Three Things I Learned from Teaching Marketing

May 14, 2013

For several years I taught marketing at a nearby Jesuit university.

Though I’d previously earned my master’s degree in marketing, I discovered that I learned marketing best as I interacted with my brilliant and curious students.

Here are the three most important things I learned (and hopefully taught) about marketing:

1. Good questions trump great answers.

At the beginning of the semester I told my students, “I hope you do not leave my class knowing lots of answers. I want you to leave asking the right questions.”

Good questions to ask when creating a marketing plan are:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • How are our products differentiated?
  • What is the right balance between product benefits, the pricing structure, the distribution and accessibility of what we’re selling and our promotional efforts?
  • How can we best promote our product? Who are we talking with? What do we want to say to them? What are the best media to connect with them?

Those questions will always be relevant. The answers, though, will vary in each situation.

2. Academic theory is worthless unless converted into action.

What is the value of the learning if we cannot do something with what we’ve learned?

We began each 16-week semester focusing on marketing principles and theory. As the course progressed, we began to apply theory to real-life situations.

We got our hands dirty. We learned that planning is always a messy process. Working together in teams, the students often complained about the process. (Welcome to the real world!) Fifty percent of their final grade rested upon developing an actual marketing plan for a local nonprofit organization.

They were pushed beyond the sanitized confines of a university classroom because I wanted them to experience things that would remain etched in their memories for years to come.

3. Strategy should always precede tactics.

Though action is important, we must think before we do. Being busy must never be confused with being strategic.

Before jumping into the what and the how, we should always ask why?

In the marketing arena, it’s always tempting to jump in and begin creating brochures, writing news releases or designing ads. That’s all busy work unless those tactics can be tied to a bigger strategy.

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So, there you have it! Those are the three most important lessons I learned while teaching marketing. For extra credit, though, let me throw out a fourth:

You will never do marketing as you’ve been taught to do it.

As we got deeper into our discussions of marketing theory, I would pause and say, “I’ve never actually done marketing the way I’m teaching you to do it.”

Students often looked confused. They felt betrayed to have an instructor who did not practice what he preached. That cognitive dissonance provided a valuable teaching opportunity.

The reality of marketing education is this:  Academy theory can serve as our guiding star.

We should always strive to reach the ideal. In the real world, though, we never encounter ideal circumstances. Yet we must carry in our minds the compelling picture of how marketing should be done. With that vision, we will be better marketing practitioners.

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10 Reasons NOT to Launch a Marketing Campaign

March 29, 2011

Sometimes marketing is viewed as a magical elixir that will somehow cure whatever ails you.

In my 20-plus years of marketing experience, I’ve come to realize that good marketing is based more upon common sense than upon creativity. Though marketing can work wonders, it is not a panacea that will transform failure into success.

As much as I value good marketing, I believe there are times not to launch a marketing campaign. My advice is to delay any marketing activities when:

  1. We are unclear what success will actually look like. Without clearly defined goals, we are merely groping in the dark, hoping to grasp something—anything—of value.
  2. We feel compelled to act before we think. In our fast-paced world, we will always experience the strong gravitational pull of urgency. Focusing on what is urgent, though, will often entice us to overlook strategy and jump prematurely into tactics.
  3. We want to begin with communications. A good marketing process ends with communications but that’s never a good place to begin.
  4. We focus on obstacles rather than opportunities. Though we must always understand reality, we will never leave the starting blocks if we focus on the hurdles between us and the finish line.
  5. We have no champion for the product or service. We may all agree that a particular program is important, but unless someone with passion assumes ownership of the program’s success, it will flounder. Of course, marketers will be the easy targets of those who need to blame someone for a product’s failure.
  6. We believe everything will be okay if only we can “get the word out.” I cannot be more emphatic in stating this: raising awareness is not a marketing goal.
  7. We talk more than we listen. Marketing success on a 2.0 world is all about having conversations, not trying to speak louder.
  8. We are unable to profile a target audience. Only the naive believe there really is such a thing as the “general public.” We are headed towards marketing failure if we neglect to define a primary audience. After all, to target everyone is to hit no one.
  9. We ignore the concept of marketing exchanges. Marketing is based upon the premise that we must build win-win relationships where we exchange value for value. Marketing is never a one-way transaction.
  10. We cannot differentiate our product or service. If we don’t know who our competitors are, and if we cannot articulate how we are different and better, then my advice is simple:  Turn off the lights, lock the door and go home. The party is over.

