Marketing is a land of pontificators, all advising the breakthrough strategy. Spend time on the Adage 150 and you’ll read about frameworks, tactics, relationship marketing, customer experience, unique selling propositions, positioning, targeting, branding, every flavor of media, word of mouth, and on and on…
I can’t recommend anything–I have little real-world experience, and it’s shortsighted to advocate a specific strategy (e.g., everyone use social media). Regardless, everything out there is still a clusterfuck of evangelism with little research-based evidence.
It’s similar to debates in sports. Basketball enthusiasts, for example, preach every facet of the game. Consider the phrase, “______ wins games.“ I’ve seen the blank replaced with every idea fathomable: coaching, strategy, talent, leadership, clutch, offense, defense, size, speed, etc. Everyone has an argument, and even after decades of evidence, there’s little agreement on how to score more points than the opponent.
So in marketing, like in basketball, there’s plenty of debate over what works and what doesn’t.
But I am not satisfied. If I am building a start-up, I want to know exactly what will convert customers and grow my business. Should I focus on design? Customer experience? Media? Long-term strategy? This is the holy grail of getting shit done, and it’s a far better use of time than on pointless marketing debate (this article withstanding).
For answers, I trust the all-stars–those that have done something of substance, not the social media expert that blogs daily (excluding the omniscient Seth Godin). It’s the cliche folks: Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, David Ogilvy, Tony Hsieh, Philip Knight, Jeff Bezos, etc.
Until I’m at that level, it’s universal skepticism for me. A few of dynamics that I have yet to resolve:
- Strategy vs. Tactics: What is a greater predictor of success–tactics or strategy? I’d like to believe the academics and consultants–that businesses require a solid strategy. But even a great idea takes an absurd amount of luck and hard work, with cumulative advantage (i.e., randomness) playing a huge role. VCs invest in the entrepreneur, not the idea, for a reason.
- Best Practices vs. Focus on you: As a consultant, we breathe best practices. What are the industry leaders doing? Your competitors? How about the market darlings, Apple and Google? Though I like critical research, what worked for Apple is an anomaly–you’d be crazy to benchmark yourself against one of the most successful companies this decade. And your competitors? They’re likely just as inept as you. Seth Godin has a great quote: “[Success] is not by following some expert’s rules or following the herd, but by doing it in the way that works. For you. Don’t worry about someone else’s invented standards for new media, invent your own. Avoid obvious mistakes, don’t follow obvious successes.”
- Customers (i.e., market research) vs. the Creator: Is the source of innovation the customer or the creator? Refer to Henry Ford on market research, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.” Steve Jobs is in the same camp–hates market research. In short, people do not know what they want. Contrast this with the dogma from b-schools and market research conducted in every major corporation.
- Promotion vs. Product: What sells, the product or the advertising? Is ROI higher on a dollar invested into promotion or the product? It’s a classic chicken/egg problem. 20 years ago, I’d bet there would be more agreement that promotion is necessary. But recently, so many Internet start-ups have bootstrapped without any advertising.
- Design vs. Design: I doubt you could find a CEO that thinks design is horse-shit. But what type of “design” is it that everyone loves? Aesthetics (a la Jonathan Ive)? “How it works?” An absurd flash site? The user experience? And consider Zappos, Amazon, or Craiglist–how do they practice design?