Tag Archives: success

3 Reasons Why Marketing is so Hard

The tasks of marketing, whether we are talking about traditional marketing, product marketing or new (digital) marketing, really aren’t that hard. At least, they shouldn’t be. Marketing can be broken down into a handful of tasks; find out what your customers want, work internally to ensure you can produce it at a profit, get it placed in distribution and then promote (communicate) it out. Not that difficult. Right?

My Foundations of Marketing class starts tomorrow night. As it stands, I have 36 students and only 9 of them are marketing majors. Believe me, the other students aren’t there because of my reputation as an amazing teacher (despite what the students trying to get into my class off the wait list tell me). The other 27 students are required to be there. The majority of them are finance and accounting majors. I remember many many years ago being a finance major being required to take a marketing class. Yuck, naïve me thought. Marketing is so easy. Hardly worth my time to pay attention. My goal tonight it to convince them that markets isn’t so easy after all. I have three reasons why……if you have more, please share them in the comments section.

1.) The putz on the other side of the board. Probably the most powerful reason that marketing is difficult isn’t because the tasks are so hard, it is because you are actually competing with dozens if not millions of competitors…..and that is only direct competitors. I just googled “how many soda producers are there” and according to the internet (so you know it must be correct) there are ten soda producers in North America. Those are the national producers anyway. So if you are Coke, you have nine other national producers you have do compete against.

But that’s not the end of the competition. Coke also has to compete with hundreds of local soda manufacturers. For example, my original list didn’t show Moxie Soda from Lowell Massachusetts. If I’m in Massachusetts……and close to Lowell, I might chose to satisfy my thirst with the local Moxie over Coke.

But WAIT! That’s not the end of the competition. As a thirst consumer, maybe I’ll quench my thirst with tea, coffee or water. Any of those would serve my thirsty needs as well as Coke and potentially be healthier. As Coke, I have to take into consideration, not just those products I’m competing against but all of their marketers as well. Especially being number one, everyone is out to replace Coke as the drink of choice, at least, for their highly segmented target market.

But WAIT! That’s not the end of the competition……A thirsty consumer might just decide to postpone drinking. This could be because of specific rules, no drinking in class. It could also be because of price, access to funds, inconvenience or a number of other reasons. The final competitor that Coke must deal with is the consumer themselves.

In class, I’m going to try to press this fact by showing a 90 second video that does a really decent job teaching the game of chess. That’s pretty easy. If you can learn it in 90 seconds, chess can’t be that hard. Then I’m going to introduce the class to Tania Sachdev. Tania is an amazing chess player. She grew up in India. I believe her mom taught her chess at age six. She was winning championship before she was twelve and she would wipe the floor with each and every person in my classroom (myself included) in chess……probably simultaneously.

Chess is easy…..unless you are competing against someone like Tania. Similarly, the functions of marketing aren’t that hard. You just have to do them better than your competition.

2.) Consumers lie! Consumers will occasionally lie to market researches. Consumers will frequently lie to themselves. Ok, that was a little dramatic but still true. You can ask customers what they want or why they did something. They will tell you but what they say may not be true. Mainly it isn’t an intentional lie.

Some of the issues is that the consumer really doesn’t care. Am I really going to let the restaurant know when they did a fairly reasonable job with my meal but it really could have used a little more sauce? Not likely. They were competent. I’m not motivated to tell them their little failures (a.k.a. opportunities for improvement). I just might go eat somewhere else, the place that gives a lot of sauce, the next time.

Another issue with consumers is that the ones who are willing to talk to you might not be representative of the feelings all of your customers. You may be working to change your entire system because a small percentage weren’t happy. Worst yet, what those customers are complaining about might be what the majority of your customers love.

Consumers lie to themselves all the time as well. Think of the middle aged guy who suddenly buys a sportscar. Ask him. He’ll tell you all about horsepower, torque (whatever that is) and the zero to sixty in a tenth of a second. Do you really think any of those features are why he bought the hard? It is more likely that his forehead and belt are both growing. The love of his life has heard all of his funniest anecdotes. He needs to feel young and powerful and wanted again. I’m waiting for a sportscar to give a truly honest commercial. “We aren’t the little but we can get you to a pharmacy two towns over faster than a Corolla!”

Sometimes consumers will try to solve a need…….that just aren’t that good at it. A friend who was an engineer for high risk respiratory product. You know when they wear the full body suits with a air supply hose dragging behind them in scary movies? That. One customer complained that when they had to crawl around small spaces, they could kneel on the hose………yeah, no air. So they asked him to design a hose with a metal spring in it, so it couldn’t be crushed. Can you imagine dragging around a fifteen foot spring connected to your face? Sounds awful. Their problem was the air supply getting cut off. My friend designed a solution, which I won’t get into, that was lighter and more flexible than the spring and, more importantly, didn’t kill the worker.

