Wednesday, 25 March 2015

So what makes a brilliant marketer?


Economist Tyler Cowen remarks on marketing:

The people who are really good at marketing in this new environment are typically not formal marketers, they are not called marketing agencies, they have (not) studied marketing.  They are people who know some areas very well and then they teach themselves a kind of marketing on the fly.  A good examples is Facebook.  Mark Zuckerberg is not in any formal sense a marketer, but he’s actually one of the most brilliant marketers that the world has seen in the past few decades.

Now I don't know enough about Zuckerberg to assess whether he is worthy of joining the pantheon of marketing gods but, as a text, Cowen's words are interesting. Especially to someone like me who was (perhaps still is in a sort of way) a marketing professional.

The first thing to understand here is that marketing agencies never did marketing. Oh we pretended that what we did was 'strategy' and so forth but what we were really doing was applying creativity to tactical aspects of the communications mix - advertising, PR, direct mail and sales promotions. As to studying marketing things may be different in the USA but I don't recall working with many people in the business who had a formal qualification in marketing - my boss and DM guru was an English graduate, my colleagues had (where they'd got a degree) qualifications in domestic science, philosophy, economic history, politics and - by far the most dominant - assorted variations on graphic design, technical drawing or art.

The thing with marketing is that it isn't about the flash stuff at all - indeed the arrival of the web has reinforced this - but rather about detailed tactical considerations. As my former colleague (and now mail order company chief executive) John Hinchcliffe put it 'marketing is 99 per cent boring routine'. Today this fact is buried deeply in grand talk of 'metrics', 'data mining' or 'SEO' when the reality is that the very best marketers eat, sleep and breathe the information that their business generates. Yet we think of the game as being about great ads rather than ace spreadsheets.

Moreover the successful marketer is focused - punches the bruise as that great marketing genius Peter Mandelson so aptly put it. The objective is clear and the emphasis is on banging away at that target again and again and again. There's a view out there that somewhere there's a marketing magic wand or advertising fairy dust that will transform your small little business into a world-beating global colossus. Indeed marketing consultants have traded on there being some sort of occult secret over available to a select band (and you if you pay us a couple of grand a day). Sorry to disappoint but there isn't.

However there are some important things you need to know.

1. Test and learn.
2. Advertising doesn't do what you think it does
3. If you don't ask people to do something they won't
4. Think like a consumer not a producer
5. Collect responses, comments and feedback
6. Analyse everything
7. If something works keep doing it until it doesn't

There may be lots of other things. Indeed there are whole bookshelves full of other things (if you want the best book though read 'The Solid Gold Mail Box'). But those seven things are a damn good start towards being a brilliant marketer. That and being prepared to slog through the boring routine.

Finally Cowen is wrong - the best marketers have never been formal marketers.


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