Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with someone starting their own journey. It got me thinking about the things I wish I had known back when I started eight years ago.
I thought I’d share mine with you today to shortcut your own learning. But I’d love to know yours (reply to this email!)
The things I wish I had known about marketing and business from day one
Basics: defining marketing: ‘Marketing solves the needs of the customer’.
It’s funny to think that no-one chose to ask me what I thought marketing was when interviewed. Perhaps more worrying, that I didn’t find a definition myself. I just assumed I knew. The result was spending the first four years of my career spinning the wheels, wondering why doing ‘marketing stuff’ wasn’t working.
The definition that changed marketing for me is: “Marketing solves the needs of the customer”. Or, as I prefer to look at it: ‘solving a problem for a human being, thereby, improving their life’. That’s my motivation for staying interested in our industry. There is, of course, a commercial agenda too. But my perspective is that you optimise for the human and the money tends to follow. I appreciate there will be many people rolling their eyes already!
Solving the need for the smallest amount of people.
One of the most liberating things is realising you’re not trying to help everyone. This is about FOCUS. The first half of Seth Godin’s This is Marketing speaks about this superbly. Adele Revella took it a step further in her webinar the other day. Solve a problem for the people you care about helping, and don’t worry about the rest. One of the times this comes into action is when people don’t like your stuff. There is immense power in saying ‘that’s okay because it’s not actually built for you’.
Strategy vs tactics – Mark Ritson: Diagnosis, strategy, tactics.
Mark Ritson provided as robust of a framework for thinking about marketing as I’m aware of in this talk. Mark breaks marketing down into three stages – diagnosis, strategy and tactics. Answering the question of… ‘so what are we actually supposed to be doing here?’. I’ll admit that the diagnosis and research stage escaped me for a portion of my career. I only wish I had spoken to my customers and people in the market more!
The marketing lifecycle: and starting from the bottom when it comes to optimising.
Even with an understanding of the difference between strategy and tactics, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of just ‘doing stuff’ at a tactical level. The marketing lifecycle/funnel (even though it’s far from perfect) gives purpose to action.
For example, instead of saying:
- “I’m going to do some social media”, you can say
- “I am going to do some social media at the awareness stage. and therefore we will judge success by the number of email sign-ups we get (consideration stage)”.
Bryony Thomas and Asia Matos had interesting perspectives on this. They recommend you start building your marketing activity from the sale upwards. Thereby capturing the people closest to your sale. Bryony suggests that as you fix upwards, the results multiply by each other, creating a vastly better ROI than if you started with brand.
The language of business is finance: it’s not the job of other people to understand you.
The most regularly asked question we have at TMM is ‘how do I get my boss to understand marketing?. My opinion is that it’s not their job to understand marketing – it’s yours to help them understand the impact of your work. Shoe on the other foot: I don’t really care what my accountant does so long as I stay out of prison.
With this knowledge, the language you have use here is one of finance and how your impact will eventually lead to a sale. As Martin George said ‘finance is the language of business’ so cultivating skill in these conversations is vital.
I get not every conversation can be justified on that basis. As Rory Sutherland says, ‘there is room for magic in marketing’. In that case, I argue the impact of marketing in the following ways…
- First, argue the numbers
- If you can’t argue the numbers, argue the example of other successful campaigns (including competitors)
- If you can’t argue the example, argue the logic of the action – “I want to try this based on this assumption”
- And if you can’t argue the logic, argue the magic – “I don’t know, it just feels right!”
- On the final of these, one way to approach this is to have an ‘experiment budget’ each year which you don’t mind losing but hope to learn a lot from!
Communicate in stories.
The other half to the conversation around finance is that the numbers are telling a story of your efforts. But, the narrative is yours to form to give context to your activity. The same goes for anything: pitches, plans, quarterly reviews and more. Jeremy Waite shared some wonderful structures for your stories in his recent webinar, my favourite being you need to know…
- An outline – Let your audience know what to expect
- A headline – A ten-word statement that encapsulates your story
- A front line – The most important point in the story should come first
- A sideline – A quote or a poem
- A bottom line – Your call-to-action
This doesn’t just go for written communication, but every interaction you have!
Proactivity and creativity win.
While much of our role can be boiled down to some consistent, always-on activity, there are small moments that move the dial. Some of the biggest things that have moved forward my career have been things as small as sending an email to someone I admire, sending a handwritten letter of appreciation, or doing something a little out of the ordinary. For example, the Sean Paul email we did last year had such a mad response. But, the amount of actual work was minutes in the making. Again coming back to Jeremy Waite – give yourself space for creativity by stepping away from the laptop to ‘stare at the clouds’.
