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Escaping the Advertising Campaign Paradigm

December 3, 2012

Those of us that grew up watching ads on TV and magazines, listening on the radio and even casually flipping through a newspaper sooner or later learn one thing about the mighty advertising campaign: it invariably ends.

An advertiser never has the budget to keep an advertising campaign in print, on TV or on the radio day in and day out forever. Not that it’s necessarily desirable to have the same TV spot run daily for 20 years, we know that a message loses effectiveness over time and its ability to attract attention declines the more often you show it. Many advertising agencies and professionals, myself included, are guilty of having carried this mentality over to our daily lives and our daily routines and applied it to a new medium, an online medium that has both a shorter lifespan and a lower price point, a larger reach and an instant gratification found in no other channel. Design, produce, measure – design, produce measure. Individual campaign processes repeated every time you communicate with customers or prospects; reinventing the look, the copy, the message every time because this campaign has to be better than the one before. Flashier. Fresher. New. Different.

What I want to know is why are we still running campaign ads like they did in the 19th century? Why are we stuck in this “advertising campaign” mode? Why do we start over every month, often with absolutely no knowledge carried over from the previous successes of failures? I think I may be able to put my finger on at least a few reasons.

The almighty marketing budget

Follow the money, goes the old adage. Marketing budgets tend to be evaluated yearly. The overwhelming majority of companies decide on their marketing budget in a way that is completely disconnected from the actual marketing process itself. Marketing executives approach the problem from a positive outlook: “We need to reach more customers, what do we need to do to make that happen?” Business leaders, however, often approach the problem from a negative outlook: “I don’t want to spend more than 8% of revenue on marketing this year. Next year, maybe less.” From year to year a marketing executive never knows if the marketing budget will be cut or not, or even if he’ll still be around. (Marketing executives are, on average, replaced after a little over two years.) After the inevitable collision of these two approaches marketers are often left to pick up the pieces and “make the best of it”, told to “go for the quick win” or my favourite line: “low hanging fruit”. I hate business metaphors.


Short term thinking

If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in my own marketing career  it’s that the low hanging fruit tastes awful. It’s a scrawny, bitter little thing, and as you eat it, and you look up at the large, sun-ripened version of it at the top of of the tree, it gets more bitter still. You wish you had a ladder, but instead you have a dining room chair.

The problem isn’t even the size of the budget, really, but the unreliability of the budget, forcing marketers into a short term, short-sighted frame of mind. Some companies cut the marketing budget at the first sign of financial trouble, when in fact it should be the last to be cut. The first rule of business is: If you don’t sell you’re dead in the water. To be fair, some CEOs do recognize this.

Focusing on the short term means a quick beginning and end cycle: A mailing campaign. A TV ad. A series of 5 drive to web emails. A 20% off sale. A “Double your reward miles” campaign. Buy one get the second one at half price. Promotional. Even if as a marketing professional I understand why this happens, as a consumer I’m sick to death of it:
Buy! Buy! Buy! Like the mindless repetition of a parrot strung out on crackers.

Hey, buddy! Got any crackers?

A little value, please

As a consumer I want value, and that means value from my advertising as well. What do I want from advertising? I want it to be entertaining, informative, funny, useful or helpful… any of these. All of these.

As a marketing guy, I know that the reason the advertising I receive is none of these things is simply that there’s not enough budget to add value in the current advertising campaign-based marketing processes. Funny or entertaining doesn’t fit into these processes because that would involve agencies, video production houses, actors and large budgets, the likes of which marketing hasn’t seen since the 80s. Helpful or useful would require knowledge of my problems or particular situation; knowledge most merchants don’t have.

What brings value? Content. We have to stop thinking of our marketing as a one-off, “get them in the door” effort, but a constant, continuous conversation. Producing content. It doesn’t even have to be the top notch HDTV-ready music videos costing thousands, it just has to be relevant, helpful, or funny. It has to position a product as well as inform and entertain, and it has to do that not just today, or this week, but next month, year in and year out. Escaping the advertising campaign paradigm requires escaping another paradigm first: Get out of short term thinking. The catch is, of course, how do we do that? How do we focus on long term wisdom?

Don’t get off at the first dip.

Escaping the advertising campaign paradigm

Think long term

Instead of spending all your money on a handful of initiatives, create systems. Systems of content production, email systems, CRM systems. These cost more money at the outset than a flyer, but  pay their benefits off in the long term through a better understanding of the customer, less effort expended for each subsequent communication, from creative to copywriting.

Think content

Provide content about your product or service. Make YouTube videos on how to use your widgets. Blog about exciting changes. Be up front, proactive even, about potential problems. Watch the social channels and respond to comments and trends about your company in a constructive way.

Did you screw up? Apologize. Human brands are loveable brands, and the people that communicate on those brands’ behalf have tons of content to contribute. Each one of them can, with as little as a smartphone, camera or webcam, become an ambassador for your brand. Many of them will even want to do this. Let them.

Be helpful

When creating content, social posts and responses take a consultative, helpful approach. It will reduce the customer support calls, it will increase product visibility, and it will continually establish credibility. I’ve learned that this can be the difference between market leadership and obscurity, and that shockingly this is the case regardless of engineering excellence.

Appoint someone then let them work.

Someone has to be responsible for customer support. The people you entrust with the task of being the interface between your customers and your company should also be the ones to deal with customers on social media channels. Let them do their jobs.

I see so many situations where the customer support agents aren’t even allowed on Facebook or Twitter. Staying up to date and responding on social media should be part of their jobs. Stop looking at the individual tasks they’re doing, or how long they spend in the bathroom and concentrate on the role they fulfill in the company. Appoint someone in charge of the customer support role, make it their responsibility, then let them do their job.

This goes double for your marketing staff. Real marketing professionals eat and breathe this stuff, but replacing them every two years doesn’t help. There’s no time to build a long term vision or plan and carry it out, put together a response monitoring system that learns from past communications if every two years the direction changes with the new VP. The new VP comes in and he has to prove himself; often the first order of business is to undo the previous plan, tear it down and build a completely new one before the old one has paid any dividends. Instead of getting anywhere, the marketing department just ends up spinning its wheels. I’ve seen this too many times. They go left, then right, then up, then down, and then they’re surprised when they’re exactly where they were 4 years ago!

Escaping the advertising campaign paradigm is about thinking in terms of continuous improvement, continuous communication and creating value. It’s more pull and less push, it’s lengthening your cycles; focusing on the trends, not the spikes in sales. In a tough economic situation it means recognizing that marketing is at least as essential to the success of the business as production, and the customer is at the center of your success.

If you need help or advice on your own business and how to escape the advertising campaign paradigm, please get in touch with me.

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