There are all kinds of biases, both from the consumer and from the research, which I’ll get into in another post. The point here is that you, the marketer, has to interpret the consumer better than the competitors’ marketers.

3.) Conflicting priorities – The marketer frequently has limitations put on them by Finance, Accounting, Sourcing, Demand Planning, Legal and Executive Team. I know a lot of marketers call these departments the “sales prevention team,” which I don’t think is fair at all. They have a role to play in making the company profitable as well. The marketer does well to understand their internal team’s goals, so that you can work with them, instead of trying to fight against them.

Keep in mind the wisdom a former boss told me, “People do what they are paid to do.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a marketer or even an executive say, “I’m just going to tell supply chain to increase inventory.” If supply chain’s bonuses are based on keeping inventory low, you can tell them all you want. They may even say, “sure.” They may even add inventory on that one product you are asking about…..and lower inventory on all the other products in their portfolio.

Sales is going to push the marketer to have as much inventory as possible. Keep in mind that your cost of inventory is going to be somewhere in the 10 to 20 percent range (cost of money, insurance, warehousing, etc). So taking your inventory up from a two month supply to a three month of supply is going to lower your margin by 2%……..are you going to eat that or are you going to increase your price. When sales asked me to increase inventory levels and I said, “sure but I’ll need to raise the retail price by $10 to pay for it,” they quickly backed off of their request.

Let’s do one more department. Demand Planning is given bonuses for giving accurate forecasts. Sales think an accurate forecast is a forecast that is less than what they actually sold. I’ve had a great person and salesman tell me that he was a fantastic forecaster because out of the last 36 forecasts, his actuals only came in below his forecasts once……..In marketing, we call that a sandbagger. How much excess and obsolete inventory would have been created if the company produced to his forecasts? The Demand Planner aims to be over forecast 50% of the time and under forecast 50% of the time……you never hit the forecast. That just doesn’t happen.

A marketer must not only understand the consumer but must be able to work within the constraints of their company and their conflicting goals.

Are you living a life of distraction?

Does this sound familiar? You are working on a project, music is playing. You make it a few minutes but social media chimes that a “friend” has posted something. You check it out. More than a few minutes later you get back to work. Before you accomplish too much, someone texts or IMs you. Your day continues with this constant interruption and it is finally to come home. On the drive home, you listen to an audible book, which is interrupted several times as you are texting to firm up your dinner plans….using appropriate hands free technology, of course. Eventually you get to exercise, popping in another audible book or watching TV the whole time.

I’m not criticizing. I understand completely. I counted my interruptions the other day. Just in my regular job, I averaged 150 incoming email a day. I also had 80 outgoing emails, thirty IM conversations, 15 texts and ten phone calls. This didn’t count the meetings I was in, the hallway conversations or anything related to my personal life. I was distracted.

Distractions can be a addictive. Every little ding, beep or post releases a little dopamine. Sitting quietly alone with your thought can becomes an odd feeling, like accidentally meeting a childhood friend you’ve lost contact with.

Turn off some of your notices. Cancel some of your email subscriptions. Let some texts sit unanswered. Turn off all electronics for a few minutes a day and just be alone with your thoughts. There are great things happening in your head. Be quiet and present once in a while to hear what your mind has to say.

What’s your destination?

What is your destination?  Do you know?  Are you letting the the route dominate your mind and forgetting what’s really important. And I’m talking metaphorically.

I’m a planner normally.  Well by comparison to my wife, I fly by the seat of my pants but by most standards I’m a bit obsessive with plans.  When my wife and I vacation, we know where we are going to stay and have the hotels booked in advanced.  We know the things we want to see and I’ll have their websites, locations and hours tucked away in my files.  We have a pretty good idea of where we will eat by meal.  Once we start the vacation, many of our plans go out the window as we adapt to the flow of the vacation.  Winston Churchill once said that, “Plans are of little importance but planning is essential.” Whenever you need a good quote either Churchill or Mark Twain typically come through.

Why am I telling you about our vacation planning? Sometimes having a plan can be detrimental to achieving you goal. Sometimes you keeping working the plan even though the situation has changed. In our vacation planning, our goal isn’t to get to the top of the Washington Monument. It is to enjoy ourselves, to bond with the kids and to taking a break from our normal stressors. Making it to the top of the Washington Monument is an exciting thing but with the kids would rather just play in the pool, that may be a better path to our destination.

