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June 9, 2009
Your Marketing Is Broken. And That Is Good.
“I know half of my marketing is wasted, I just don’t know which half” was the famous quote from all those years ago. If only it were as easy to make such a claim over a three martini lunch, and still go on to hold your CMO job for 15-20 years.
Fast forward a few decades, and if anything, the situation has gotten worse. Media is highly fragmented and consumers are exerting so much influence over the marketing conversation that the required level of relevance is not something most brands can deliver. And the CMO lasts an average of less than two years on the job.
Our tried and true models have utterly failed - Annual focus groups (with surveys if we have a client/boss that requires numbers to back up the insights we got from listening to 20 people in focus groups); intrusive :30 second concepts masquerading as “the big idea”; a few idea extensions in OOH, print, search, a micro-site, and a Facebook page; a look for favorability or in-store sales increases within some defensible time horizon; then curse the darkness, update our resume and send it to Talent Zoo.
We have arrived at the moment when it is difficult to argue that marketing works. Not some of it. All of it. And that is good, because now it is finally so broken that we can stop the discussions about whether it is broken (though some certainly will continue that dead argument), and start having serious discussions about how to fix it.
But seriously, is all of marketing really broken? Yes. Every piece that matters no longer functions in a way that is sufficient for consistent success today.
-          Measurement. When you can’t tell whether, which pieces, or how your marketing is working, then you’re operating blind. It is worse than guess-work; you’re operating on bad assumptions. If all else worked great, this would be enough to break your marketing system. As just one example, Media Mix Modeling cannot adequately measure the impact of any “digital media” which now includes almost a quarter of all TV consumed (and therefore close to 50% of all marketing). Yet most CPG companies still rely on it to tell them their ROMI.

-          Marketing planning. Just a few weeks ago a friend and leader of a large traditional agency still argued to me that it is OK if “the big idea” was consistently tied to, and filtered through the medium of TV then expanded to fit the other medium, because TV is still the dominant media. The digital guys are no better; taking the opposite approach that planning should start with the digital first. As long as planning revolves around any specific medium in the definition of the marketing problem and solution (big idea), it is not going to be as effective as it needs to be in a fractured media environment.

-          Research. Success today depends on making deep, meaningful, and highly relevant connections. In just one example of the way research needs to change, those who defend with their last breath the quality of information gleaned from sitting across one-way glass from 20 people who will give up dinner with their family for $75, claim the information contained in analysis of thousands of individual, personal conversations online, aren’t reliable. Please.

-          People definition. We continue to define the people we need to communicate with in homogeneous blocks that are best used to buy mass media. These definitions tell us little about behaviors and mindsets that are critical to being as relevant as the current market demands.

-          Brand definition. If mass audiences are no longer sufficient, then “mass brands” aren’t either. Simply put, the standard brand architecture isn’t sufficient to support the requirements of a fully engaged brand that must be intensely relevant to micro-segments.
The good news is there are new models being developed and that have been shown to work. It is time to shift the dialog to how we fundamentally change marketing, not whether we need to.

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Tom Lynch is a widely-recognized leader in defining new ways for companies and agencies to adapt to marketing in a consumer-controlled marketplace. His unique combination of client/agency, and traditional/digital experience allows him to be independent and holistic when defining problems, opportunities, and solutions for clients and agencies.  Tom is also President of Isipho, a nonprofit co-founded with his 14-year-old daughter. Please contact Tom by email or his web site.
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