How do you place your budget to make sure you’re both building long term brand and short term acquisition? The long and short comes as close to providing an answer as I’m aware of. It’s actually quite a short read but makes a hell of a difference to your thinking 🙂
Speak to your customers!
As mentioned at the diagnosis point… actually speaking to my customers is the one thing I wish I did more, earlier. It’s too easy to hide behind our keyboards – to take the praise (or the silence!) and not speak to the people who pay the bills. When I started my career, if I’m being honest I was scared to pick up the phone. Today I recognise it for what it is: an integral part of our role and something that cannot be ignored. Do not hide behind your personas!
Curiosity is important, but you will say no more than you do yes when thinking tactically. Marketing as a concept moves slowly, in fact – it’s largely unchanging. The tactics, however, shift regularly and boy is ‘shiny object syndrome’ relevant. This is more true when you’re not really sure what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for. On this point: always be sure to stay on top of the latest things that you think could help you communicate the solution to your customer’s problem better: but don’t lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
A recent example was Clubhouse which exploded in popularity, only to die down quickly once copied by the other social platforms. The pressure was real to be on the platform, but unless it was right for your customer, it could and should have been an easy ‘no’. Staying true to your customer is the difference between doing a new thing every week, and doing the right things well.
The things I wish I had known about business
You have a choice.
At the lowest point in my career, I sat shaking at my desk, terrified of my boss asking me another question I didn’t know the answer to. This was partially on them, and partially on me, for a multitude of reasons but included the dreaded ‘no-one really knew what marketing was about and therefore we communicated terribly’. While education around marketing was important – so was the realisation that whatever we choose to do, and how we choose to react (Hat Tip to The Living Leader and Penny Ferguson here), is down to us. The choice I made in that situation was to leave the company. This speaks to a truth of our professional lives: where you choose to work is on you, and you can change it if you would like to. Never accept suffering just because – especially as right now in the post Covid world, jobs are opening up once again.
A life lived in the pursuit of helping others is rewarding on many levels.
22 year old me thought that the business world was like an episode of ‘The Apprentice’. I thought the marketing world was competitive in a negative way, cut-throat and unwelcoming. I thought of my colleagues as competition to get to the top, even if I never told them as such. It didn’t take long for me to realise this isn’t true – and a life lived in the pursuit of helping other people has been the greatest ‘hack’ for success on an emotional, social and commercial level. We all spend so long at work, actually looking to elevate other people benefits everyone: including yourself.
Be a regular person. No one will blame you for being honest.
One of the most frightening things I see in the corporate world is people doing and speaking in ways they would never do so in their day to day lives. It’s like we forget we’re people sometimes! People tell me from time to time that they like the ‘tone’ of my messaging. For me, I’m just writing how I would talk normally. It’s amazing how that is a useful competitive advantage, but it is! This speaks to authenticity, but also honesty. The latter part of that is important because we are people, we all make mistakes, and we all have a choice when we do. There has never been a single occasion in my career where being 100% honest has let me down. 22 year old me knew that on a values level, but I don’t think I had the confidence to know it was true.
Turn up, a lot.
The incredible momentum behind TMM is five years in the making. The thing you wouldn’t have seen is the late nights driving back from Manchester after an event, the putting out and stacking away chairs, the kisses on the forehead of my wife as she was already asleep when I got home. It’s easy not to turn up. It’s easy to make excuses. But, if you believe and enjoy the thing you’re doing, you have to show up and do the work. I’m not talking hustle culture here – I’m speaking about not giving up if you don’t get initial traction straight away. John Espirian recommends a ’30 month mindset’ and I like this a lot. Give something you love the time to breathe!
There is a lot that is learnable.
At the first session of The Marketing Meetup, I stood at the front of the room terrified. I can’t even imagine what I said, but I’m sure it wasn’t particularly coherent. Even as an introverted chap, over the past five years I feel I have got to a place where I am passable as a speaker and also as an attendee at events. All this means to say whatever you feel is a weakness today, doesn’t need to be tomorrow if you choose to work on it. There is no replacement for practice!
There is opportunity in adversity.
When Covid struck, I thought that was it for The Marketing Meetup. I mean… we’d planned 140 events for the year. Not particularly good for a period that also featured a pandemic. But from those ashes rose our online events, which, in the words of other people ‘has been the making of TMM’. The lesson for me there was to realise that rarely a setback is ‘the end’ – it’s just a new beginning. We’ve had speakers drop out at the last minute, people not enjoy our messages and more – but whenever these things have happened, something better has almost always come out of the back of it. I no longer fear adversity as I used to – when your back is against the wall: magic can happen!
Humility wins the day.
Keep both feet on the floor. Enough said!