I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about why so much marketing fails. When we talk about great marketing, people always mention the same names, right? Apple. Nike. We mention these big-picture thinkers who innovate. We bring to mind all of the companies and people we know have led the charge in their respective industries and continually make it look good.
Then… we do the opposite of what those companies and people would do, baffled by how we repeatedly fail to “move the needle” with these efforts that sound like the right things to do.
So why does so much marketing fall flat? In short, I believe it’s because we’re so obsessively caught up in the vocabulary and tactics of it all — execution, workflows, pushing needles, keywords, KPI, SEO, lead-gen, PPC, CTA, ROI — and we forget that the purpose is to get people to do the talking for you.
That’s called word-of-mouth and, if ROI is your concern, well, it has the best returns you could ever ask for.
So what keeps us from being able to get people talking about our brands? Let’s take it back to the start. Let’s stop being marketers and be humans again.
If Marketing Were Dating, We’d Be Arrested
When people ask me about what makes marketing work, I like to tell them that it’s just like dating. Human interactions are generally well understood and, still, often poorly executed for a number of reasons. But generally, you take things slow — or fast if the other person is onboard — but either way, building a long-term relationship is based on building trust.
Trust, in my opinion, is one of the most important factors of doing business because we’re all so used to potentially getting scammed, being promised things that never come to fruition, and being sold-to at nearly every moment of any given day. Trust matters more than many of us will admit, even though we know it to be a strong factor in our individual decision-making.
But that’s not how we market, is it?
Instead, we often market like mad-men in the street, walking up to strangers saying things like,
“Hey. I’m the best! Date me! Let’s do it right now! Why do you like THAT guy? That guy sucks! Sit down and let me show you this stat sheet to prove to you… wait… where are you going?”
This is when instead of assessing our approach, we go for the redirect, which is the equivalent of someone walking away from us, turning the corner, going down two streets, and there we are again, right on their doorstep waiting for them.
“It’s me again, Tammy! Anyway, like I was saying, you don’t want that other guy, you want me because…”
That’s a great time to call 9–1–1 and, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t blame Tammy.
This brings me to what I believe is the biggest problem with marketing.
Eventually, in the fray of wanting to keep up, leap forward, and not get left in the dust, we blatantly ignore things we know to be true of humans and we think of people as targets, which leads to us rolling down a hill doing something we cannot stop — we focus too much on tactics and not enough on people.
We’re Worried About the Wrong Things
People are at the center of everything. That’s my belief system. I’ve seen it turn an otherwise bland brand into something cool by getting people excited and involved. It seems that my opinion is a very unpopular one, however.
From the way people market, it would seem emails, ads, driving people to websites while providing no value, giving them no reason to stay unless they’ll immediately bust their wallets open, hyper-focusing on THE BUYER AND NO ONE ELSE, making sure there’s not a typo in social media captions and more… things… are unfortunately the center of focus for so many companies.
Don’t get me wrong. All of these things are important. But their reach and effectiveness are reliant on using them the right way.
To do that, we need the right starting point. That’s why it’s so important to think about humans being humans in a world where just being alive, surviving a pandemic, and having to pay bills is stressful enough.
By taking the time to consider humans being humans instead of dehumanizing them as “customers” and “prospects” and “leads,” we give ourselves an opportunity to identify, avoid, or fix the very roadblocks that fuel our frustrations.
It baffles me when we fail to realize that if our brands were people, no one would want to approach them.
Think about it for a second. When was the last time you saw someone in a corner only willing to speak to someone ready to put some money in their pocket, disregarding everyone else and thought, “I should go over and say hi? They look like a good time!”
This leads me to my next point.
We Underestimate the Intelligence of the People We Want to Attract
Why do we assume people are stupid? Why do we assume that if someone likes option A, we just need to place more ads in from of their face so they can choose us, option D?
How does bullshitting people into coming to your website build any long-term sustainable growth? How are we not figuring out — especially when we see insanely high bounce rates — that people are coming to our sites and going, “Ah! Bullshit!” and leaving faster than they came in?
This is why so many companies are in a perpetual cycle of chasing their tails. They never take a second to STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN. Pull it back for a sec, and you can probably assess exactly what’s wrong with the product, your customer experience, the content on the site, your lack of engagement, and your overall brand.
Honest question approaching…
Do we truly believe that forcing our way into strangers inboxes and tokening their names into email subjects as some sort of attempt at “personalization” is really making them go,
“Wow, this company I’ve never heard of is contacting me by name. Huzzah! Great things are coming my way!”
It seems like many marketers (maybe not the people doing the job, but the people ordering them to do it) live in a bubble when they’re clocked in. The very tactics that they continually deploy at work are the very tactics that no one can get to work on them. And that’s not because they work in the industry and are expert spotters. It’s because they’re human — just like us — and they’re bombarded every day by unwarranted emails — just like us — and their brains have become trained to dispel this crap — just like us — and, when that fails, they have inboxes trained to toss that thing into an abyss called SPAM — just… like… us!
So why — when people are arguably better at avoiding marketing than marketers are at marketing — would you double-down on that tactic?
