Marketers, as a profession, are one of the least-trusted groups around. They are the guy at the party that everyone dreads seeing. You are with your friends having a perfectly delightful conversation, then here comes the marketer. He steers the conversation to himself, and brags incessantly about his accomplishments. When someone in your group attempts to change the subject to something more interesting, he immediately dismisses the introduced topic, and moves the focus back where it belongs. On him.
This is how most people view the average marketer. And often, this illustration isn’t that absurd. Yet, most marketers aren’t bad people, they simply fall prey to human nature far too easily.
The reality is, we all act in our own best interests. Period. Yet, good marketers understand how to make human nature work for them, and not against them. They understand that in order to reach their desired goals, they have to also provide equal or greater value to someone else.
TLDR: How to Be a Better Marketer
- Respect your customers, market to them as you would your friends and family.
- Your marketing communications should focus on and create value for your customers.
- If your marketing isn’t relevant to your audience, then it will be ignored.
- Understand who your customer is before you market to them.
- Don’t sell your product, sell what your product allows the customer to do.
Why are marketers so distrusted?
Let’s back up for a minute and talk about how one brand figured out how to be better marketers. As with most good stories, alcohol is involved.
Bill Samuels Sr founded Maker’s Mark in 1953. Senior was the epitome of a craftsman. He loved crafting bourbon and prided himself on his ability to do so. His son, Bill Samuels Jr, took over as President of Maker’s Mark in the 1970s with one clear directive from his dad: “Don’t screw up the whisky.”
Father and son were diametrically opposed when it came to the topic of marketing. Junior was a showman. He loved marketing and appreciated the power of promotion and sales.
His father absolutely hated marketing and distrusted most marketers just as much as the rest of us do. Senior hated marketing so much so that often when junior would attempt to have a marketing discussion with his father, Bill Samuels Sr would simply stand up and walk out of the meeting.
So Bill Samuels Jr was at an impasse. He knew that Maker’s Mark needed to do SOME marketing in order to grow, but he also knew that his father would simply continue to shoot down any attempts the son made at adding marketing communications to the mix.
Finally, Bill Samuels Jr decided that it would probably be a good idea to better understand why his father was so opposed to marketing. The son figured that if he understood why his father didn’t want to invest in marketing, then maybe he could come up with a compromise that would be palatable to his father. Bascially, Bill Samuels Jr was marketing the idea of investing in marketing, to his father. So his father was his customer, and the son was learning how to better understand his objections to marketing, so he could factor that into his efforts. Which is what all good marketers do.
Bill Samuels Sr didn’t view the people who bought his bourbon as being customers, he viewed them as being friends and family. And he viewed marketing as selling, and in his mind, you didn’t sell to your friends and family.
So this prompted Bill Samuels Jr to completely shift his mindset toward who the Maker’s Mark customer was, and in turn, how to communicate with them. Samuels Jr went back to his father and said they would define the Maker’s Mark customer as being someone who they would like to invite over to their house for drinks. Bill Samuels Sr signed off on this, and Jr got to work on building a marketing strategy based on communicating with friends and family, instead of selling to strangers.
As an aside, this shift in marketing strategy opened the door for Maker’s Mark to launch one of the most successful brand ambassador programs of all time. In the early 1980s, Maker’s Mark was the recipient of some wonderful exposure in national publications like The Wall Street Journal. That surge of PR catapulted demand for the brand’s products, which actually created a massive distribution problem for Maker’s Mark. Prior to this, Maker’s Mark was essentially a regional, Kentucky brand, and its distribution channels were regional as well. But thanks to the exposure in the WSJ and other publications, there was suddenly national demand for a brand that not only didn’t have the distribution channels to handle a national supply, but the product itself took years to make.
While the brand didn’t have a national distribution channel, it did have customers across the United States. More than that, it had customers that loved the brand. So Bill Samuels Jr. decided to embrace those happy customers, and empower them to market for the brand. Maker’s Mark began to mobilize its customers across the country to demand Maker’s Mark be shipped to their corner of the country. The efforts of its customers slowly expanded Maker’s Mark’s distribution from coast to coast. These efforts by Maker’s Mark to empower its customers to market for the brand would eventually be folded into an official brand ambassador program, which still lives on to this day. You can learn more about the program here.
