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Without Awareness, Marketing Plans Are Simply Not Good Enough

The “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” the first biopic that documented the rivalry between Bill Gates’ Microsoft and Steve Jobs’ Apple, attempted to wedge into the world of personal computing’s biggest personas. It was a largely forgettable made-for-TV movie that didn’t accomplish much. So no apologie.....

SPONSOREDUpdated 3:03AM 08/10/15
The “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” the first biopic that documented the rivalry between Bill Gates’ Microsoft and Steve Jobs’ Apple, attempted to wedge into the world of personal computing’s biggest personas. It was a largely forgettable made-for-TV movie that didn’t accomplish much. So no apologies necessary if it’s beyond your scope of recall. But it did hold within it one incredibly prophetic moment that holds up today as the perfect illustration of the difference between “being better” and “being better known,” and accomplished that in one exchange between the Gates and Jobs actors. Puffy chested about what he had accomplished technically with his operating system, Noah Wyle’s Jobs said to Anthony Michael Hall’s Gates, “We’re better than you are! We have better stuff.” To that, Gates retorted, unrepentantly, “You don’t get it, Steve. That doesn’t matter!” And it didn’t, in the film or in reality – until Apple started to tell its story. It wasn’t until Apple began to effectively tell its story and create awareness around its charismatic leader that the brand was humanized. It was only through Jobs that Apple could articulate its “Think Different” mantra, and create a platform to articulate its quality, design differentiation and ease of use – the “better stuff” that Jobs had been talking about. Some 11 years later, Apple finally surpassed Microsoft. Things turned out OK for Gates and Microsoft, too. But consider where Apple was in 1999. The brand was scratching and clawing for survival, and painted into a niche corner of the market. The careful crafting of the Apple story as a smart, humanistic and forward-focused design leader signaled the beginning of a heightened awareness campaign that meant the difference between extinction and the blossoming of the world’s greatest technology company. The illustration works because of the harsh reality that Gates threw at Jobs. He was absolutely right: Better isn’t always better. Better known wins. So how does this apply to our world, you might ask? And what can our marketing teams learn from this? Well, without question, our marketers are creative people. That’s why we allow them to mostly come and go as they please, and wear jeans and orange running shoes to work without so much as a second thought. We don’t want to fetter their genius. If that means they’re spending their time creating a Vine video of a man staring at an empty refrigerator, we chalk it up to the greater good of the creative process. But as the world becomes more specific and more categorical, can we say the same for the results of our marketing teams? Have they become more specific and their outcomes more categorical? Are their ideas – as genius as they may be – hitting the mark? Are their teams, in fact, still moving the needle? Do these men and women whose job it is to convey the brand understand that the best product, the best packaging of the product and best market strategy to place the product is nothing without the creation of awareness around the brand? I’m looking at you, sultans of the C-suites. It’s your company; not mine, so you tell me. But if your answer is “no” or “probably not” or “geez, buddy, I wish I knew,” you might want to do something about it.

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Unless you mistakenly applied recession-era thinking to budget allocations and slashed your marketing team to ribbons, the resources should be there. Unless your creative team was kidnapped or allowed to migrate elsewhere, en masse, you should still have some horsepower behind your company’s brand image and messaging. So, if the resources and talent are in place, and the results aren’t, it may be time to perform a full physical on your marketing team. Step 1: Stop shuffling papers for an hour and go sit in a meeting. In general, most companies’ marketing meetings almost always are focused on something specific, such as the launch of a new product, the release of new pricing structures or the reshaping of a brand. In most cases when we get together inside our shops, we’ve all gathered around the table for a singular purpose that oftentimes is very narrow. See what your marketing team is really talking about, and what’s important to them. Listen to the way that they talk about your brand, and match those thoughts to your own. Bite your tongue, if you must. Step 2: During your visit, zip up to about 35,000 feet. See where the discussion goes by asking one wide-angle question that will give you a clear picture of your team’s focus: What is marketing? To some in the room, this question may sound like, Could you please explain the meaning of life? After you ask the “Big M” question, you may find that the answers are all over the board, all within the bull’s eye or somewhere in between. Step 3: Listen. Invariably, after you have laid out that open-ended question (and ask it just like that: What is marketing?), you will be met with a moment of silence. That could be the result of this group having to explain something that it has not ever really considered or because the CEO is asking it. Fear not, though. Despite the terror that this question may bring with it, thinking is occurring. And then, often quietly and with some reservation, someone will either raise their hand or quietly say something such as, “getting your story out there.” Another voice will interject with something about “the proper messaging.” As the discussion picks up speed, the ice will melt. Because of the number of people now in the discussion, there will be more contributions. Expect the chatter to include ideas such as “creating buzz,” and “educating the public,” and “aligning the proper positioning.” None of these contributions is wrong. Singularly directed, perhaps, but not wrong.

