Why marketing approaches aren’t like underwear

You launched that new marketing campaign three months ago, and you’ve had it. Sales just haven’t increased. So you’ve decided to toss it aside and come up with something new.

Bad idea.

And I say “bad idea” as someone who benefits financially when companies need brand-new marketing approaches, because it usually means that they need a new website, blogs, ads — all those things people like me to help them create.

Far too many company leaders change their marketing approaches only slightly less often than they change their underwear. That’s almost always a waste of time and money. If your company needs a new marketing approach every few months, there’s a fundamental problem — and I’m willing to wager your marketing isn’t that problem.

All too often, marketing efforts often become the proverbial tail that’s expected to wag the dog. Companies dump buckets of money into new advertising campaigns as though they were magic potions whipped up to solve all sorts of issues. Sales staff not producing? Let’s run a new ad! Inherent product flaws hurting our competitiveness? Spin the advantages and ignore the rest! Customers say our pricing is too high? Make the website’s design fancier!

It’s a common failure, and it’s rooted in a misunderstanding that marketing begins when you’re ready to promote a product or service. Actually, promotion is only one component of marketing. It requires far more depth than a single clever ad or a witty URL. It demands you really know your customer (not just think you know her), understand her needs, develop an effective, affordable response — and then, and only then, make her aware of that response through promotion.

Sure, you can use marketing tactics to soften the rough edges of what you offer, but relying upon those techniques as a quick fix is invariably going to fall short of your hopes. Managers who behave in that way often declare marketing to be worthless, because they tried something and it just didn’t work.

The most effective marketing involves consistent, long-term efforts built upon a company’s strategic plan. After all, the strategic plan spells out the company’s mission, vision, and the long-term strategy for connecting the two. Marketing activities play key roles in turning that strategy into action. If you’re not changing your strategy every few months, you probably shouldn’t be changing your marketing that often.

Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adjust and adapt your efforts to reflect what’s happening in your marketplace, or to capture unanticipated opportunities. That’s not the same as throwing everything out and restarting whenever you feel frustrated and disappointed. In fact, if your feelings are driving your marketing efforts, that may be the root of your problems. Business strategies should be based upon rational analyses, not upon your emotions.

Think of the large companies you admire. What do they stand for? Can you describe them in a short phrase? You can, because their basic marketing philosophies and executions have been consistent over years (and not just months). Sure, they’ll toss in a new ad approach here and there, or add a new component, but the underlying strategies remain the same. I could name a dozen companies, and the images popping up in your mind would be identical to what pops up in mine.

Those companies have a solid understanding of who they are and what appeals to their marketplace, plus they have the confidence in that knowledge to stay focused over the long term. They’re not shifting gears every three months or jumping every time a competitor provides some kind of perceived threat.

If you’re not 100 percent sure of who your company is and what your marketplace wants, you’re not ready to create effective connections between the two. You may succeed from time to time, but it will be more of a lucky accident than thanks to brilliant strategy.