My marketing advice today is for CEOs and business owners. I’d like to expose two common problems that are dumbing down your marketing, and costing you leads and sales. The first problem is that it’s highly likely your marketing team doesn’t know the language of marketing. What I mean by “language” is the key concepts and marketing terms that underpin marketing. You wouldn’t depend on a lawyer who didn’t know the language of law. The same goes for marketing. The second problem is many marketers don’t follow an established process. They get drunk on creativity and shoot from the hip. If leads and sales are the bullseye, it makes perfect sense to take careful and sober aim.
Don’t get me wrong. I love, love, love my creative staff. But if you want to get the most value out of them, their playground needs rules and boundaries, and someone to set and enforce them.
Think of marketing as a lever with sales on one end and your marketing budget on the other. The fulcrum represents your team’s knowledge of marketing concepts, and their ability to develop and follow a process. Where that fulcrum is placed, near a high level of knowledge and process or low, makes a huge difference in sales lift.
Moving the fulcrum toward professional marketing begins with understanding the terms and concepts of marketing. How amazing is it that as you read this letter you are processing words at the rate of 250 to 300 words per minute. Knowing the meaning of each word is what enables you to think and process information fast.
If you quiz your marketing team you will likely be disappointed by how few marketing terms and concepts they understand. For example, if you asked them which step in the consumer buying process deals with positioning they probably won’t be able to list the steps (need recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase, post-purchase behavior) or even be able to accurately describe basic positioning (how a product is positioned in the mind of the consumer compared with the competition). It’s impossible to think clearly and quickly about marketing without mastering the language.
As someone who has owned a successful agency for over 30 years and has taught principles of marketing, I can assure you there is a high probability your marketing team isn’t fluent with marketing terms and concepts.
Before we get to solutions, l’ll define the other problem: lack of process.
Have you ever visited a friend’s business and thought wow, that’s a really well run organization? As the term “organization” implies, a business runs smoothly and efficiently when it follows established processes. Unfortunately, processes don’t come naturally in marketing. That’s because – I’m sure you know this – marketing attracts creative thinkers who are spontaneous and unorganized. The problem is ubiquitous. Just yesterday I talked to a restaurant server. Me: What are you going to school for? Her: Marketing. Me: What do you plan to do in marketing? Her: I don’t know. Marketing just sounds like it would be fun because I’m a creative person.
In my agency, I think of my creative staff as thoroughbred horses who love to run. Of course I don’t want to stifle their creative tendencies but I also don’t want to squander their talent by letting them run wild. Having a good marketing process is like a racetrack that provides the guide rails for racehorses. It focuses their energy.
I wrote a bestselling, award-winning book about marketing knowledge and process called the “CEO’s Guide to Marketing.” It teaches (or reteaches) readers marketing through a six-step process called Strategically Aimed Marketing®, or SAM 6® for short. I told the server I would send her a copy but I doubt she’ll read it. I’ve hired hundreds of creative people like her and it’s not in their nature. She won’t truly learn the language or follow a process unless someone makes her. That’s why I called the book, The CEO’s Guide to Marketing. You need to understand the problem and you need to fix it.
Here’s a little excerpt from my book. It talks about step 5 which is developing what I call a control template. It points out how to harness creativity in a way that enhances it. You’ll also see I refer to “Code Sheets.” A code sheet is a template-type guide which has been explained previously in step 2 of the Strategically Aimed Marketing process.
I’ve found that the best way to deal with creative people is to give them clear direction and a clear outcome, then let them do their work.
The way to guide your creative team is through a document I call a Control Template. A Control Template is a form that outlines code and other important parameters of the message. Unlike the Code Sheets where the copy remains the same once they are filled out, the blanks filled out in the Control Template change with every promotion. I could have picked a softer name but I intentionally chose the word template because I feel it sounds more rigid and I liked the definition of the word template: “a pattern for a process.”
At first blush, you might think a document called a Control Template would stifle creativity, but it doesn’t. It does, however, create some tension, which is good. Let me give you an analogy that will help you make sense of that.
To fly a kite you need both a kite and a string. It may be the kite that gets all the attention but it’s the string that keeps the kite from fluttering off and crashing to the ground. It’s the tension — good tension — between the kite and the string that creates the pleasing results. Your Control Template is the string to your creative kites.
A Control Template will not only keep your staff focused, it will make them happy. There’s nothing more frustrating than being given vague directions. That’s especially true for creative people who are easily drawn here and there by the nature of their freewheeling thought process.
