“Good enough” works in some fields. Marketing isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, plenty of well-meaning marketers adopt a status-quo mentality, even when they clearly see that they’re in a rut. Don’t get me wrong: Marketers who track their return on investment realize that the costs to attract attention are skyrocketing. Over the past five years, the cost of acquiring new customers through both organic and paid methods has increased by nearly 50%.
Consequently, marketing teams know they should be looking for creative ways to frugally bring in more customers and retain current ones to bump up flat marketing ROI figures. Yet many of those marketers revert back to the same passive tactics in an attempt to give themselves a competitive edge. That makes about as much sense as rummaging through a dated tool kit to fix a modern problem. At some point, heading to Lowe’s is far smarter than MacGyvering everything with a rusty wrench, some picture-hanging wire, and a screwdriver.
Why the Status Quo Is So Comforting
Marketing is about coming up with novel ways to approach a variety of issues. In the real world, though, it’s easier to do what you’ve always done. There’s no need to ask the chief financial officer for approval on whether your team is going to that annual Las Vegas trade show in September. Never mind that the trade show keeps producing crummy returns and lousy leads. It’s the expected thing to do, and you’ve attended the show year after year.
When marketing practices become stale and habitual — think always attending the same conferences or faxing press releases into the ether — companies run the risk of not evolving alongside their customers. Eventually, the disconnect becomes so wide that no bridge could span the gap.
The antidote for this tired thinking is agility. Namely, brands need to test and tweak marketing strategies continually and assume their competitors are doing the same. McKinsey & Company found that only 6% of CEOs of consumer-goods companies are happy with their business’s innovation efforts. But even the executives who do think they’re killing it can get caught up in their own sense of comfort.
When it comes to innovations in marketing, projecting only a year or two into the future probably won’t cut it. The reality? Companies that are constantly thinking about their marketplace three to five years down the road — and planning for many, many different scenarios — will become the success stories. Marketing is in constant flux, and what works today isn’t guaranteed to work down the line.
Brands should be constantly innovating, questioning, and testing their marketing tactics in order to find out what might work in the future and open themselves up to an entirely new world of possibilities. Don’t we all want to keep the momentum rolling beyond today’s successes?
Red-Flagging Tired Techniques
To find out if your marketing is stalled in the status quo, you can look out for a few telltale signs. It’s wise to start this process by examining your sales department. If sales only delivers small increases, has been flat, or is down, you’re in a dangerous comfort zone — and it’s time to find out why and do something about it. GE, for example, had a reputation for cutting the bottom 10% of its workforce annually to rid itself of staleness. You might not want to take such harsh measures, but you should stay open to creative ways to turn the ship around.
Another way you might find evidence of this is by analyzing your competition. If a company is eating your lunch, so to speak, you can be sure your marketing isn’t on the cutting edge. Similarly, if customers don’t know about your newest offerings, this should send a clear message: Your marketing isn’t reaching them.
Want a final way to figure out if you’re old hat? Blow the dust off your marketing plan (in reality, this should really be a digital file) and show it to a 30-year-old marketer. Ask if the plan looks successful for a proactive brand. Request brutally honest feedback — and be prepared for what you might hear.
Breaking Out of Your Marketing Mold
Stepping outside of the status quo requires bold, deliberate action. Instead of waiting another quarter to hear that your ROI continues to flatten, focus your attention in these five areas:
- Chat with your customers. Ask buyers how they view your products during a face-to-face conversation. Although you could simply monitor their communications via social, this isn’t the same as having a one-on-one discussion. It’s crucial to be in the right environment. That trade show in Las Vegas, for example, isn’t the best place for this. Find the right place and time for customers to be relaxed and honest. Elicit feedback and maintain a calm demeanor, even if customers don’t say what you want to hear. You’ll come out on the other side with some incredibly valuable insight.
- Get to know your disruptors. How are other companies — including startups garnering mountains of press and credibility — driving results? What are they doing that’s beyond innovative? Be open to expanding your horizons: You can also look beyond your industry and into similar ones. Drill as deeply as you can, and keep tabs on customers’ responses to their marketing and sales choices. You might not want to emulate them, but you can learn a lot about why their methods work.
- Keep up with an ever-changing industry. It’s a busy world, but keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t turn into an out-of-touch company. Read books, check out blogs, listen to podcasts, and absorb as much information as you possibly can. If you’re looking for fresh marketing perspectives, check out Jay Baer’s “The Talk Triggers Show.” Each six-minute episode of the podcast explains the most effective ways to get people talking about your product and shares strategies for kicking status-quo marketing to the curb.
Any sort of media you consume will help you connect ideas and come up with new ones — consciously or subconsciously. The more you know, the easier it will be to find novel ways to replace dead-in-the-water marketing methods.
- Tap an outside marketer or agency. Perhaps your internal employees just don’t have the insights needed to break out of the status quo. That’s when it can make sense to bring an agency or external marketing expert to the table. Just make sure third parties can back up their marketing suggestions with supporting facts and data.
- Open your culture up to innovation. Corporate culture starts in the C-suite. If the CEO and other executives say the marketing is tired, you can bet everyone will begin to get real — and quickly. You might be surprised at how rapidly fresh ideas pour forth when people realize they’re able to experiment and freely share ideas.
Admitting that your marketing is boring requires some painful reflection, but it’s never as tough as watching your company lose relevance (and market share). Instead of accepting a status-quo strategy, fill your marketing tool kit with new equipment so you can rev up your practices and get back in the lead.
Written by: Steve Randazzo.
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