I’m reading, “Take off your shoes” by Ben Feder. He is telling a story of taking a sabbatical from a high power executive career. The main purpose is to reestablish family relationships and connections. On their way to their destination, Bali, they took a two week safari in Africa. Ben talks about getting anxious that the safari is delaying his family from their destination. He was getting fixated on his path, not his true goal. Bounding with his family could be done in Africa as easily as Bali.

The lesson is to not let you plans and planning to get in the way of your goals. Focus on what is important to you. Situations change and so must your plans.

Can I ask a bigger question

Too frequently, we get stuck in a small thinking just because that is where our idea started. An entrepreneur may review is P&L and realize he’s spending too much on hotels when he travels, so asks the question, “how can I pay less for my hotel stays?” That is a fair question but is it big enough. Instead the entrepreneur could ask, “how can I reduce my travel expenses?” The difference in the two questions may not seem like much but they can lead to very different answers. In the first case, then entrepreneur may try to negotiate better pricing or travel on cheaper days. In the larger question, the entrepreneur may question is some trips could be replaced with Skype calls or trips could be combined.

On a personal level, someone trying to get into shape may ask, “how can I make my workouts more intense?” A bigger question might be, “how can I adopt an active lifestyle?”

When you discover an obstacle or opportunity, pause for a few minutes and ask yourself, “can I ask a bigger question?”

Change starts with destruction

The process of intentional change is a simple four step process. First, you explore where you are. Second, you decide where you want to go. Third, you determine strategies and habits that lead you to your destination. Fourth, you implement.

It really is that simple. On paper. In real life there are obstacles, habits and fears. There are prices to be paid and sacrifices to be made. In real life, intentional change is not so easy.

There is an additional step, a prequel step, to take before making intentional change that will help make the rest of the steps easier: destruction.

You must first destroy those things that are holding you in place. Our lives are constructed to maintain the status quo; where we are. Our habits, our relationships and our schedules all reinforce maintaining what we currently do. To make intentional change, we need to destroy some of these bonds that hold us.

Turning stop goals into go goals

Whether in business, relationships or personal lives, there are two broad categories of goals around making change: stop and go.

Stop goals are simply that, things you want to stop doing. Stop blowing up in meetings. Stop over eating. Stop taking on too many tasks. Stop taking your relationship for granted. Stop procrastinating.

Go goals are about things you want to start doing. Start speaking up. Start eating better. Start being proactive.

The two goals use different parts of your mind. Stop goals are mainly about using willpower and must be constantly applied. Stop goals are usually about breaking existing habits. Go goals rely more on creativity and starting new habits.

Research has shown that people using go goals are more successful than people who are using stop goals. Also people are more likely to give up on stop goals because it is more obvious each time they fail while go goals are are more about successes.

So. What do you do with this information? How can this improve your life? When you create a goal, be sure to turn it into a positive goal. For example, don’t have a goal of not eating that triple bacon cheese burger. Instead have a goal of eating a salad. Don’t have a goal of showing up your coworker. Instead have a goal of getting the most out of the team. Don’t have a goal of stop being so negative. Instead have a goal of being more positive.

Discover vs Defend

I’m reading “How to have a good day” by Caroline Webb. It is too early in the book for me to be able to recommend it but I do enjoy her initial philosophy, namely relying on research and science. While the book title makes it seem like it is about making any day a “good day,” it does seem to be focused more on business professionals and how to have a good day at work.

One thing that jumped out at me early on is her discussion of the discover-defend axis. Basically, this is a manifestation of a primitive part of our brains. We are either in discover mode or defend mode. Discover mode is when we our brains are looking for opportunities for reward. Defend mode is the classic fight-flight-freeze response. Generally speaking, when we are afraid, our brains stop looking for opportunities. Instead it looks for safety.

How does this relate to having a good day? When workers are afraid and are in the corporate version of fight-flight-freeze, they become less creative and unwilling to take risks…….even risks as small as speaking up in a meeting. I can see this in my own work. When there is one or two senior people in a meeting who are intimidating or have a tendency to forcefully challenge other workers, many people in the meeting go into fight-flight-free mentality. People are less likely to explore creative ideas. Solutions become “safer” but not better. People are less likely to point out holes in the plan for fear of being singled out.

So how to turn this information into a “good day” and to make your company more creative and efficient? Carefully choose when to challenge people and when to be supportive. The goal for some meetings, especially early in a project, benefit from risk taking and creative output. For these meetings, don’t let the tone become intimidating or challenging.