Marketing is a lot like dieting

Ask me for a metaphor for the biggest single misconception about advertising and marketing, and I’ll point you toward the average American’s obsession with weight loss and the strategies employed in the pursuit of that goal.

Every few months, a new diet appears. Suddenly, all sorts of people are binging on grapefruits, drinking 24 glasses of water a day, living solely on pomegranates and turnips, or eating yellow foods today and red ones tomorrow. Otherwise intelligent people ignore common sense. From TV talk shows to repeatedly forwarded emails, each new secret spreads through the land, promising amazing results. Some secrets eventually prove to be disturbingly harmful.

When the inevitable disappointments arrive, the frustrated dieters look to their doctors, nutritionists, and other medical professionals for new magic. And, once again, they hear the wisdom they already knew.

Eat less. Exercise more. Choose healthier foods. Reduce your portion sizes. Walk a half hour each day. Stay away from processed foods. Avoid those foods that are packed full of fat and sodium. Become more active. Fill yourself up on fresh fruits and vegetables instead of breads and sweets. Say no to seconds.

The dieters shrug and resolve to try again one of these days. But they don’t hurry, because who knows? The next miracle diet may actually be the real deal that will save them from the agony of really working at it!

“Over the years, I’ve watched countless clients fall head over heels for the latest fads in marketing and advertising.”

Over the years, I’ve watched countless clients fall head over heels for the latest fads in marketing and advertising. They throw all their hard-earned knowledge out the window to embrace something that’s new, cool, and that promises incredible results, often led down that path by a charming salesperson armed with convincing (if dubious) research.

“We don’t need to waste money on advertising anymore,” they say. “All we need to do is set up a Facebook site and let our fans do all the advertising for us. It’s amazing!” Or “We’re pulling all of our marketing dollars out of everything else and putting it all into local cable TV spots, because studies show that TV is the most powerful medium. It’s easy!” Or “Why do we need to worry about direct marketing, when there’s this exciting word-of-mouth marketing that will do all the work for us? It’s astounding!” Or “Why should we invest money in our local area when the search engines can do all the hard work for us? It’s international!”

And then they excitedly grab another grapefruit or reach for the newest $19.99 as-seen-on-TV miracle exercise device.

Don’t get me wrong. These aren’t stupid people or foolish business owners. But just like those who are desperate to drop two dress sizes in the two weeks before the next class reunion, they’ve allowed themselves to suspend their normal skepticism and common sense in favor of hope and fantasy.

Wouldn’t it be great if it really worked this time?

You know that it won’t, and, somewhere deep down, they know it, too.

The simple fact is that marketing and advertising are just like weight loss strategies: they’re most successful when you take a consistent, long-term approach that involves multiple aspects. Simply eating less may lead to a slight weight loss, but it becomes far more effective when you combine it with exercise.

If you keep looking for the magic answer to building your business, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. And, just as dieters who jump from fad to fad often wind up in worse shape with a net weight gain, those sporadic, inconsistent activities may actually hurt your standing and market share over the long run.

Instead, go for a mix of good-old-fashioned, proven strategies. Don’t hesitate to weave new ideas into your approach, but don’t expect them to replace everything else that you’re doing. When that cheerful sales rep shows up with a thrilling concept, be skeptical and don’t dive in with both feet.

Most of all, start with a long-term plan and follow it religiously. The incremental gains you’ll see may not be as exciting as miracles, but I’m sure you’ll discover that your business will feel a whole lot healthier.