Marketing Manifesto – #7: Be consistent

I remember when I was young and my mother watched Sherlock Holmes films and TV shows. She loved his character and when she was watching a British television series starting Jeremy Brett as Holmes she would intently focus on our TV screen. She followed the story with such laser beam attention that she would completely ignore us if we talked to her during interesting bits.  Of course, Jeremy Brett was eerily engaging – I can clearly remember his face when he was deep in concentration on a mystery – it was kind of scary how intense he looked, which of course only added to his mystique and effectiveness in the role of Holmes.

Wikipedia notes that Sherlock Holmes is the “most portrayed movie character”, with some 75 actors playing the character in 211 films. So my mother was not alone in find the character fascinating. There is something about him and his uncanny ability to solve mysteries that makes us want to see into his world and learn his mental secrets.

When I think of why Sherlock Holmes, the detective, was so good at solving his cases, I can think of one particular reason: He was unfailingly consistent in his analysis of clues and his following of logic to their natural conclusions. Where lesser detectives would lose their way in a trail of clues, Sherlock Holmes, by some quirk of nature, was able to hold onto even the most tenuous thread that linked disparate clues together logically.  He worked step-by-step through a case, being utterly consistent in his thinking.

I wish that Sherlock Holmes was also a marketer because I bet he would be a good one.  Because I believe that consistency is one of the most powerful tools in a marketer’s tool kit.

Which leads me to the next Marketing Manifesto principle:

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#7: Be consistent

Of all the challenges I have ever had getting marketing “right”, being consistent has been the most devilishly difficult.

It is not that I am inconsistent by nature. My mother is Swiss, so I was raised to be consistent.  I can count on one hand, for example, the number of times I was late for school as a child.  Well, actually, I can’t count it – because I can’t ever remember being late for school.  That was how consistent she was in getting me out the door every morning.

Our own minds are the problem

No, consistency in my marketing has been devilishly difficult to achieve because the human mind is littered with knowledge,  beliefs, values, and dreams that steer us from the truth.

Instead of finding truth, the mind finds remembered facts that may or may not be true at the present time and in the current context.

Instead of finding truth the mind finds beliefs about what the truth is.

Instead of finding truth, the mind sees what it thinks the truth should be.

Instead of finding truth the mind finds wishful thinking.  We are full of hopes and dreams.

Yup, there you have it:  We, ourselves – our own minds – are the problem.  The “stuff” in them distracts us from identifying often simple truths and stringing them together like beads in a necklace of consistent logic.

It is not just me

Having graded hundreds of case study exams my students have written over the years, I have seen consistency as one of the major challenges they also deal with.   I teach my students to follow something called “The Marketing Method”, which is an iterative marketing analytical methodology I created.  It is a straightforward, step-by-step flow from customer needs through to advertising at the end. Between customer needs and advertising,  target markets are identified, products to position to meet target market needs are “created”, and channels for getting those products to the target market are identified.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes, my students regularly lose the thread of consistency and logic.  For example,  when a target market of “women between 25 and 60 years of age” is considered for the sale of the Chevy Volt electric car, the students think nothing of stating that the best channel for selling the Volt is a regular dealership staffed by male salespeople who do business in very traditional ways. This conclusion is after the students have already clearly identified that this particular target market is buying the Chevy Volt for different reasons than a typical car might be sold, and with very different expectations of the buying process, which do not include being subjected to a regular male salesman doing his regular “sales thing”.  Instead of specifying a marketing channel setup that is consistent with all previous analysis (values based sales process, women salespeople, a special dealership process, etc.), they choose what they already know: That cars are sold through dealerships that represent the brand.  The Chevy Volt, therefore, should be sold through the regular Chevy dealership. Period.

On the case study exam from which the above example was taken, only 3 or so students out of my 30 MBA students actually identified that the dealership experience had to be different in order to meet the target market’s expectations and emotional goals when considering the Chevy Volt as a vehicle to meet their needs.

And of those 3 students, only 1 created a perfectly  simple, consistent, and interlinked marketing plan for the Chevy Volt, even when the case study gave them all the data needed to do so.  Most students did a great job in their analysis of the case – they are smart MBA students after all – but only one was able to create a truly consistent plan for the Chevy Volt.

(As an aside, I read a surprising reason why there are not more female car salespeople:  Female car buyers do not trust female car salespeople. Apparently female car buyers don’t believe female car salespeople really know what they are talking about when explaining mechanics and technical details of a vehicle. Only male car salespeople do.  Hmmmm….)

Want to be consistent?  Get all that  “stuff” out of your head.

Consistency, I believe, is the result of undivided focus on truth.  Not remembered truth. Not perceived truth. Not dreamed of truth.  Truth. Real truth.  And the only way I know of getting to that Truth is by emptying my conscious and unconscious brain of the clutter of  “stuff” in there.

This is not a lesson in deprogramming your conscious and sub-conscious minds but the indication that it would be really useful for you to do this emptying if you want to find truth and be consistent in your marketing.  How can you learn to do this deprogramming?  There are dozens of useful tools available, all of which are well documented on the internet and most are distributed and taught for free. Check them out.

In summary,  consistency is a cornerstone of Sherlock Holmes’ ability to solve mysteries.  And consistency is also a cornerstone of successful marketing.

