Nobody knows what the hell marketing really is… (part 2)

Science, Bitches!

Looking for the first part of this series? Click here.

Let’s recap the problem: nobody knows what the hell marketing is, which causes no end of confusion for small business owners who are just trying to land their next customer to pay bills and keep the lights on.

I issued a scathing indictment of the 4P’s and 7C’s (Marketing 101 for business majors) because, frankly, their sole accomplishment is dragging small business owners down a rabbit hole of unending business jargon in a bid for exceedingly rare investor dollars. Even if all 125 million businesses on the face of the earth wrote a marketing plan featuring those elements, they’d still be royally screwed and still have no idea what marketing really is even though they “checked all the boxes”.

So what is marketing, really?

On Monday, I saw a write-up about a business in Washington that sells officially-licensed Star Trek and Elvis goodies. What did the reporter call this business? A marketing firm. The owners were estimating that in 5 years they’d have to cap their business at $50 million, cuz you know – $51 million is “too big”. Let’s put that little bit of grandstanding insanity aside for the moment and focus on the label: a marketing firm.

Would you call a promotional product-development business a marketing firm? One that sells licensed products? OK, so maybe they’re marketing for Elvis or Star Trek, but they’re also selling product… making a bit of money and passing the royalties on. I wouldn’t exactly call them, or Zazzle or VistaPrint for that matter, a marketing firm. They’re promotional marketing support businesses, at best – or more accurately, they’re fucking printers.

How about the window display I saw last week on PostNet’s window clings (think a Post Office meets Printer): branding and marketing support. Sure. Why not? Obviously, when I think about creating a brand for my business, I think of going to the same place I check my mail. Again, I think what they mean is: promotional material, not branding.

Is it any wonder we can’t get our shit straight when it comes to marketing?

Nobody knows what the hell it is because everybody and their mom claims to be offering marketing, when they’re really just offering a sub-set of marketing services and labeling it as marketing. Used in absence of a Marketing Strategy, this sub-set marketing leads to cool swag but little-to-no return on investment.

What is it you do again?

This mis-labeling works because we’ve got these textbooks and “gurus” teaching us the 4P’s and 7C’s talk about things like “promotions” and “positioning” and we get all confused thinking if we do one (promotion), we’re really at least contributing to the whole thing (marketing). And marketing means eyeballs and eyeballs mean dollars, right?

This is the same logic that convinces small business owners that:

  • You MUST have a Facebook page because everybody and their mom uses Facebook. (Except, you know, teens).
  • You MUST be on Twitter because there’s no faster way to hear what people are saying about your business. (Except, you know, if people aren’t talking about your business).
  • You MUST blog because nobody will care about your sad little business unless you tell a story. (Except, you know, if you’re a god-awful writer).
  • You MUST use Instagram, Vine, SlideShare, whatever… or you won’t get noticed.

Suddenly the tool is the strategy? That’s fucked up.

No. Fucking stop it. You’re being swindled and it makes my heart hurt for you.

There are a grand total of 5 questions that actually matter when it comes to marketing. Wanna know the first one?

“WHY?” As in:

  • Why the hell do I need a Facebook page?
  • Why the hell do I need Google Pay-Per-Click ads?
  • Why do I need to spend money to promote a Facebook post?
  • Why do I need to use (insert tool of the week here)?
  • Why should I be using WordPress and not Blogger?

If you take nothing else away from this series, remember that question. It’s one word: “WHY?” Keep asking why until you find the money (return on investment). Seriously.

Treat each new marketing idea like a piñata you have to keep whacking at with your why stick until either money or crap pours out.

Hold up. I just made myself laugh out loud, so I decided to make a graphic of that quote you can share:

"Treat each new marketing idea like a piñata you have to keep whacking at with your 'why?'-stick until either money or crap pours out."

If you don’t find an acceptable amount of money (directly or indirectly) at the end of the chain of thought, your answer should be no unless you have a budget to experiment with.

This leads to shotgun marketing tactics where a business shells out dollar after dollar after dollar on ads, print-outs, pamphlets, promotions, partnerships, social media, websites and other junk without even a meager marketing strategy to justify the decisions, let alone predict, track, and evaluate return on investment.

So what’s the fix? Strategy, bitches!

Even I get it wrong from time to time. You wanna know what my first crack at fixing this problem looked like? 11 P’s!

I think we can all agree it’s time for a new marketing model that properly addresses the real-world situation and puts the customer first. I was about to propose to you the 11 P’s of how WTF Marketing looks at a marketing plan:

  • Problem (Opportunity) – What is the problem we’re attempting to solve?
  • Purpose – Why is this problem important to us?
  • Pitch (Solution/Product/Service) – What is the solution to this problem? What is the thing we’re leveraging to take advantage of this opportunity?
  • Prose (Customer’s Jargon) – How does the customer describe this problem? How do they articulate a solution?
  • Practicality – What is the customer’s return on investment? If they don’t buy the product/service, how will their life suffer as a result? If they do buy the product/service, how will their life improve as a result?
  • Portability – Is it where the customer needs it, when they need it, in the format they need it?
  • Positioning – Copy/Creative
  • Promotions – Advertising and Collateral (the printing swag we were talking about earlier)
  • Process – Systems that affect your customers
  • People – Customer support, sales, etc.
  • Praise/Pounding – What do the customers say about your solution?