Let’s go through the Control Template line by line. Remember, you will fill one out for every promotion. Also keep in mind that you can modify the template to fit your needs.
As you can tell from the last paragraph, my book is not for casual reading. It’s a detailed, line-by-line how-to book.
The publisher just finished making my book into an online accredited class for marketers whose employers or associations require ongoing training. I introduce each lesson with a short video. I stress in these videos that my book is not casual reading. It needs to be studied and applied. But I know better. Most will take the course to get the certification and then quickly move on.
I’m not being cynical. Just realistic. Bad habits are hard to break and creative people are hard to control. If you want to move the fulcrum of your marketing toward HIGH knowledge and process it will take management and time.
You can buy copies of my book on Amazon or you can get an online version by purchasing the ProThink course. Just be aware that the cost of my book and course are nothing compared with work you will need to do to implement my process into your organization. If you are like me, I always think I can get things done faster than I can. But nothing will uncomplicate and improve the results of your marketing like a good process. It’s worth the effort.
I wanted to give the readers of my book a sense of how their marketing team will operate after my process has been implemented into their business. These are the last final two pages of the book.
Imagine it’s a year from now and you have successfully integrated the SAM 6 process into your company. You want to impress a visitor so you bring them into the marketing department. You go to one of your creative staff members, let’s say it’s a writer, and ask them to define for your visitor the difference between the Marketing Mix and the Promotional Mix, and your writer says. “Sure. that’s easy. The Marketing Mix categorizes all of marketing into four quadrants called the four Ps of marketing. They are product, price, place and promotion. The Promotional Mix on the other hand neatly categorizes the ways you can promote your product into five main channels: ads, website, social media, media coverage and personal selling.”
Then you ask them if they can show you a sample of some of their work and to tell your visitor about how it was constructed. “Oh, sure. Here’s a blog we posted last week. Now let me show you what it looked like when it was still in the Control Template. See how the information in the Control Template guides the creative team to construct the message we want to convey. I’ll show you a couple other things too. These are the Code Sheets we do for each product we offer. As you can see, they list the Market, Primary Message Themes and Positioning we want encoded in our message. We operate on a calendarized schedule that cycles through each of our products and each Message Theme and Positioning variable. Our creative team then creates the messages based on which Promotional Mix channels the message is best told through. In this case, the message began its life as a blog post. Then it was adjusted to flow through many other channels such as email, sales letters and social media posts.”
Would you please tell our visitor a little bit about how you are branding our company and our products? “Sure. A Brand is the definition people hold in their minds of a company and their products. That definition is formed in two ways: by what you tell someone, and by what they experience. Marketing is primarily telling the customer what to think. Sometimes, if it’s appropriate, we give out samples of the product, but mostly we are using marketing communications.
“If you look back at our Code Sheets, you can see we fill in what’s called a Brand Statement for each product. That Brand Statement is written in the way our customer might say it if they were explaining the product to a friend and got it exactly right. That’s the bullseye all of our promotions are aimed at creating.
“What appears to the public as just interesting stories are actually carefully thought out, orchestrated and executed brand-building steps. As you can see, we don’t leave anything to chance with our marketing. Every promotional message we put out is intentional and on point. Every single time.”
Imagine how proud you would be of your marketing staff, and how much better your marketing would be working if you integrated the SAM 6 process into your organization. Your team would be speaking a common language and following a clearly defined process that is sure to increase leads and sales. From my experience, there is nothing more important to CEOs than moving the sales needle. Follow the SAM 6 process as I have outlined and described in this book and you’ll make more money.
My last bit of advice is to gently quiz your marketing team and see how much they know or don’t know. That means you will need to read the book or take the online course first. Be careful when you investigate your team. Nobody likes their weaknesses exposed and creative people are touchy; I’d say even fragile. You don’t want to take the wind out of their sails with a gotcha moment or by appearing to crack down on them. In step 6, I talk about the character of creative people. The magic these folks can layer over the process is priceless and you don’t want to dampen that.
My wife complains that I use too many analogies. Spare me one more. I just thought of this one: my book is like good soil. It’s not the fun part of marketing any more than dirt is the fun part of the harvest. But try getting a bountiful harvest from poor soil. Good soil producing a good crop is the perfect analogy for the last sentence in my book: Follow the SAM 6 process I have outlined and described in this book and you’ll make more money.