What can you, a regular business person, learn from the recent federal election? Things! And we will get to them shortly, but first some pure self-interest.
I’ve got to say I’m relieved that election is over. Because I was sick of it and also now my old profession can start to rebuild its tattered reputation. It’s taken a battering, thanks to the whole Scotty From Marketing thing.
I’m not keen to bring politics into a business blog. You can read that elsewhere, I don’t want to bore international readers, and my own politics are of no interest to you.
Yet whichever way you lean, Scott Morrison is a product you only buy once. Like Dr Pepper cola or iSnack 2.0, Kraft’s nightmarish Vegemite-cream cheese experiment. One-off purchases are not the pathway to a happy, profitable brand.
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The Morrison user experience really cemented the public impression that marketing people are all message and no delivery. Spinning out snappy slogans and nice pictures to trick you into buying products that will ultimately disappoint you.
And that’s a shame because decent marketing is nowhere near as shallow and dodgy as most people think it is. I’m not a full-time marketing guy now, but I loved my time as a marketing creative, and it’s fun and profitable to bring that approach to our businesses.
Marketing: A mildly-embarrassing career
Yes I know, marketing isn’t a prestigious profession. Your parents don’t want to tell their friends you’re in marketing. It’s easy fodder for standup comedy routines.
Marketing rarely gets a board seat in listed companies next to the grown-up finance and law folk. Because they view us as the people who make pretty pictures. It’s a brutal bit of irony that marketing is the worst part of business at marketing itself.
“Oh, I’m in marketing.”
“Wow, that’s a coincidence! I’m in marketing too!”
“Cool, where do you work?”
“Well I don’t work at a specific place. I’m in (insert repellent multi-level marketing brand name here). Have you ever wanted to be your own boss?”
It’s bad enough having MLM types trying to lure you into their pyramid at social events. But to have them suggest they do the same thing as you is the final nail in the coffin.
Yet, marketing has many reasons to be proud. It’s what delivers the margins that most in your business take for granted.
Marketing all the time is not good marketing
At the core of the Morrison situation was the belief that everything is a marketing angle. The wiser approach is to shut up, listen to your customers, and improve your product. That’s what a good marketer would do.
I wrote of this look-at-me marketer syndrome a couple of years ago in peak COVID-19, when Virgin Australia fired 3000 staff and gave them each a picture autographed by Richard Branson.
When you’re all about the marketing messages all the time, even when the situation calls for the exact opposite, people grow tired of you real fast.
Here are three things about marketing that Scotty forgot, and that might help your business.
1. Marketing is not promotions
The popular image of marketers since the madmen days is making ads. It’s easier to understand and people think you spend all your time doing photo shoots in exotic resorts, hanging out at the pool bar with the models while the crew sets the lights up.
That’s just apart of it. I’m not going to bore you with the four Ps of marketing but your product is as important as the promotion.
Much as I love writing ads and a good resort photo shoot, as a business owner I’m repulsed by the idea of luring customers in with a clever message then giving them a shitty experience.
It’s a real PT Barnum carny trickster approach. It’s great if you’re moving your wagons from town to town in a time when messages traveled by telegram.
It’s amazing that so many hustlers still think it’s okay today.
People can see that you’re just saying whatever transactional stuff you think might score a quick sale.
Ads work, but the most important element of a brand is reliable delivery. Customers come to you to minimize their risk. It doesn’t have to be the full Rolls Royce experience, but it has to be something they can rely on every time.
2. Marketing is not a one-way broadcast
To be good at marketing, you have to be obsessed with what’s on your customers’ minds. That means talking to them, and more importantly, listening. And not just direct questions about your product.
Yes, you need data. There are lots of ways to interpret data though. If you’re not directly in touch with the people who buy from you, you can build all sorts of confirmation biases into your conclusions.
You create confected ideal customers who you reckon love your product. Quiet Outer Suburban Families and so on. Businesses love a good PowerPoint mythological tribe from their consulting firm.
Turns out if you’d listened better, you’d learn they’re buying someone else’s product now.
Listen more. Alert marketing (and sales) people should become the voice of the customer at high levels that stops your company being too out of touch or greedy.
3. Spend less time staring at “the competition”
Business people are naturally competitive and it’s tempting to focus on your direct competitors. They’re a favorite topic in internal meetings.
When you hear about a customer they let down or their new product that divebombed, you cannot wait to tell your workmates. You roll the story around like a fine vintage wine, savoring every detail. It’s that finest of German compound words: schadenfreude. The pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.
When you think that way for decades, you start believing your competitors really are as shit as you want them to be.
- Customers don’t think they’re that bad; and
- You don’t notice other, different competitors coming in. Or you dismiss them as being beneath industry standard. And one day they whup your ass.
Because you weren’t listening and the model you always took for granted just changed.
And you, a self-supporting business person, won’t have a generous parliamentary pension to cushion the fall. Be careful out there.
This article was first published on the Undisruptable website. Ian Whitworth’s book Undisruptable: Timeless Business Truths for Thriving in a World of Non-Stop Change is out now from Penguin Random House.