The Real Value of Marketing (?)

As a small agency we work with many companies in a wide variety of industries. As a Silicon Valley agency we work with a lot of tech companies. And I have noticed something that seems especially rife here in the valley; many companies simply don’t realize the real value of marketing–and it makes me wonder whether this is true across other industries, companies, and geographies. If any of you have any thoughts or comments, we’d love to hear about them.

This is course leads to the question about what is the real value of marketing and, like many many questions in and about marketing, a lot of the answer depends on context. Here I am thinking about companies who are launching something. It might be a new product, new sales initiative, a new channel program, or a complete relaunch of the company.

What is the value that marketing brings to this process. I would argue that while the creative work of materials and online development are incredibly valuable, the highest value comes much earlier in the cycle. This is the ability to see and understand the market, then translate that into actionable strategies that form the foundation of messaging, storytelling, media selection–in other words all of the rest of the activities that will be taken on later in the marketing production cycle.

The problem that many companies have with this kind of thinking is that it is hard, time consuming, and can be somewhat pricey (although usually not in relation to the value of the market they hope to penetrate). So this gets pushed off, minimized, or simply ignored (especially in tech companies), and they take the process right into the production phase of “these are the values, these are the benefits, go make us marketing that sells the product.”

Some months later, when things aren’t going to plan, the executives tend to blame the marketing department for the failure–or come to us to “fix” the problem with the brochure or the website or the social media, or whatever.

We have seen this process of often (not that we mind the work it brings in!), it does cause me to question: Have we, as marketer/strategists, so thoroughly failed to communicate our value, or are companies just in such a rush to get to market that they are willing to ignore the obvious value to investing the time and resources into developing a real understanding of who they’re selling to, what’s important to them, what’s the best way to tell the story, and how best to tell it?

It is a very important quandary. Since the days of David Ogilvy and Claude Hopkins (BTW, see Greg Satell’s great piece on Hopkin’s Scientific Marketing) we have understood the incredible value and ROI of developing this kind of understanding.

Where do we keep losing the recipe? Where do we continue to fail to communicate the incredible to the executives in charge of the companies we serve?

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By Any Other Name…

Naming. It gets a lot of attention and it has for thousands of years. The Bard tells us, “…that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Indeed, it would. But if the name is flat, inscrutable, or undecipherable, then will we ever get to the lovely bouquet?  Only if something else attracts us.

We recently had a CEO tell us that “there are just no more good names out there…” which makes me wonder; did anyone ever tell Michelangelo that there were just no more good sculptures out there? Not that I would ever directly compare our work to that of the master, but it does cause one to wonder, “is that what people really think?” Or, is it just that naming seems too hard and it just seems easier to not have to go there?

The general rule is the fewer words you use to describe something, the harder it is to do. The famous story about Samuel Clemens telling his publisher that a 30 page story takes 2 days, but a 2 page story take 30 days, makes it clear that the real genius is not in complexity, but in simplicity. And that, I think, is where naming becomes such a challenge and makes executives and entrepreneurs hypertensive–more than just an elevator pitch, it is your TEN SECOND pitch.

And if, in that 10 seconds, you don’t intrigue, fascinate, and, yes, even titillate, then is anyone going to get to your bouquet?

In this time-compressed, fast paced, world we all inhabit, that is, indeed, the question. For, to answer The Bard’s question, “what’s in a name?” The answer is “everything.” And that’s the answer to why naming is such an incredible challenge for so many people/executives/creatives/entrepreneurs; because it is (or should be) a wonderful representation of exactly what makes you so great…in 10 seconds and a handful of characters and phonemes.

But never fear. The greatest names are yet to come.

Storytelling from the Prez down

In a recent article in the LA Times, writer Mike Dorning speaks about Jon Favreau, the president’s storyteller in chief. Favreau makes it clear that one of the key elements that enables Obama to communicate so powerfully is story. “Favreau has explained their joint approach to friends simply: ‘Tell a story. That’s the most important part of every speech, more important than any given line. Does it tell a story from beginning to end?'”

It is becoming very clear to many professionals in my industry that the days of the quick soundbite are over (and thank God for that, I say). Think about this as it applies to any company’s marketing; is your story compelling? Does each individual piece add to that story, and does it tell a good story in and of itself?

As human beings we have evolved over millions of years to be attuned to, learn from, and remember stories. So a quick series of not-necessarily-related bites of information are much less engaging (read: a LOT more boring), than a narrative that relates the same information.

In a business setting, what does this say about your latest PowerPoint presentation? The content, the visuals, the presentation (the telling of the story), all need to come together and be mutually supportive. Only then…only then…will it have the ability to reach into the hearts and minds of your audience and have them respond to and remember your presentation a week later–heck, in four hours.