OK, so 4, 7, or 11… what are we really getting at here? My first-shot at fixing our jargon-laden system resulted in fucking 11 Ps!

That’s nonsense, too – even though the theory behind it is sound. What I’ve accidentally done here is outline the sub-sets of marketing as I know them, not given you a toolkit to fix the labeling problem.

The fix, dear reader, is not in our stars – but in ourselves. We have to start not with the sub-sets of marketing (by trying to categorize this massive beast so we can understand it better), but with the questions which lead to good strategic choices, even in absence of having a strategy.

“But Nick,” you’re saying, “Surely we must have at least a few P’s in marketing since they inform the very foundation of business as we know it today.”

No. P’s and C’s are for pretentious cocks. And don’t call me Shirley.

Sure, they had newspapers and radio in 1948 when the P’s and C’s were introduced – so it’s possible either Borden or McCarthy new about the content creation business. Now that everybody and their mom has access to write a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a YouTube Channel, and Garage Band for podcasting, everybody and their mom is in the content creation business.

The tool is not the strategy, but the platform; therefore we have to be strategic about which mediums we utilize. It would make just as much sense for The Police to have published their entire catalog in leatherbound hardback books or via Instagram photos as it does for Carpet Mill to have an account on SoundCloud.

So again, we come back to strategy – because tactics and tools alone lack the intrinsic understanding a strategy provides by asking the right questions. For instance, the thing I’ve never seen in any marketing model are purpose and prose.

Purpose is something usually relegated as a section of a not-for-profit’s “business” plan. It’s the Why behind why you’re in business. In my mind though, combining a purpose and a problem is the most important thing any business can do.

Understanding prose or how the customer talks about the problem is a game-changer. Say you sell sprockets. The customer doesn’t know what the hell a sprocket is (and neither do I), but let’s imagine that it’s a revolutionary thing that will immeasurably improve your potential customer’s lives forever more. Except for one minor problem: your sprockets sit dusty on the shelf because your potential customers pine daily for your sprocket, only they’ve come to call it a widget.

Why is it that our best minds in marketing are still quoting the same tired model created nearly three quarters of a century ago?

Honestly – we could eliminate a lot of those P’s and C’s as sub-sets of one another. Praise/Pounding could be a sub-set of Process (gathering testimonials should be a part of your sales, follow-up, and customer support system, after all) and People are also part of your Process. Portability and Positioning are more or less the same thing. Worse still, ALL of the P models (and even the 7Cs) confound marketing and sales.

Really, Nick – we’re 1,500 words in and we haven’t solved the problem. My eyes are getting tired. How do we fix it?

Here’s the answer: there’s this sad, poignant, brutally common thought exercise to help teachers understand how to teach more effectively. It has to do with how to work with Alzheimer’s patients: how do you eat a banana? Most people say “peel it, stick in mouth, chew…”

An Alzheimer patient will need to know what to peel, how to peel it, how much to peel it, why they’re peeling it in the first place, where they should start peeling, that they should pick the banana up in the first place, what the banana looks like, how to pick it up, which end to hold…

That sounds awfully complicated for a very simple thing that most of us take for granted. But it’s not complicated, really.

Anything is complicated when you don’t have a frame of reference or context, which is exactly what the P’s and C’s give us: jargon out of context. Context is hard for Alzheimer’s patients – that’s why keys end up in the fridge and milk in the closet. The motions are the same, the context is what makes it absurd to the observer. Context is also hard for anyone learning something new as well as the overwhelmed.

Marketing is an overwhelming topic when we couch it in terms like positioning, promotions, and practicality. That’s nonsense. There’s only ever three things you should really care about: the thing you’re trying to fix, who it’s for, and why you care.

Tack on on “Why do we want to do XYZ?” and “How do potential customers talk about our industry/problem/solution?” and you’ve got the 5 questions that will serve you as a better marketing strategy than any 4, 7, 11 P’s in some dusty business plan ever will.

So what do we do about this marketing model thing? How do we describe our business, what it does, the problems we solve, and why? (ie: how do we market?)

Here’s a self-serving acronym composed of 5 questions you’re not soon to forget: WHY? WTF!?

  • WHY? – Why do we care about any particular tactic/tool/idea?
  • WWhy do you care about the customer/problem/solution? (your business’s purpose for existing)
  • T – What’s the Thing? (customer’s problem + product/service as a solution)
  • F – Who is it For? (who’s affected + why the solution is specific to them + works)
  • !? – How do they talk about it!? (Optional, because this also confounds marketing and sales – but, it answers the prose question – sprockets vs widgets).

Being able to answer these 3 (or 4) things will define nearly everything else needed for the other models.

What do you think? Did we fix the problem? Did I confuse you more? Let me know in the comments.