We’re married to these dated concepts because we think that’s what companies are supposed to do: bombard people until they submit.
But we need to stop thinking about what companies do and start defining our own brand approach, one that takes our people into consideration first.
This is where we run into yet another issue.
Taking the “Brand” Too Seriously
I don’t know when we started telling ourselves that people don’t like to have fun at work (I’m looking at you B2B!) but this is nonsense.
For the record, your brand is not your logo, it’s not your colors, it’s not your packaging. Those are assets and aspects. Call them whatever you want, honestly.
The point is this: they shouldn’t be your primary focus when it comes to getting people to identify and identify with your brand.
Your brand is the experience people have with you.
That’s the thing they remember. That’s the thing they carry forever. That’s the thing that will make them decide to either tell everyone they know to go to you or run from you.
If you take your brand too seriously, you cut yourself off from new opportunities and new channels to actually connect with people. We see it happen all of the time.
Remember when business owners and runners thought Twitter was for sharing pictures of your lunch and instead of looking at the big picture and watching conversations evolve, considered it bullshit?
Now… how many brands do you interact with that are NOT on Twitter?
Taking your brand too seriously can easily make you late to the party. By the time you get there because business is so quiet you feel like you might as well desperately try something new, competing brands have already taken over the very conversations you now want to be a part of.
Again, your brand is the experience people have dealing with you. Lighten up. Make it enjoyable.
People like happy experiences, contrary to your CEO's beliefs and handling of your team.
So while we’re talking about social media (give yourself a pause and grab a snack!) let’s talk about it.
Not Understanding the Role and Power of Social Media
Let’s keep it 💯.
Do you know why so many brands suck at social media?
Well — besides convincing themselves they’re too serious to leverage the opportunity to reach more people (what?!) — they treat social media like a bowling lane.
They craft a message (that’s the ball) and send it rolling down the lane, expecting to know ’em dead.
Except… they don’t know who ‘em is. Why? Because they’re participating in ZERO conversations. None! They think of social media as some sort of delivery silo — a one-way street for them to send their “content,” where customers are just waiting for them, like baby birds waiting for mama to regurgitate something into them for nourishment.
But that’s not how social media works.
This might come as a surprise to many, but the most important part of social media is the social part, not the media.
You can be the most serious brand selling the most serious product in the world; that product probably affects real people. Stop having such a narrow view of social media as another channel for you to run stale sales tactics on and you may find your company making waves by creating inclusive conversations that make people go, wow, I want to follow them and get more of this energy.
Do that more and you’ll find thoughts being shared. That’s like digital word-of-mouth. Increased visibility, increased positive rapport, and exciting engagements are the things that make people excited about a brand.
What I’m saying is this…
If you’re a medical device brand, for the sake of this example as a “serious” company, you’re probably on social media trying to “find the buyer” (which is probably a convolution of several parties within a medical system, assuming you don’t sell devices directly to end-users in single quantity).
The reality is that they’re there… but they’re not… in the sense that they aren’t waiting for you like baby birdies.
Leverage social media. Care about more than just the buyer and you’ll find your brand connecting with the very people whose lives you’re trying to save or make easier. Talk about the current state of things and why they need to change.
That’s why your company exists, no?
You see, the long game of that can easily become patients identifying with a brand that gives a fuck about them. They create the demand. That’s all created by patient advocacy.
Now, you have doctors within medical systems wondering why their patients keep bringing up your name, wanting this level of control and involvement in their continued care. Now the doctors want to look into this. They find you. They want to learn more. That’s a potential lead, internal influencer, or buyer, depending on the level of interaction.
That’s the long game of social media. That’s the long game of marketing when it’s done right.
Imagine if Coca-Cola — instead of communicating with images of people enjoying their beverages — were putting out ads about the ROI you could get by having a Coke machine in your office building. And they doubled down on that. Again. And again. And again.
Do you think you and everyone else on the planet would think about that brand the way we do today? I highly doubt that.
So… why do so many marketing efforts just fail?
In my opinion, it’s because so many brands focus too much on the product to step back and focus on the people on the other end of the line.
Stats, specs, and features, while important and beneficial, don’t get people excited to the point of spreading the word about a brand. It’s the connections and communications; the identity that someone builds with a brand; the possibilities they see at the end of the road by making this change.
That’s where aspiration evolves to become a conversion.
Apple and Nike and many other great brands (shoutout to Notion, one of my personal favorites) aren’t doing these great things based on luck. They’re calculated, I’m sure.
But they know that communicating over and over and over about a product will only go but so far (if anywhere) and the benefits of such will stop the second they stop pushing this heavy load alone.
They keep the game evolving because they’re communicating a theoretical version of who we could be.
One that crossed the chasm. One that finally makes the move. One that desires; demands excellence. One that grabs life by the balls and waves it around like a helicopter.
Because they know the most important part of their business isn’t the spec sheet, it isn’t the email list, and it’s not the features. The most important part of their business is the new version of yourself just waiting for you to take some control. All you need to do is make one decision.
And their only job is to inspire you… to just do it.