The first rule of marketing is: “Do no harm.” The second rule of marketing is: “Seriously, don’t spend time and money on stupid marketing.” The third rule of marketing is: “No really, just stop.” As someone who spends her time thinking a lot about marketing, I can’t help but notice those unfortunate moments when the intentions fall short of the mark. Here are just a few of the examples I’ve picked up recently.
Tiny Market—Big Fat Ad I seldom get to watch TV. So it was a rare moment that found me staring at a TV installed over the treadmills at my gym. The channel was set to a local network channel and the time was about 4:00pm so one can only imagine what the viewing demographics of that program and hour (Stay at home moms? School age kids just home from school? The unemployed? The elderly?) Given that likely market, imagine my surprise when a commercial for a “Crime Scene and Trauma Cleanup” company come on the air. The visuals featured a SWAT style truck alongside a bulleted list of specialties: “homicide, suicide, trauma, crime scene cleanup.” I about fell off of my treadmill. How many in the general, mass-media viewing market have regular need of a homicide cleanup? Is that kind of thing happening often enough that the average citizen should have this company on their speed dial? Should I be concerned?
Well. I am concerned. Less for the sanctity of my city but more for the poor owners of that company who got duped into spending their limited marketing dollars on an ad that’s going to fly right over the heads of the majority of people who see it.
Theirs is a specific, niche product and their marketing channel choices should be as well. When I do a marketing plan, I tell clients that as tempting as it is to rush to tactics (what should we do!?), we first must start with goals, then proceed carefully to identifying and prioritizing audience segments and then AND ONLY THEN begin identifying the right tactics to target the right people and accomplish the right goals.
Big Fat Brand Position—Little Distinction This is one I see more often than I’d like to admit. It happens when well-meaning, inclusive-thinking leaders declare a brand position that is so broad it couldn’t possibly leave out anyone. My favorite example of this was the slogan at my favorite grocery store in South Bend, Indiana: “Quality. Value. Service.” Now that says it all doesn’t it? Is there anyone who doesn’t want those things? Is there anyone who would say: “No, no. Please, give me the expensive, rotten lettuce and make sure to be mean and surly to me when you do.” Obviously not. However, couldn’t this position just as easily apply to the competitive grocery store? Couldn’t it just as easily apply to ANY OTHER FREAKING INDUSTRY? Here’s the thing: In order to have a compelling and recognizable brand position, you will have to declare yourself. You will have to be clear about who you are and who you are not—clear enough that the right people will find you when they go looking, and the wrong people will move on.
High Hopes—Crushing Reality One question I often get asked as a brand strategist is this: When we decide upon our brand strategy, how strongly should we root it in our past and present, and how far should we reach into the future? Good question, right? It would be a mistake to root your strategy too deeply in the past and miss the opportunity to keep up with the market. On the other hand, I find that leaders are usually more excited by the future and all too happy to ditch key elements of their legacy or even present realities in favor of the shining hope of the future. And I get that: that’s what inspires us and keeps us working. The problem is that the communication of a brand promise needs to be credible enough to paint an inspiring and yet accurate expectation of the likely experience the customer will have. I use the rough estimate that brand strategy should be about 80/20: 80% based on the past and present, and 20% based on future aspirations. It should be true to who you are with an eye peeled for who you’d like to become. If the promise is too far out of touch with reality, you end up disappointing people.
And here’s my example. I often travel with a smart, fun woman I’ll call "Brenda." Brenda is an accomplished road warrior who typically spends more time on the road than at home. As a result, she has learned what works well and what doesn’t and tends to opt for the reliably workable. Not me. I like a little adventure. I frankly love it that other people pay my way as I try out new places and spaces. So, with an impending trip to the South on the calendar, I did a little research on the lesser known hotels and found one that looked cool and funky. I pitched the idea to Brenda—let’s stay here this time. She checked out the website and said she was game. So we went and let’s just say this: Swing and a miss. I’m not sure I’ll ever successfully pry Brenda’s hands off a Hampton Inn key card again. Among the many mishaps, this was the hotel restaurant...
The restaurant they had advertised on the website was bright, clean, funky.
What gives? Where were the blue chairs? The cool lighting? we asked? Oh. Those? Yeah, those are coming; they’re building that new restaurant. I hadn’t heard a line like that since the days when I lived in Ecuador and was told by a restaurant owner that although they had fish yesterday, today they only had eggs. Keep it real people—hopeful but real. In marketing, too much hope is just lying.
Your turn. I know you’ve got horrific examples of marketing gone wrong. Let’s have them. (And for those of you who prefer to email me your comments–you know who you are–share the wealth and post them!)