Success or failure: why it really matters that marketing is NOT just about promotion

When many people say the word “marketing” or even sell “marketing” services, what they actually mean is “promotion” – using tools like advertising, websites or glossy brochures.


“No amount of promotion is likely to have any impact if you’re doing the wrong things, the wrong way, for the wrong people”

Marketing has become synonymous with promotion, to the point where the word marketing has seemingly lost its true meaning and value.

People claim to want to “market” their business and others will happily sell “digital marketing”, “content marketing”, “email marketing” and alike – when by and large what they’re selling are promotional tools or services.

It’s not just a matter of being overly pedantic about words – as no amount of promotion is likely to have any impact if you’re doing the wrong things, the wrong way, for the wrong people – it’s a matter of business success or failure.

This fact is even taught in secondary schools – my own GCSE course in Business Studies identified that at the heart of marketing were the four Ps of the marketing mix – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. In order for a business to be successful, it must get all these elements in order, with promotion being the last thing to think about!

The Chartered Institute of Marketing has further developed the Ps of the marketing mix, now claiming there to be 7: Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, Process and Physical Evidence. Furthermore, their preferred definition of marketing is:

“ The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”

You don’t identify, anticipate or satisfy customer requirements through promotion. So if promotion is the limit of your marketing consideration, you’re at great risk of coming up with a product or service idea that you think people will want, then gambling a whole load of money on promotional activities in the hope that they’ll buy it.

It really is little more than gambling. That may be fine if you’re a lone entrepreneur with money to lose, but when your staff are relying on you to pay their mortgages and feed their families, the risks of this folly become somewhat harder to ignore.

If you want your business to be a success, without that success being a massive gamble, it’s vital to step away from promotion unless the other elements of the marketing mix are in place.

Marketing considered and performed properly will help you offer the right products, the right way, to the right people, at the right time, place and price. Plus, it will help to ensure that when you do consider promotion, you’re targeting the right people and reaching them via the most efficient means available to you.

Knowing the difference between marketing and mere promotion really can be the difference between success or failure.

Retailers, please stop bluntly asking for my email address at the till

The other day I placed a roll of sticky tape on the check-out desk of Office Outlet and prepared to hover my debit card over the contactless payment machine.

“Can I have your email address?” asked the member of staff.

“No, thank you.” I said as politely as possible, when it sounds impolite. I wonder how many people submit to this trick, dishing out an email address – perhaps not a real one – instead of risking possible impoliteness or awkwardness?

It’s no longer safe to buy even simple things like sticky tape, birthday cards, socks or gloves without being asked, often bluntly, for an email address.

Some have a slightly different tactic: “Can I have your email address to send your receipt?”. Because I might lose the printed receipt, but won’t lose the email one in a sea of promotional emails?

The reason these retailers want an email address is quite obvious – it’s a direct link to try and persuade us to part with more money, with the potential to enable them to profile us and target things at us accordingly. All great for them, but the reason to actually let them have it is less clear, particularly when they don’t even give a reason, they just ask for it.

I dare say that if I asked “why”, I’d probably be told “so we can send you special offers”. But that’s just not reason enough for me.

Is it really useful for me to have every retailer I’ve ever bought something from sending me emails? Do I really want to have to wade through all these offers in amongst the emails I really do want to read? Will any amount of offers make me return to buy more sticky tape before this roll has run out?

Clearly, there are going to be times when some people will value such emails. But this blanket and often blunt approach seems lazy and actually unhelpful to both parties. What’s the point of a load of fake email addresses or unread emails for the retailer – and what’s the point of an inbox load of sales spam for many people?

It’s also a worry now we’re so close to the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Near obliging people (saying “no” feels awkward) to hand over an email address at the till without any reason why doesn’t appear to conform to the regulation’s rule on consent:

“The conditions for consent have been strengthened, and companies will no longer be able to use long illegible terms and conditions full of legalese, as the request for consent must be given in an intelligible and easily accessible form, with the purpose for data processing attached to that consent. Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.​”

“What’s your email address?” is hardly a reason for having it, so you can’t consent to whatever they might do with it. And those wanting to email a receipt shouldn’t actually do anything else with your email address – you only consented to receiving a receipt.

Being more selective over who these companies want in their databases and being compliantly up front about why is going to take a bit more effort than asking everyone for an email address – but surely it’s going to be better for everyone?

Pareto’s 80/20 rule has been hijacked by marketing writers to move from economics to sales, implying that 80% of sales volume comes from 20% of customers. Frankly it’s a bit too arbitrary for my liking when applied like that, but there is often some truth in the general principle. In many of the businesses I’ve worked with, there’s a core of customers who contribute more sales than many others combined.

Yes, by all means, these are great people to be in touch with – and they’re potentially more likely to value you being in touch too.

In the case of Office Outlet, if I was an office or purchasing manager for a business requiring lots of office stationery type products, then maybe yes, I’d value some offers coming my way. When I just buy a roll of sticky tape once in a while, then, no, I’m just not suddenly going to buy a laptop or a box of folders because you’ve sent me an email with a small discount.

So retailers, please stop bluntly asking me for my email address whenever I buy something from you. Perhaps decide if I’m really useful to you first – and give me a very good reason to sign up if you really want my details.

When promoting yourself or your business, self-praise is no recommendation

If as a child I happened to get a little carried away in proclaiming my achievements as being the greatest in the world, I could be sure to soon hear the phrase “self praise is no recommendation”.