Bill Samuels Sr. distrusted marketers for the same reason most of you do; He found the very idea offensive, as he felt that marketing was selling, and you don’t sell to friends and family. So Maker’s Mark focused on treating its customers as friends and family, and adjusted its marketing strategy accordingly. Bill Samuels Jr would later call it ‘marketing without fingerprints’.
The key takeaway? If you respect your customers, that changes how you sell to them.
The power of being second
Let’s go back to human nature for a minute. It is human nature to want to take care of ourselves first, and everyone else later. For instance, if there’s a shortage of a particular product, say gas, do you let everyone else fill up their tank first, then you go get your gas a week later? Of course not, you will try to fill up your tank of gas today, and you assume everyone else will do the same. That doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you human. We all think of our wants and needs first, before others. Not all the time, but in general.
It’s no different for most marketers. Most marketers focus first on getting the sale, and pleasing the customer can come later. But smart marketers understand the power of pleasing the customer first, and how that will LEAD to sales.
In 2004, Sarah McLachlan released the single World on Fire. Her record label gave her $150,000 to create a music video to support the song. Just as she was preparing to begin filming the video, she came across a letter written by a volunteer with the group Engineers Without Borders. This letter detailed the work that the group was doing to help impoverished people around the world. Sarah was so moved by the work Engineers Without Borders was doing, that she decided to take all but $15 of the $150,000 her record label had given her to create a music video, and she instead donated it to 11 charitable organizations, including Engineers Without Borders.
Now, this was a very generous act on Sarah’s behalf, but her record label still wanted her to create a music video. So Sarah took the last $15 from her budget, and bought a video tape. She then, working with a few friends, created a very low-tech video for World on Fire.
But the video told an incredibly compelling story. What Sarah did with her video was explain to the viewer all the normal expenses associated with creating a music video, and how much each item normally costs. Then, Sarah detailed what the money was actually spend on, via her charitable donations. What resulted was, and absolutely amazing music video, created for just $15:
This video received a Grammy nomination for best music video, the only such nomination of Sarah’s 34-year career as a recording artist.
So let’s break this down: Sarah received $150k to record a music video for World on Fire. Instead, she donated almost all of that money to 11 charitable organizations around the world, impacting the lives of millions of people. And she still got to create a music video for World on Fire, which received a Grammy nomination.
All because Sarah didn’t use her video as a way to ‘sell’ her song, but instead she used it as a tool to help others, to advance causes she is passionate about, and to tell a compelling story. She got the sales she (and her label) wanted, but she got so much more than that.
The key takeaway? Good marketing isn’t about the person sending the message, it’s about the person who hears it. If you create a compelling marketing message, the sales will take care of itself.
The best marketing is invisible. The worst marketing BECOMES invisible.
This is Times Square, in NYC. Look at this picture, but really it’s the same with any picture you see of Times Square.
You always see marketing and advertising messages everywhere. Flashing billboards, and blinking lights as far as the eye can see.
So. Much. Marketing.
Now look at the people. Every single person in this image has one thing in common. Can you spot it?
Every single person is totally ignoring every marketing message.
Everyone in this picture is completely ignoring these hundreds of marketing messages that are all around them. The reason why is because these messages lack relevance. If a marketing message is irrelevant to you, then it is worthless to you.
It becomes invisible to you.
Now let’s go back to the Maker’s Mark brand ambassador program for a minute. We’ve already talked about how long-running it is, and how successful it has been. In order to join the brand ambassador program, you have to apply. In other words, you have to raise your hand and offer to perform the duties that Maker’s Mark asks from its ambassadors. So when Maker’s Mark delivers marketing messages to you, those are marketing messages that you asked to receive. Those messages have relevance for you, so you don’t perceive them as being marketing.
Let’s be clear: If a marketing message has relevance for you, you don’t view it as being marketing.
On the other hand, if a marketing message has NO relevance for you, you ignore it.
The best marketing is invisible. Meaning you don’t SEE it as marketing. You see it as something that has relevance for you.
The worst marketing BECOMES invisible. Meaning, if the marketing message is totally irrelevant to you. then you totally ignore it. It BECOMES invisible to you.
We’ve trained ourselves to view marketing as something bad, as a distraction, an irritant. Actually, that’s not fair, we have simply been exposed to so much BAD marketing, that we tend to view ALL marketing as bad.
Good marketing is relevant to us. It creates value for us, and respects us. As a result, we don’t view it as marketing.
