Don’t Do the Wrong Thing Better: 7 Marketing Pros on Thinking Outside the Box

Sometimes just optimizing what you’re doing isn’t enough

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As a marketer, you have to wear multiple hats, juggle with aplomb, and learn new platforms and channels faster than you can binge a season of a Netflix Original Series (why so few episodes?), all while maintaining your mastery of thinking outside the box and keeping on top of (or ahead of) trends. So how do you do all of the above and not end up in an unintended rut? How do you advance from optimizing what you are already doing to ideating and executing on what you should be doing to better deliver for your customers and company?

It might be easy for you and your team to get bogged down in testing, iterating, and optimizing what you already have running. But what about what you’re not doing? We asked these seven experts from across the marketing industry for their best advice on how to keep your eyes open for new opportunities, and how to know when a big shift in marketing strategy might be necessary.

1. Pay attention to what’s happening outside of your industry

Mark Guest

Mark Guest

“I believe you won’t discover your need to shift marketing by reading about your own industry, but by looking outside of it to spot changes in other industries that will impact yours in some way,” says Mark Guest, director of sales and marketing at Chaordix, a crowdsourcing platform. “This is key to being ahead of the curve…LEGO started to crowdsource product ideas when crowdsourcing was still mainly an academic practice, and now regularly uses crowdsourcing to create brand new products…By understanding how humans react to the words ‘free’ in person, Amazon was able to drastically increase their sales with“free” shipping. This was much more effective than just lowering prices across the board. Tesla saw the desire for big touch screens and put them in their cars at a much greater scale than anyone else had.

For finding information, it’s key to find markets with similar demographics and watch their trends. Identifying markets with a similar demographic but a faster rate of innovation (e.g. car companies watching smartphones), you can be ahead of the curve for your industry.”

2. Be laser-focused in executing your strategy (no distractions) but know when to adjust

John B. Dinsmore

John B. Dinsmore

“A key tenet of marketing…is being fully committed to your strategy and forgoing some opportunities that may seem attractive at the time,” says John B. Dinsmore, Ph.D., assistant professor, marketing, at Raj Soin College of Business at Wright State University, whose area of research focus includes mobile apps and commerce. “But no one is absolutely right in their assessment of the market and adjustments must be made at certain points. So, when is commitment stubbornness and when is flexibility fickleness?

As a rule of thumb, I would say that if you watch the market move away from your vision of the marketplace in a significant, substantive way, you have to adjust. One of the reasons a written marketing plan is important is because it documents your assumptions heading into the market and does not allow for post-hoc rationalizations. If you thought the app marketplace was going to be a two-platform market, but you see that Samsung is developing its own platform (Tizen) to better take advantage of Internet of Things (IoT), your strategy needs to adjust to account for that.”

3. Know exactly what you’re selling and why people buy it

Margaret J. King

Margaret J. King

“Getting it right in marketing means knowing exactly what you are selling and WHY people buy it,” says Margaret J. King, Ph.D., director at the Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis. “That’s the essence of a good campaign: it starts with the buyer and user, not with what the agency thinks should work as a cool artwork. [We have consulted] with agencies on this very topic, and they often miss the mark, going after an exciting art concept rather than the cultural values behind the product.

Jewelry (diamond) buying is a great example, with the industry fixed on color, cut, clarity, and carat—the way diamond dealers buy. That’s not what the end consumer does. The final buyer doesn’t do this for a living and [buys] only very rarely in a lifetime…Ask any woman about her jewelry, and you’ll hear the personal history of her ties to parents, organizations, husband, friends, and children. (Men have less jewelry so less to show.) Marketers need to sell the relationship, not the jewel…Behind every product or brand is another story: why we buy, not just what.”

4. Don’t try to do what every other marketer is doing

Matt Steffen

Matt Steffen

“One of the worst things marketers can do is optimize mediocrity,” says Matt Steffen, a marketing consultant and president of Imprinsic Marketing Group. “The best way to win a game is to create the rules, and ensure you have the advantage. If you’re playing somebody else’s game, you’re guaranteed to lose. For example, most companies seem to want to create the perception that they’re the ‘best’ in their industry. What if you bragged about not being the best? For instance, ever since the 1940s, Hertz was the market leader of rental cars. Avis was one of their biggest competitors, and easily could have used the same marketing techniques as their competitors. Instead, they ran ads that read: ‘When you’re only No. 2, you try harder.’ Avis broke the mold and gave their marketing a huge boost by not claiming to be the best, but rather, trying ‘harder.’