Stories. Their power is being re-discovered. Sounds like it’s time to start telling more of them, eh?

The Honor of Addys

We were honored last night to receive an ADDY award for the work we have done with VirtualPBX‘s website. Many in the marketing/advertising industry decry the value of awards, saying that they are just the equivalent of the industry basking in it’s own self-perceived glory.

A quick, static, shot of the VirtualPBX home page

A quick, static, shot of the VirtualPBX home page

And, maybe that’s true. And, maybe until last night, I thought so too.

But, when I saw the competition we were up against, my whole perception changed. The sites and other creative teams we were pitted against to win this award were great! The judges were all senior ad execs and creatives–all from out of town (I suspect to diminish the influence of having a local favorite)–and the honor of winning one of the awards against such a great group of competitors was exciting, thrilling, and quite an honor.

Some of the most well-known and respected people in the top local agencies were represented, and being amongst them was exciting, in and of itself. Then to be honored among such a crowd, even a greater honor.

All of us left the event truly inspired–to keep improving our work, delivering more creative and effective advertising, and to provide our clients with ever-increasing value. Because, at the end of the day, awards or no, that’s really what it’s all about.

And, I have to admit, getting the award is really, really, great.

Maybe I’m just not yet a jaded, cynical, advertising executive…but I think that even those guys, at their heart, win awards and their inner-five-year-old is jumping up and down, screaming at the top of their lungs.

My deep thanks go to the local chapter of the AAF, our entire team for the incredible effort, and to the marketers at VirtualPBX who were willing to take a daring approach to their website, in an industry where daring approaches are far from the norm.

Keep ’em satisfied

I have written previously about invisible quality–that quality that most (good) creative firms provide that makes invisible the effort and skill that goes into making top quality creative. Now, of course, the question comes to mind, if our efforts at delivering quality are aimed, at least partly, at making the very effort invisible, how do we keep clients (or bosses or management) happy, satisfied, and aware of our efforts?

The easy answer is, “it’s hard.” Because if we’re working to make something invisible, when we’re successful we’re also invisible. Is this why most Creative Directors always wear black? To stay as invisible as possible?

The hard answer is that we have to bring a certain awareness to a conscious level on the part of our clients, without appearing to be condescending or holier-than-thou. So, in large part, it seems to me, that our job for keeping customers satisfied is to bring their appreciation of the creative to a more conscious level. When we do things they like–and, inevitably, good creative appeals to people and clients, especially–our top job is to make them aware of why they like it, and to have them see that what goes into their liking it is purposeful, mindful, and not an accident.

This is why, I think, many advertising and marketing companies are accused of coming off like they think they’re smarter than their clients. Because doing this conciousness raising without appearing like we know more than they do is, perhaps, the hardest part of our jobs.

Personally, I think it’s the best and most rewarding part of what we do.

Social, Social, Everywhere…

The recent massive success of Barack Obama in garnering support online via social networks has brought what was already an emerging trend from the early adopters to the masses–or a lot more of them, anyway.

There is certainly no doubt that the power of these social networks is only starting to be realized, even though the internet has been a social phenomenon since its inception. Remember DARPANet? (For those of you much younger than I, it was the precursor of the internet.) Originated to help scientists share data and aid in each others research, it blossomed into such things as bulletin boards, which in turn have become Facebook and Twitter.

Whether or not anyone in particular agrees with it, big brands have discovered many of these social networks, and are using them (for good or evil, depending on your point of view) to talk directly to consumers with a much more personal voice. 

David Pogue, the technology writer for NYTimes, has several recent posts on Twitter, and the amazing power of tapping the collective conscious. 

Are we approaching the time when not having some kind of social network presence will be like not having a website? Maybe. But, whether we are or not, businesses that want to connect directly with their users (not just their markets), now have incredible ability to do so. You have to want to deal with the messiness of it, and be willing to hear what your users have to say, good or bad.

Is it polished and mature yet? No way. And, for those businesses who see the opportunity the way Barack’s team did, it can have incredible payoffs.

For more on social networking in Obama’s campaign, see our previous post “Politicians Get Social.”

Invisible Value

As marketers we are service providers. As service providers it has been often said that the best service is “invisible,” that the client sees the results and gains the service, but doesn’t (and, perhaps, shouldn’t) see the effort involved.

Now, if this is true, when it comes to marketing, how can we continue to provide this high level of service and still ensure that the clients understand the value they are receiving?

Clients see the quality of work they get from a professional organization — especially one like ours that delivers extremely high quality creative — and they know they like it. The question I have to ask is, how to relay to them the effort, creativity, experience — the value–they are receiving?

Does a professional organization not point it out and assume that, eventually, they’ll “get it”?

Nay, say I, there must be a better way.

So, the question of the day is, how to bring to consciousness the “invisible value” of the creative process?