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You likely will learn a lot about the way that your team thinks about marketing, and it may please or displease you, and could render you as catatonic as the person in the Vine video staring at the refrigerator. If it displeases you to the point that the original point of the meeting is called off because you have determined that your marketing department is composed of nimrods, my apologies in advance. And if the words “awareness” and “sales” never enter the conversation, you have every right to blow a gasket. In all likelihood, what you will hear from too many marketers pushed through this exercise is talk that misses the mark. Marketing, by my definition, is any activity that leads to a sale. Period. Paragraph. Any activity in marketing that isn’t moving the company closer to a sale or encouraging sales in some specific way is just someone videotaping the refrigerator door. We can talk about building relationships, and that’s fine, there’s some room for that. But having the best relationships with prospective clients that never take the word “prospective” from their titles isn’t terribly meaningful. If the raising of awareness and the closing of sales do not enter into your team’s definition of marketing, you should recommend that they either consider adopting it or consider a career in non-profits. Because any activity that borrows money from product development or sales that does not contribute to either product awareness or sales results is, in short, not well invested.

Marketing is a checkpoint on the pathway to sales. It is the second-most integral aspect of the sales process behind only the product. And some companies might argue – successfully – that I have it backward. And if that is the case, congratulations, you have somehow leveraged a message that supersedes your product and your cash register still rings. Bully for you, baby. You must be the CEO of Coca-Cola or Budweiser.

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Ultimately, the value of any product must be explained to be of any value. It must have sustained market awareness. So no matter what you produce – whether it is simple, such as pizza or something far less tangible, such as search-engine optimization (SEO) – your marketing team must present it in such a way that its benefits are quickly understood. It must be clear. And, without question, the basics remain integral to any good marketing plan. Knowing your brand and how it is viewed through market research, your marketplace, your target customer, the competition and your company’s overall place in the market are core competencies that never go out of style for marketers. Just never confuse, as the cantankerous coach Bobby Knight once said, activity for achievement. Never mistake a great product or a great marketing plan for the requisite awareness that will serve as the catalyst for someone to actually buy your product. So let’s add in Step 4: You have one last thing to discover. Upon completion of this visit to the marketing department, retire to your enclave on the top floor and indulge in a couple of fingers of single-malt Scotch, and reflect. Ask yourself one thing: Do I have a team that can actually generate some market awareness, or something a notch below? Awareness isn’t the net result of wishing for it. Awareness is the net result of either your team, or a team such as ours at No Limit Agency*, taking that compelling story out to the marketplace through the media and differentiating it from all the other noise out there. The creation of awareness is part science, part art and part busting your ass. Take away any of those parts, and it’s all for naught.

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As always, stay classy. And be sure to take something home from New Orleans – in addition to a few business cards and a nasty hangover. Chris Krug is president of the progressive media communications firm No Limit Agency, which is based in Chicago. No Limit Agency is a full-service agency whose practice focuses on strategy, brand awareness, brand management, creative social media campaigns and delivering unparalleled placement in the media. No Limit Agency works with more than 50 brands from across North America. His column appears each Tuesday at Mr. Krug will be in New Orleans at the annual IFA Convention, and looks forward to connecting with his readers. To schedule a 1-on-1 assessment of your brand’s communication needs, contact Mr. Krug by calling 312-526-3996 or via email at [email protected]

*This brand is a paid partner of 1851 Franchise. For more information on paid partnerships please click here.