A lot of marketers tend to think an old marketing campaign is a bad marketing campaign. After all, after seeing the same commercial for several years, it’s easy to want change. Well, this can be a very costly marketing mistake. In 1994, Little Caesars was the No. 2 pizza chain in America (just behind Pizza Hut) with $2 billion in annual sales. This was largely due to their successful ‘pizza! pizza!’ advertising campaigns that claimed you could get two pizzas for the price of one. For whatever reason, marketing executives at Little Caesars seemed to get tired of the slogan, and began experimenting with new ideas such as ‘Delivery. Delivery,’ ‘Big! Big! Pizza,’ and actually stopped offering two pizzas for the price of one!

The results were painful. In 2010, Little Caesars dropped to 4th place in the pizza market, just behind Papa John’s…An old campaign that makes a unique claim is always better than a new campaign that makes an optimized, mediocre claim. Sales matter, not your opinion.”

5. Listen to your consumers, and those closest to them (such as the sales team)

Lisa Mollura

Lisa Mollura

“Keep a pulse on what your sales team hears from the marketplace,” says Lisa Mollura, director of corporate marketing at 33Across, a publishing traffic-and-monetization platform. “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tactics, but [marketers should] keep communication lines open to learn more about the problems their audience faces, what materials resonate with them, and what’s not working to unlock a whole new set of opportunities.” An example of when this tactic helped Mollura? She says, “When trying to get a better idea of the sales team’s pitching style so that I could update our company [overview presentation], I found that very few people actually used [this kind of pitch material],” since most people don’t want to be pitched and prefer informal discussions. “What resonated with clients were concrete metrics, such as case studies. Since startups are lean and time is valuable, I focused on building vertical case studies which doubled as collateral for sales and content marketing campaigns for prospects. Win, win.”

6. Understand customer pain points and don’t be afraid to be the disruptor, not the follower

Cassandra Bates

Cassandra Bates

“For disruptive market innovation to work, you have to have courage to disrupt yourself and disrupt the bell curve of your organization’s ongoing investments, which means disrupting everything that has been measured and tracked year over year,” says Cassandra Bates, a startup advisor and 20+ year marketing veteran for major brands, including Mattel, IBM, and Advertising Research Foundation, among others. “The pain points and gaps that exist within the ongoing investment and research infrastructure generally are the window to the future. You just have to be willing to climb through it and destroy what’s around it. Generally [in my experience] this has resulted in a brand new product that reaped market share and won the number-one brand position in the sector, such as Polly Pocket did in the small doll sector when I managed strategic development for the brand.”

7. Don’t try to scale until you get to product market fit

Jessica Berlinger Gilmartin

Jessica Berlinger Gilmartin

“The word that I hear all the time…is scale,” says Jessica Berlinger Gilmartin, chief marketing officer for a stealth startup, formerly of Piazza Technologies, Wildfire, Dell, Lehman Brothers, and more. “Everyone wants to scale, and scale quickly. Of course, that makes sense as your company grows, but your team shouldn’t even be mentioning the word scale until you get to product market fit.

When you’ve just released a product, this is the time to focus on understanding your customers and experimenting with new channels and partnerships. During this time just after release, focus on the following activities:

1. Actively survey your customers and monitor their usage:

  • What is your NPS?
  • What are they emailing or calling about, or saying about you on social media?
  • What are the daily and weekly active user (DAU, WAU) metrics, and are they trending up or down?
  • What’s their average time on site?
  • What are the most commonly used features?

2. Test and try new channels.

This is not the time to put all your eggs in the Facebook and Google baskets, and optimize for the lowest customer-acquisition cost. [Make] sure you’ve already done lots of research on your target market, so you know where they shop, what they watch, what websites they visit, what brands they love, and what they do for fun.

Figure out unconventional ways to reach them and you may just hit on a goldmine that no one else has discovered (for example, Grubhub attributes its growth to the fact that they put subway ads when people were thinking about what to eat for dinner; pretty old-school but shockingly effective). There’s no magic bullet, but I know for sure that running the same ads in the same channels is not going to allow you to break through the clutter.

Once you’ve done a lot of soul-searching and can say with conviction that you deeply understand how to most effectively acquire and delight your customers, then it’s time to scale.”

What now?

For more insights from experts in the industry, tune into the Relate Live digital-events series—free webinars designed to help you create meaningful campaigns that truly resonate for your customers and move the needle for your business.

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