January 14, 2019

The Simple-Minded Guide To Marketing Communication

We marketing people have a dreadful habit of taking the obvious and making it incomprehensible. So today I would like to go against the grain and take the obvious and make it more obvious.

If you are someone who has to make decisions about how to spend marketing dollars, here are some principles I believe in for simplifying and clarifying your thinking.

The first thing we have to understand about marketing communication is that there are no absolutes. There are just likelihoods and probabilities. When making communication decisions, our job is to assess likelihoods and probabilities. In other words, precision guessing. We need to reckon which of the many alternatives we are faced with has the highest probability of producing the result we are looking for with the budget we have.

A second principle is to understand the limits of what we do. We don't have as much power to create business greatness as we think we do. There are too many important aspects of business success that are out of our control. We don't control the product; we don't control the pricing; we don't control the distribution; we don't control the employees -- we only control the message. We have to be realistic about the limits of what the message can impart to a poorly made, badly designed, overpriced, hard-to-find, product. Or a product that has any one of those characteristics.

Third is perhaps the most obvious. But it is the big secret that is hidden in plain sight. Brands that are in the spotlight have a much higher likelihood of being successful than brands that are not in the spotlight. This is where we have leverage. For this reason alone all marketing communication should have a common objective -- to find a piece of the spotlight.

This is also one of the reasons that our industry's current obsession with precision targeted, one-to-one advertising is misguided. Precision targeting may be valuable for direct response. But history shows us that direct response strategies have a very low likelihood of producing major consumer facing brands. Building a big brand requires widespread attention. Precision targeted, one-to-one communication has a low likelihood of delivering widespread attention (see this from last week.)

The spotlight is not a guarantee of success, but it creates a much higher likelihood of success. It is a simple calculation: you are more likely to be more successful if you are more famous and more visible. You may not like this calculation or approve of its ramifications, but it should be self-evident to anyone who wants to look at marketing with a clear eye. Do you think Donald Trump would be President if The Apprentice had been a webinar?

There are many ways to attempt to find the spotlight. Some brands find it naturally because the media fall in love with them. Tesla is a perfect example. So are Amazon, Google and Uber. The amount of free spotlight these companies have enjoyed because of press attention is incalculable.

These brands make achieving high visibility seem easy. It is anything but.

Sadly, you have a very low probability of being a Tesla, an Amazon, a Google, or an Uber. Maybe one in 10,000 brands are that interesting. The belief that you can use one of these companies as a model for your communication strategy is a delusion. It has a minuscule probability of happening for you. Most of us have to think or buy our way into the spotlight.

Finding the spotlight can be attempted in a number of ways. There is no "right way." You can do it with PR, you can do it with social media, you can do it with advertising. Your job is to find the most likely strategy for getting a piece of the spotlight at a price you can afford.

Once you decide on your strategy, there is one other principle you must employ. There is nothing that creates a greater likelihood of attaining high visibility than creativity. The probability of your efforts shining a light on your brand is enormously higher if you have a imaginative idea behind it. I will say it again - regardless of what communication or media strategy you employ, there is nothing more likely to garner you a piece of the spotlight than a great creative idea.

So let's recap:

     - Your most under-acknowledged job is assessing likelihoods and probabilities.
     - You must be realistic about the power of marketing communication.
     - One of the most essential characteristics of a successful brand is high visibility.
     - One of your strategic imperatives is to produce fame and visibility by garnering a piece of the spotlight.
     - Achieving a place in the spotlight is extremely difficult.
     - You are more likely to attain the spotlight by being widely seen rather than narrowly focused.
     - Splitting hairs over words in briefing documents is largely a waste of time. Most of the distinctions you draw between your brand and your competitors' are lost on consumers. A much more productive discussion is, "Which strategy or execution is most distinctive and has the highest probability of making us famous?" In the long run, the strategy with the most value for your brand is the one that is most likely to buy you high visibility.
     - A key question you must answer is whether you have the assets to achieve a piece of the spotlight? The assets that have the highest probability of garnering that are money and creativity. There is rarely enough money.

As a simple-minded guy, all of this seems perfectly obvious to me. However, our industry appears to be in such a state of confusion that the obvious is no longer credible.

Please do not send me your favorite example of a big brand that was built outside the lines of these principles. Of course there are some. There are no rules. Just likelihoods and probabilities.

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