, so they can return to their comfort zone. A smart brand won’t tolerate that. When this hurdle pops up, it helps to reassure people that the reason you get them a powerful resource is precisely because it’s worth investing in their area; it’s the favored department that gets the new furniture. If the carrot doesn’t work, use the stick; this ship is moving, and it’s a big ship; rowing the other way won’t help, and you won’t get anywhere without a clear commitment to be onboard.

What are some challenges for external marketing team members or providers?

Marketing contractors rarely mix well without firm, emotionally-detached leadership. Collaborating effectively on a team requires observing some basic protocols for project management—like every objective has a process with milestones, responsible parties, and delivery dates. Effective project management creates mutual accountability. If a contractor is used to sort of ‘taking over’ for a client, and either being the whole show or having their own silo, they can find it challenging to work effectively with a bigger team and with leadership that’s used to coordinating those pieces for a larger strategic gain. What usually saves it is having well-reinforced systems for tracking deliverables and performance metrics. Stakeholder buy-in is essential, so you’re not playing good parent, bad parent. If everyone is held to the same standards, and those standards are sound practice for delivery of marketing projects, you either get performance or clear indicators of where you have weak spots. Knocking out this hurdle is all about documentation. Eliminate concepts like “working on” this or that—what are you doing specifically and by when. Once you’ve done the heavy lifting on systematizing processes, it’ll get easier; a well-coordinated machine only requires routine inspection and maintenance. Get ETAs, and make each team member communicate proactively; merely responding when asked equals passivity, and that in itself is a fail. Maintain “broken windows” policing (track your deliverables), even if you trust people—trust but verify. The basics aren’t optional just because they’re basic.

Are there conceptual areas that hold back the marketing of brands and organizations?

Everyone is too close to their own marketing. Even if it’s working, you’re missing opportunities, merely because you’re having to alternate between thinking about company goals and audience needs. Add to those the burden of deeply-rooted beliefs and preferences, and something is getting lost. Someone says, “we want to convey x, y, and z in every message, but we believe it should be very brief”. Of course it’s a struggle, because you’re asking for contradictory things. The problem is not the problem, it’s how you’re looking at it. Does it really matter what you want, or is the really important thing what the audience wants? What are you more committed to, existing beliefs or the end goal? Or you hear “we need to tell them x, but they seem to find that boring, and we need to make it interesting”. Are you sure you need to tell them what you’re telling them? Maybe that’s an ineffective mode for this audience, and you shouldn’t be telling them things, you should be creating a puzzle to solve. Companies often mistakenly think they need to be more creative. Creativity is easy to come by. Being organized and dispassionate is even more important than creativity. You’ve got to listen without interpolating your own internal story before you can invent a strategy. It starts with mapping out the audience belief system. There’s a world of difference between the value you’re offering and the value the audience believes its taking away. Clearing this hurdle is about asking tough questions and answering them from an audience point of view, cutting yourself no slack, and sparing none of your feelings as the marketing team. An empathy map is an excellent way to dig into the audience mindset, but that’s just one technique.

What is the biggest blind spot you find in an organization’s marketing?

The most damning blind spot is not seeing one’s audience as human beings. It’s evidenced by a belief in near automatic responses. Someone told three generations that Pavlov’s dog experiments applied to consumers and businesses. The marketing dinner bell which, when rung, brings everyone running is an ad agency’s marketing gimmick to sell us our own wishful thinking. You don’t make a sale or turn a lead into a prospect because you have a good rational argument, explain yourself clearly, or say the words “act now!” There’s no dinner bell. The sooner an organization’s marketing fully respects the complexity of both human caprice and innocence, the sooner it can start winning over hearts and minds. Leaping over this hurdle requires empathy being a core component of every marketing piece you put out. It’s helpful to develop carefully thought out campaigns, but then deliver the sensitively and with lots of feedback from the team. In a diversity of counsellors, there is wisdom.

What’s an example of a marketing blind spot in action?