Want to do great marketing?

Be consistent.

Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Marketing Manifesto – #6: Fail at marketing. Fail often and fail well.

Why the 2 year hiatus between Marketing Manifesto #5 and #6 ?  Because I was busy spending 2 years learning stuff!  And as you will find out shortly, failing at marketing.  Lots and lots of failing…which is exactly what I should have been doing.  Read on to understand this surprising (?)  reveal:

Everyone wants to do things “right” and achieve success.   We want to figure things out logically and get the right answer. We want to learn the correct path and learn from the wisdom and folly of others.  We don’t want to make mistakes or fail at things.

Sadly, that is not the way marketing works.  There is no “right” way.   We can’t figure out everything logically because of imperfect and missing inputs to our planning – inputs that just don’t exist.  And there is no “right” answer.  The “correct” path? There isn’t one. Every single project we do in marketing is significantly different from the next.  The wisdom and folly of others?  It is theirs.  Not ours.

Does this mean I don’t believe you can learn some sort of method or system of marketing? Not at all.  There  is a method, for sure. But the word “method” is very, very different from formula, scientific analysis, statistical testing, or other highly structured system.   The method of marketing, I believe, is like learning to surf:  You have to get out there in the ocean, find a wave,  and try to stand up on the board.  And fall off again and again until you get a feel for how to get up on your board at exactly the right instant when the wave is ready to crest.  This takes learning the dozens of little questions you need to ask yourself and learning which signals coming to you through your eyes, ears, and body are important. And learning what order to put the answers and signals. And when to take action on them.

Learning to surf is something you have to learn yourself – it is your personal experience. Others can help you learn some basic methodologies to get started, but in the end, you have to get up on the board and try it. Again, and again, and again, and…

which leads me to my next Marketing Manifesto Principle:

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#6: Fail at marketing. Fail often and fail well.

Marketing Manifesto #5 states that you have to do marketing, not study it.  Two years ago I wrote this and stand by it today.  But learning by doing is not about being successful. It is about failing.  Lots and lots failings.

“WHAT?!?!” you might ask. “Failing is BAD. If you fail, you are judged as being weak, stupid, lazy, dumb, of lesser status, and just generally ridiculous.”

In marketing, this is not true. Marketing is about trying things and learning from what doesn’t work.  Like falling off your surf board again and again while learning to surf, failing at marketing again and again is actually an indication that you may be learning something.  Of course, this assumes you choose to analyze what went wrong and to learn from your mistakes. And it assumes you are determined to try again. And again, and again.

In the end, like with surfing, after many failures in marketing you learn to succeed more often than fail.  You learn what it takes in a new marketing scenario to have a high chance of achieving success.

We are not taught to fail.

We are taught that failing is a bad thing.  After all, in school if you fail a test and then an exam, you probably fail the course. You are punished by the institution and punished socially by your peers for your failure.  School has few opportunities to learn by experimentation and failure in a supportive environment.  In school, then, passing or failing is all about judging your inherent worth as a cog in the societal wheel and ultimately as a human being.  Harsh assertion, I know, but hey, after a zillion years as a student and a teacher, I can state this with some certainty.

As marketers, we have to experiment with lots of small marketing ideas (Marketing Manifesto #5) and trust that we will fail regularly. And these failures have nothing to do with our “worth” or our social status.  They have to do with learning to find the truth about things, asking the right questions at the right time, and trusting that our path of learning is exactly the perfect path for ourselves…failures and successes together.

What I learned from my failed marketing

Here is  some of the learning from my marketing failures over just the last few years:

  • Don’t try to sell something to people who don’t have any money to buy what you are selling.  Just because they need what you have sell doesn’t mean they can afford it.  Loss  $0. I broke even from a cash outlay perspective, but hundreds of hours of work for free.  Learning value?  Profound.
  • Question that which seems too good to be true about a product (it probably is).  Dig deep for truth before investing.  Take all the time you need. If there is a rush it is likely because something is hidden that you need to know.  Loss:  $2500.   Learning value?  Invaluable lessons in trusting your instincts and having the patience of Buddha.
  • Sometimes you have to simply try something to see if it will work.  It may not work, but the only way to know for sure is to try it.  Loss:  $2000. Learning value?  Wow!  Insights, new contacts, and new business opportunities.

Get back on the surf board

You would think that I have a masochistic streak.  I don’t, actually. I have learned so much from recent marketing endeavors that I feel profound humility from all the gifts of learning I have received.

But I get back on the marketing “surfboard”. I continue to try marketing new product and services.  And in this I learn.  I have a voracious appetite for learning truth.  What I know now about successful marketing is vastly more than I knew a few years ago.

I will continue to try new marketing. I will continue to fail. I plan to fail well.  I am not afraid of failure, because it is a necessary path to learning marketing really, really well.

I wholeheartedly recommend failure to everyone who wants to be a great marketer.

Oh, and in case you  might be wondering how a professor of marketing can justify failing seemingly regularly when he is supposed to be teaching how to do marketing well, note that I haven’t shared how many times I have been successful in my marketing efforts over the last few years…

“Ummm…has anyone seen the keys to my Porsche?”

Kidding.  I don’t have a Porsche.