It’s a saying that crops up at this time of year. We’ve all used it. And it’s normally tinged with disappointment.
It’s that slump of the shoulders, the sigh, the awkward, pitying smile. Translated into straight talk it means “Yes, it’s crap, but at least they meant well.”
Like when you see a new brand, campaign, publication or website that could’ve been so much better. What is it actually trying to say? Who’s it aimed at? Do they really think that’s going to motivate anyone to do anything? Didn’t their competitors do that two years ago? Haven’t I seen that logo somewhere before?
The marketing and communications landscape has shifted significantly. In many ways this is good; clients are demanding more transparency around pricing, not wanting some services they view as superfluous to their core business. The digital revolution means more can be done by less and for less, and more can be done in-house. Clients appear more comfortable with risk by entrusting their creative to leaner, more maverick agencies.
But there’s a down side too as clients take their brand, campaign or publication work directly to graphic designers, or other niche output specialists, innocently believing that as the outputs are largely visual this must be the right place for the job. Now don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends and some of the most talented people I know are graphic designers. My point is that we all have different roles to play along the journey from ideation to execution. And I believe there is a lack of awareness of what marketers actually do.
You see, on the face of it builders build houses. They are the ones swinging the hammers, visible to passers-by as the house gets constructed. So, it would seem logical for John to approach a builder to turn his dream home on his newly acquired piece of land into a reality. But, as we know, builders work off plans, and so do most graphic designers.
An architect or draftsperson has technical and environmental knowledge, a well-honed understanding of design and construction management, and a good business head. The architect works with the client to understand how the house will be used and ensures the structure works for the people who will be using it. They know which materials work and which ones won’t. They look at the prevailing winds and the position of the structure in relation to the sun. They develop a thorough understanding of their client’s lifestyle, desires, personality and motivations before they even begin the creative process.
The marketing strategist works similarly. They are the engineers and architects of the communications world. Marketers ensure the conditions are suitable for your campaign, check that the landscape is clear of duplicates, they ask questions to get to the heart of what drives the people you want to talk to. They uncover the barriers that need to be overcome. They ask the ‘five whys’ before they develop the creative brief.
Gone are the days of ‘Mad Men’ style mass manipulation through advertising. Marketing is not ‘selling’. Theodore C. Levitt, ex professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, sums it up thus:
“Selling concerns itself with the tricks and techniques of getting people to exchange their cash for your product. It is not concerned with the values that the exchange is all about. And it does not, as marketing invariable does, view the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse and satisfy customer needs.” – Business Directory.
Marketing is concerned with understanding your target audiences and developing a demand based on their needs and satisfaction. Marketing is the umbrella that sits above advertising, public relations, promotion and sales. It is the golden thread that weaves them all together.
Good marketers are strategic by nature. They are curious about what makes people tick. They value research and behavioural insights. They interrogate the data. They ensure strong rationale underpins every element of your brand or campaign. Good marketers care about people. And they know what buttons to press to connect with your audience in a human and authentic way. The end goal must make a difference. It needs to influence the behaviour of the target audiences.
Marketers work closely with creatives, graphic designers, web designers, media planners and PR specialists to ensure the big idea flows seamlessly and consistently across all touchpoints and every experience your audience has with your brand. It’s called omnichannel marketing and in this mobile digital world where we hurtle headlong towards the internet of things it’s something every business needs to understand.
Authors Brian Reich and Dan Solomon say “Understand why and how your audience uses technology and then start trying to align your communications efforts.” This involves uncovering the subcultures, communities and networks that lie within your target market. You’re able to discover why your audiences choose you (or not!). You can then develop and deepen your relationship with them.
Clients repeatedly tell me the thing that matters most to them is strategic thinking. And yet they also tell me it’s the area where they’re consistently let down. A good solid strategy developed at the beginning will save money in the long run. You can build on the momentum of an excellent idea rather than reinventing an average wheel every six to twelve months.
For every cleverly executed campaign, brand, or initiative you see, it is the thought that counts. Does it influence behaviour? Or is it just nice to look at?
The strategic thinking needs to be done first, and it needs to be done right. Good design needs to be underpinned by critical thought and commercial, business acumen. Otherwise, underneath the ribbons and colourful wrapping paper, could be lurking a brown crocheted waistcoat with your name on it.