How to read the marketing warning signs

How many times have you looked at a marketing program and said to yourself, "That will never work?" Sure enough, it quickly gets bashed in social media, is pulled off the market, and then written up as a disaster in the trade press.

How many times have you looked at a marketing program and said to yourself, "That will never work?"  Sure enough, it quickly gets bashed in social media, is pulled off the market, and then written up as a disaster in the trade press. You probably have a sinking feeling in your stomach just reading that!

In hindsight, you think to yourself, “How could they have thought that would work?” How ironic that we can make these kinds of predictions for another brand we see, yet have difficulty seeing it in our own brand work.

Over the next three days, I'm going to talk about the warning signs of how we can tell, ahead of time, that a program isn't going to work before it ever hits the market. I always say that “marketing is a spectator sport,” so let's learn from each other and from what we've been witnessing over the last few months.

Recently, there have been a number of programs where we can pull “lessons learned,” particularly in social media, as the game keeps changing from program to program and as we see how consumers respond. So in social media, and in all parts of the marketing mix, let's examine three areas that can help prevent making a costly mistake.

Talking about yourself too much. Marketing is like a dinner party: no one wants to sit next to the guy who only talks about himself, all night long, with the same story over and over again. If your marketing program only speaks to the wonders of the brand or offers endless self-promotion - be honest here - then you're in danger of being tuned out and passed over. Consumers now outright reject a brand monologue, seeking instead a community dialogue where they can interact with the brand and with others of like mind. The brand should be the facilitator through which consumers learn and connect with each other, not just a place to hear about brand benefits and download coupons. The conversation should be more about them and less about you, especially in social media. Consider the 90/10 rule of thumb:  if you are not spending 90% of your effort talking about your consumer and connecting with them, then you're talking about yourself way too much. Make it about them, and they will ultimately make it about you at the card swipe.

No traditional vehicles. Going social is certainly all the rage, but it's important to still include other tactics that will drive reach, frequency, and ultimately impact. I am not one of those people who think TV advertising is dead. It's alive and well, thank you very much, but it has to have a very specific reason for being in the marketing plan. You may not get the impact you want going only social – chances are that a retail component combined with a meaningful CRM effort along with a little advertising will bring the synergy you need to drive sales, not just tweets. Most of the really impactful campaigns, like we see in the beverage category, still have a mix of traditional vehicles – some form of TV or print advertising, point-of-purchase display, and online promotion. Consider the entire mix, not just the vehicles du jour.

Can of worms. Be careful what you ask for. Even though engagement and dialogue is the name of the game, by definition we lose control of the message when we put the brand out there. Consumers are going to mold and shape the brand program and messaging to their liking and use, so you have to be comfortable with where it's going to go. There's no way around it anymore. We saw that loud and clear with Twitter topics #McDStories and #ILoveWalgreens, where consumers took over the conversation and made it their own. So think ahead and map out scenarios of where the conversation can flow and plan for it. If you don't like a potential outcome or you think it's too risky, then change the course. Otherwise embrace the good for what it is and use it to create community. If you anticipate the possibilities ahead of time and plan for them, you'll be amazed how productive your marketing will become. Consumers will make it productive on your behalf.

Now, these may seem obvious to you, but I am sure you can point to examples where they have in fact played out in the market. It's important to be honest with yourself, to do a self-assessment, and to have a checklist like this to monitor the developments of marketing programs. On Wednesday, we will continue our conversation, exploring more warning signs that we can add to that checklist. Happy marketing!

Jim Joseph is president of North America at Cohn & Wolfe, a professor at New York University, and author of The Experience Effect series.

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