What happens when we don’t view a marketing message as being marketing? We open ourselves to LISTENING TO THAT MESSAGE.
Once a marketer has gained our attention, then they have a chance to convert us into a customer.
The key takeaway? If your marketing message is relevant to your audience, then that audience will listen to your message. If your marketing message is irrelevant to your audience, then that audience will ignore it.
The best marketing is spoken in the voice of your customer
Let’s say you are a diehard fan of the movie Inception. Your friend Tom hates the movie, and thinks it is completely overblown.
You are trying to convince Jim, who you don’t know, to watch Inception. But at the same time, Tom is going to give the argument for why Jim should NOT watch Inception. And it just so happens that Tom is also Jim’s cousin.
So who do you think will be able to persuade Jim to watch or not watch the movie Inception? You may say that Jim will listen to Tom, because Tom is his cousin and he trusts his opinion. You would probably be correct. But at the same time, Tom knows and understands what types of movies Jim likes. Tom would explain to Jim that he doesn’t like movies like Inception, why he doesn’t like them, and Jim would probably ultimately agree and not see the movie.
In the end, the fact that Tom and Jim were cousins wasn’t the deciding factor for Jim. It was the fact that Tom understands what type of movie Jim likes to watch. You don’t know what type of movie that Jim likes, so in explaining what you liked about the movie Inception, you were actually making the case to Jim for why he should NOT watch it.
Think of marketing as a tax that your brand has to pay because it doesn’t understand your customer. If you know precisely who your customer is, and you understand them completely, then you know how to create marketing that appeals to them at every stage of the process from awareness to sale, and beyond. Your marketing costs are significantly lower because you are crafting perfect marketing communications that are relevant to your customers, that create value for them, and which resonate with them.
When you don’t know who your customer is, when you don’t understand your customer, then your marketing costs increase at an exorbitant rate.
The key takeaway? When you understand your customer, you can speak to their wants, needs and desires. You don’t market to them, you talk to them. And they listen.
The best marketing doesn’t focus on your product, it focuses on your customer
The most effective marketing doesn’t sell your product, it sells how your product fits into my life.
Watch this Red Bull commercial, and as you do, notice how much time is spent focused on the Red Bull energy drink:
The Red Bull can isn’t shown till the last 2 seconds of the commercial. The logo is shown a few times throughout, but the star of this commercial is clearly the extreme athletes that Red Bull sponsors and supports. Red Bull doesn’t market its product, it markets what happens after you drink it.
Don’t sell your product, sell the change that happens to your customer as a result of your product.
This is one of the most powerful marketing lessons you can learn. When someone isn’t familiar with your product, you sell the benefits of owning it. You sell the changes that owning this product will create for the owner.
Don’t sell me the product, sell what the product allows me to do.
Look at Nike’s iconic marketing campaigns. Just do it. The shoes and clothing is an afterthought, the focus is on the athletes and their accomplishments. Think of Apple’s marketing for the iPhone in recent years. The focus is more on what the iPhone allows you to do, the content it helps you create, moreso than the actual tool itself.
Notice how these examples of how to improve your marketing are focused on understanding your customer and marketing from the customer’s point of view. Customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems, or improvements to their lives. If a particular product can consistently meet or exceed their expectations, then the customer will become loyal to that brand.
Your job as a marketer is to create fans.
In 2010 I attended the FIRE Sessions in Greenville, South Carolina. One of the speakers was Steve Knox, who at the time was the CEO of Proctor and Gamble’s Word of Mouth unit, Tremor. He said something that stopped me in my tracks:
“Victory in marketing doesn’t happen when you sell something, but when you cultivate advocates for your brand.”
Think about that quote and what it means. Who are advocates for your brand? They are the customers that LOVE your brand and who are advocating on its behalf. So they are not only buying your products, they are actively selling your brand to other customers.
How would your marketing change, if your goal was to cultivate advocates? To create customers that love you and who will advocate for you.
The amazing part is…you will still be creating sales. But you’ll also be creating so much more.
If you want to be a better marketer:
- Respect your customers
- Create value for your customers
- Your marketing MUST be relevant to your customers, or it will be ignored
- Understand your customers
- Don’t market your product, market the positive changes in my life that your product will create for me
- Don’t focus on sales with your marketing, focus on delighting your customers. If you create happy customers, the sales take care of themselves.