Does Your Marketing Suck?

“Most marketing does suck. And it does because people haven’t thought through what they are trying to accomplish before they start spending money on marketing.”                                                                    –Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks

As a general rule, I avoid writing book reviews for this column. I leave that up to people who do that for a living. But there are always exceptions, and Mark Stevens’ primer on what he labels as “extreme marketing” is like sweet music to my ears. It should be required reading for anyone who is or has seriously thought about growing a successful business.

In his book Your Marketing Sucks, Stevens defines extreme marketing as the ability to make every marketing dollar you spend to bring in more than $1 in return. Sounds logical, right? But Stevens points out numerous instances where marketing programs have easily defied that simple logic.

I don’t agree with Stevens on everything that he writes in his book, but we both strongly agree on that marketing is not about spending money on advertising, direct mail and public relations. Instead, marketing is about building a business—its revenues, profit, and valuation.

Stevens doesn’t pull any punches when giving examples why many organizations – big and small—are clueless when it comes to effectively marketing their products and services. They apparently have forgotten that the only objective for marketing is to help sell products and services. Instead, many companies and marketing firms fall hopelessly in love with their creations and somehow turn a blind eye to the cost-benefit analysis of what they are trying to sell.

One example he used about an IBM marketing campaign completely blew my mind. IBM rolled out a marketing program called a “mag-a-log” – a magazine/catalog that focused on technology trends, such as why more small companies were buying servers –to break into the small-business market.

This “innovative” marketing scheme told small-business owners how to buy an IBM server and what to look for in terms of power, scalability, price and features. The IBM executive who approved the idea got a raise and a promotion. One small problem: it didn’t work. The company lost money on the mag-a-log because it didn’t raise enough revenue to cover its cost. According to Stevens, the marketing program was a dud because IBM couldn’t sell to consumers directly, and people wouldn’t waste their time and energy contacting an “authorized IBM dealer.” But the executive who should have been canned for green-lighting this misguided marketing plan was instead rewarded for costing his company lots of money.

To adopt the extreme marketing approach, here are some guidelines that Stevens recommends for companies to follow:

  • Marketing is an integrated process — All of your marketing tactics, such as advertising, public relations, social media, direct mail, etc., should work together to move the sales needle.
  • Identify initiatives that attract attention – For example, any restaurant can offer “buy one dinner and get the second one at half off” to boost business. But one restaurant cooked up one marketing scheme that was very appealing to its customers. The restaurant, which recently opened for business, got American Express to agree to offer a promotion to its cardholders, where they would get 20 percent off the restaurant’s bill for three months. The restaurant traded on American Express’s credibility since it had none of its own, and it also gave customers a good reason to eat at the new restaurant often.
  • Combine all of the elements of your marketing program – Integrating all of the marketing elements will reinforce each other and drive toward a sale. Some examples include your ads should have your website address and social media links; or your brochures should feature visuals of your ads and key media placements.
  • Avoid marketing initiatives that do not produce ROI — If you cannot prove that your marketing program is making more money than it costs, then trash it if it can’t be corrected.

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