There's something of an "inbred" ambivalence about marketing. Wanting it but not really trusting it.

May 23, 2013

6 Min Read
Get what you need from your company's marketing

The sales function is built into the DNA of every business. It’s as basic and unquestioned as a “great steak” at a company sales meeting.

The story with marketing is quite different. It’s often viewed as a “side dish” to the sales “entrée,” nice but not necessary, particularly when the economy is either very good or very bad. When things are humming, who needs it and when the economy tanks, “we can’t afford it.”

There’s something of an “inbred” ambivalence about marketing. Wanting it but not really trusting it. Even more to the point is a pervasive doubt that it’s worth the investment or that it doesn’t really make much of a difference.

It’s not surprising that marketing often finds itself on the defensive, never quite sure of its future.

Even so, the menu of the value of marketing today is lengthy. Here are eight:

• Guard against negative public comments. This applies to every business –– including yours –– and here’s why. In the past, negative comments were mostly limited to word-of-mouth, with minimal spillover. Now that those same comments are viral, get prepared before you get hit.

Make it a continuing priority to encourage satisfied customers to share their thoughts about your business. Satisfied customers often remain silent so they need to know how important it is to have their support. Unsigned testimonials look contrived, so be sure they include names and cities or towns. Otherwise, don’t use them. Make it easy and convenient for customers to post comments.

Just when you think it will never happen, it will.

• Create a reservoir of goodwill. It doesn’t appear on the company books, but you can take it to the bank. More often than not, its value is ignored, not taken seriously or dismissed as less than a “soft” asset. Whatever else it’s called, it’s goodwill.

Avon has banked enormous amounts of it with its long-time national sponsorship of the “Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Research.” Bank of America wants more of it. Meanwhile, much maligned BP (British Petroleum), having learned a bitter lesson with the horrendous Gulf oil spill debacle, is attempting to capture as much as possible by spending millions of dollars on an ongoing series of “public service” TV ads describing the company’s role in the cleanup, what it’s doing to assure it won’t happen again and the role the hundreds of thousands of its employee play in the economy. This is a carefully crafted program that’s designed to change the public’s image of the company.

A far better approach is to pay forward so that there is an existing reservoir of goodwill available should trouble strike.

• Help customers help themselves. Ian Gordon of Convergence Management Consultants, offers an indispensable marketing insight. He contends that the incredible pace of change in technology, attitudes and products doesn’t give customers enough time to adjust, which causes continual stress, discomfort and frustration.

Why is this important? What difference does it make? He points out that whether we admit it or not, we need help to make successful adjustments. Otherwise, we avoid what makes us feel uncomfortable. Recognizing this, businesses that take the customer experience seriously help their customers to help themselves to avoid negative feelings that can lead to opting out.

The Boston Globe, like so many newspapers, saw subscriptions nosedive at the same time that it’s free online products were failing to attract subscribers. Then, things changed. Early in 2013, the subscription decline stopped and slowly moved upward mostly with paid subscribers to its new, unique electronic edition. Customized for individual readers, the presentation of key stories is just right.

Today, “intuitive” claims abound but few deliver on such a promise. The companies we do business with need to make sure they are providing the assistance that helps customers to help themselves.

• Fight making unnecessary mistakes. Marketers worth their salt welcome a major marketing challenge, one that flies in the face of “going along to get along.” Caving in is easy, but maintaining one’s objectivity in face of pressures to the contrary takes strength, more than most possess. This is a task that often requires raising questions about proposed plans and programs, pointing out deficiencies and even saying something’s not appropriate and why. Such a role can have enormous value for creating discussion, thinking beyond the obvious and the emotional.

Would the history of retailer JC Penney be any different if its board had sought the views of marketing professionals and others before draining the company coffers of $170 million acquiring a new management team and one billion on making merchandising changes?

If a company doesn’t value its marketers’ independence, it should be prepared to make unnecessary and costly mistakes.

• Have a clear picture of what you’re doing. In a recent Psychology Today article, Sam Gosling, Ph.D., a personality/social psychologist at the University of Texas, Austin, says there are some things about ourselves that we see quite clearly, such as judging our own self-esteem, optimism and pessimism. But when it comes to other things in which we’re heavily invested, such as intelligence, attractiveness, body language, we have a lot of blind spots.

And it’s the same for companies. They not only know what they do well but they can become overly enamored with their excellence. In other words, companies can fall in love with themselves. Kodak is a good example. It saw itself as the premier film company –– and it was. And even when digital photography was decimating its film sales, management failed to permit change. The myopia even extended to the company’s valuation of its vaunted patents. They finally went for a quarter of the company’s “estimated value.” Kodak’s ignominious fate is the story of a company that loved itself to death.

There are others. Dell could be one. Blackberry may be another And there are countless smaller businesses that fail to understand that such self-love is misplaced and dangerous, and is quite different from loving your customers, which is only possible when you stop looking in the mirror every morning.

Companies, like people, can become so preoccupied with themselves that they fail to see themselves as they are.

When you think about it, getting the most from your company’s marketing has less to do with ads, sponsorships, events, websites and press releases than it does with applying the analytical capabilities and insights of marketers to a company’s basic business issues.


John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at [email protected], 617-774-9759 or

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