Take SEO for instance. The bulk of what is done in the name of search engine optimization is short-sighted and disrespects the end user. You write a bunch of landing pages that no one will ever see, to try to rank better for some keywords. Even if that were effective at ranking you, what will it ultimately achieve? You focus on the hapless fish that happens to be swimming past that keyword, because you believe your marketing depends on accident. Or else you’re convinced users are desperately searching the services you offer and, but for your ranking, would never be able to find you to perform them. I get the belief, if you’re a plumber but, even then, there are better ways. Yet brands persist in thinking consumers buy things mainly because they trip over them, despite all data to the contrary. That’s because of this Pavlovian thinking, and because this is what they know to do, and they don’t see the alternatives. To blow away this hurdle, find the opposite. Marketing vice is a mirror, of us, and of how to correct it. For every marketing sin, there’s a righteous practice waiting to show it for what it is. For instance: if you were to put the effort in the SEO example into writing inspiring, socially distributed blog posts, you’d have far more eyeballs on your content. Not only would that net you more interested human beings, it’d raise your ranking much higher than some invisible content designed as mere search bait.

How does money hold back a brand’s marketing?

It’s never the money that holds you back; it’s priorities. There are two common problems. One is a false juxtaposition of operations—the operational side of the business and marketing; the latter gets seen as optional. Any organization that starts with the notion that marketing is expendable isn’t going to commit enough to make it sustainable. What you think you can expend, you will eventually expend. To borrow some CEO and military command advice from Robert E. Lee: as a stakeholder, you love the organization, and you want to protect the thing you love, and that’s the trap. Because, to win, you can’t hold back. You must be prepare to commit sufficient resources for the success of the thing you love. A company that says it can come up with x-budget for six months and, after that, it doesn’t know, is going to fail at marketing because, by the time it’s starting to succeed, it’s out of marketing capital. You map out an annual marketing budget and you treat that as the cost of doing business; you make it a non-negotiable expense, or you don’t do marketing. If you’ve committed a percentage of annual revenue to marketing, no matter what, you might face the other problem: you want that expense to be predictable. A year is a long time in marketing to go without any new insights and adjustment to assumptions based on audience response. In fact, some marketing companies operate on annual cycles for precisely this reason, and actually hold you back from learning and building momentum. To clear this hurdle, commit to an annual marketing budget, and then allow for frequent fluctuations within it—at least once per quarter to account for new marketing experiments.

Can analytics be a hurdle to marketing?

Measure frequently, experiment eagerly, and change reluctantly. At the level of the team, monitor metrics monthly, and do an in-depth analysis once per quarter. Individual implementers should be checking their own performance at least every week. For instance, a social ad person needs to gauge responsiveness to a given post to decide whether to put more money behind it. That said, companies often make knee-jerk decisions based on misinterpreted analytics, or simply not enough of a time frame for a valid experiment. For instance, if you’re getting low website traffic from Twitter, does that tell you to abandon Twitter, or that you’re posting the wrong content to Twitter? If you’re getting a lower conversion rate from PR than from organic search, should you abandon PR? Probably not, because PR may be having the single biggest impactor of your organic search rank, even if it doesn’t, by itself, account for many conversions. Marketing is modular, but it’s not binary; it’s not keep it or kill it, it’s a range of choices, including: improve it or tie it into something else. To overcome the hurdle of misinterpretation, make sure analytics are being interpreted by someone who isn’t committed to any one marketing channel (i.e. selling you services in that department), and who is skeptical of knee-jerk interpretations.

Of course, it’s obligatory for me to point out that getting companies and organizations over these hurdles is exactly what MadPipe does. A colleague of mine described it as a kind of “community activism for business”. It’s true. If we take on a client, we want them to succeed as much as they do; that’s the only way to maintain the integrity of the relationship. These were eight pain points and eight solutions. Get MadPipe to build your marketing team around the hurdles YOUR group is facing.

Hit the contact link at bottom of this post, and book an exploratory call to identify exactly what’s holding back your marketing.


Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.

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