At first I didn’t quite understand how my papier mache hot air balloon or chocolate rice krispie cake making skills could possibly be anything other than world class, but it turned out to be a very valuable lesson.

How easy is it to tell the world that you’re great? Very easy.

How easy is it to actually be great? Not so easy.

Do most people realise this? Yes, of course.

Even if people perceive your claims as more confidence than egotism, there’s the unfortunate matter of whether or not you’re telling the truth. So self-praise really isn’t any recommendation at all, ever.

Sadly, you won’t have to look far in the world of advertising, websites, company literature or even Twitter profiles to see self-praise at play.

“We’re the best”

“We’re number one”

“I’m an expert”

“The greatest doer of something somewhere”

I’ve even seen a few Twitter users proclaiming themselves to be a “great human being”, which takes self-praise to nauseous heights.

If it helps you have the confidence to do what you do by getting up in the morning and saying to yourself that you’re the best, then so be it – but the rest of us need a little more than your word to go on. This is particularly vital since people’s trust in what businesses say isn’t all that high.

According to a recent article in Marketing Week (1): “The Reputation Institute found that just 15.4 per cent of UK consumers believe what companies say in their advertising, with the rest neutral, disbelieving or unsure.”

So any trust in what you’re saying has to be earned – you have to show why you’re great, not just say so. The good news is that if you’re really so great, you’ll have plenty of evidence to prove it. Plus, there’ll no doubt be quite a few people who think very highly of you too.

What other people say about you is so much more influential than anything you might say about yourself.

Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages survey (2) indicates that: “Word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family, often referred to as earned advertising, are still the most influential, as 84 percent of global respondents across 58 countries to the Nielsen online survey said this source was the most trustworthy.”

All those years ago, it was a glowing endorsement from my class teacher that was rewarded with a Matchbox car of my choice – not my chocolate rice krispie cake boasts.

It’s also very likely that it’ll be the glowing endorsement from your customers, not you, that’s rewarded with greater sales success.

References:

1. Marketing Week: ‘Majority of UK consumers don’t trust brands’ advertising’
http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/sectors/technology-and-telecoms/news/majority-of-uk-consumers-dont-trust-brands-advertising/4010029.article

2. Nielsen: Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages
http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/reports/2013/global-trust-in-advertising-and-brand-messages.html

Promote your business more effectively – don’t just talk about you

Have you ever met Mr or Mrs “me me me”? They attend dinner parties, family functions and business events, cornering people and talking entirely about themselves. Their house, their children, their car, their business, their views on the world.

You nod politely, but can’t seem to get a word in – and when you do, they look beyond you, clearly just waiting for the next opportunity to talk about themselves. It’s time to spill something down yourself in a desperate bid to escape.

Now think of the people that you actually enjoy talking with. Not only is the conversation flowing in both directions, but they actually listen to you and take an interest in you.

So how does this basic observation of human interaction help your marketing? Well, look at your website, leaflets, brochures, adverts, etc. Are they just talking about you?

“We’re this, we’re that, we’ve been in business x years, we’re the best, we can do this, we can do that.”

What’s so wrong with that? You’re promoting yourself, you’re bound to talk about yourself? To some degree, yes, but there’s still a very big danger of you appearing to be like Mr or Mrs “me me me”.

Promoting your business isn’t just a matter of telling people about you. The world is full of businesses talking about themselves, it becomes a noise that nobody is really listening to – just like you switched off when stuck with the “me me me” people. It could be the very reason more people aren’t taking notice of you.

As with the more engaging and enjoyable conversations you have with people, you need to pay your audience some attention and take an interest in their interests and objectives. Why would they buy into what you’re selling? What objective are they trying to achieve with your product or service?

Look at my business as an example. How many people wake up in the morning with a burning desire to hire a marketing person? Exactly! But how many more have a business in need of more customers and sales? So that’s what you see on this homepage – the objectives people actually want to achieve.

Some may encourage you to to spend more to “shout louder” in order to be “heard”, but that is unlikely to make much difference if you’re not saying the things that your target audience are actually interested in. A little thought about your audience can therefore spare you the expense of waffling about yourself, to yourself, like Mr and Mrs “me me me”.

Attracting customers – does your website mention your biggest asset?

It is often said that the close links and relationships that small businesses can build with their customers provides a key advantage over their larger rivals.

Also, in the absence of huge advertising and PR budgets, this people element can define how small businesses are perceived by their customers and be a key factor in winning new business.

So it greatly surprises me that many small business owners don’t mention themselves or their people on their websites. It’s like walking into a shop and finding all the staff hiding behind the counter.

It’s particularly odd when the business is offering a personal, creative or craft service. Here potential customers would be buying directly into a business person’s particular personality, skills and talents.

Sometimes little hints are dropped, such as “we’re a family business” or “the founders have more than x years of experience”, but that information alone lacks substance and isn’t useful. Introduce this family, their roles and experience – profile these founders and their experience.

Think of it from a potential customer’s point of view. Unlike the big names, they might have never heard of you before, or have any idea of your reputation and what they can expect from dealing with you.

Their questions, doubts, hopes and fears would no doubt be answered if they engage with your business. However, if your website is the first point of contact that a potential customer has with your business, it might be the only chance you get to convince them to do business with you.

Why leave these people wondering? You don’t need to provide life histories – and should avoid self-praise – just give your audience a summary of who you are and why you’re good at what you do, so they have some idea of who they’re dealing with.

Although you might have put a great deal of effort into showcasing your products or services on your website, the people element of your business could well be the key to winning that new customer.

Don’t hide behind the counter….or website.