Quotes I Love

September 29, 2010

Quotations inspire me. They focus me. They motivate me.

I like the way an eloquent quote can elegantly reflect the light of resplendent wisdom. To me, each quotation has special value.

I collect quotes as a gem collector might gather precious stones. Like gemstones, quotes were never meant to be hoarded and stored in a dark, out-of-sight vault. Rather, they are most appreciated when shared and displayed for the enrichment of all.

If you also appreciate quotes, I invite you to meander through this collection of my favorites, categorized by these topics:

  1. Being Creative
  2. Planning and Goal Setting
  3. Being a Leader
  4. Learning, Teaching and Being Well Educated
  5. Understanding Life’s Transitions
  6. Marketing Effectively
  7. Achieving Success
  8. Creating a Compelling Vision
  9. Overcoming Adversity
  10. Chuckling with Yogi

A Manifesto for Individual Responsibility

September 1, 2010

Every member of a team must make a unique, individual contribution to the team’s success. I want to be surrounded by people who don’t make excuses, assume individual responsibility and work towards the greater good of the team.

With a commitment to individual responsibility, empowerment and performance, I invite you to join me in believing and internalizing the following affirmations:

  1. I see the big picture.
  2. I see how the individual pieces fit together, and I understand the importance of my unique role.
  3. I prioritize my work and spend considerable time working on projects that are important but not urgent. Because of this, I am proactive and in control of my projects, my career and my life.
  4. I think strategically before acting tactically.
  5. Functioning as a marketing consultant, I ask affirming, empowering questions of myself and others.
  6. I approach consulting projects in a collaborative manner, finding ways to say “yes” and thereby facilitating the success of others.
  7. I own and manage important projects where I assume the entire responsibility for the planning, production and evaluation of my projects.
  8. I am a collaborative team player, contributing my energy and expertise to those projects managed by others.
  9. Knowing that the status quo often leads to obsolescence, I have a deep desire to learn, to create and to explore. I seek innovation and welcome change.
  10. I do work that really matters. I make a difference.

 

 


A Manifesto for Being Visionary and Strategic

August 25, 2010

Helen Keller was right when she said, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”

Everyone, it seems, talks about the importance of having a vision, but very few people have a vivid picture of what they hope their future will look like.

With a commitment to being visionary and strategic, I invite you to join me in believing  that:

  1. The effectiveness of a vision statement can be measured by its ability to inspire us to rally around a shared picture of what can be—and must be—our new reality.
  2. A compelling vision is future-focused and usually threatens those deeply vested in the status quo.
  3. Progress always requires change, but not all change is progress.
  4. Where there is no vision, people perish.
  5. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
  6. Tactics not tied to strategy are nothing more than busywork.
  7. When you and I are not pursuing the same goal, then we are not on the same team.
  8. When you and I focus on the same goal from different vantage points, we have stereoscopic vision that gives us better depth perception.
  9. Every project can be improved by periodically asking, “Why are we doing this?”
  10. We must, as Stephen Covey says, begin with the end in mind.

 


A Manifesto for Marketing Success

August 18, 2010

Marketing is not as complicated as some want you to think. Good marketing is based upon common sense, though such sense is uncommon.

With a commitment to successful marketing, I invite you to join me in believing  that:

  1. Marketing will flounder when not in pursuit of a measurable goal.
  2. If a product, service or even a person cannot be differentiated, it cannot be marketed.
  3. Marketing will fail unless strategy drives tactics, not vice versa.
  4. Marketing must be based upon the concept of exchanges. Without a quid-pro-quo exchange, we will never have a solid marketing program.
  5. Value can be defined only by the customer, not by the company producing the product or service. (Nonprofit organizations especially have trouble with this.)
  6. The social media revolution is the best thing to happen to marketing in a long, long time, even though the tools for achieving marketing success have forever changed.
  7. Old-school marketers who try to control the message will become increasingly frustrated, disoriented and ultimately obsolete.
  8. You are still functioning in a 1.0 world—even if you’re using 2.0 tools—when you are not creating community and engaging people in conversations.
  9. If we aim our message at no one in particular, we shouldn’t be surprised if no one in particular responds.
  10. Communications comes at the end of the marketing process, not at the beginning.

 


Raising Awareness Is Not a Marketing Goal

April 21, 2010

After all these years, I continue to be disappointed when I hear someone suggest that a communications objective is “to raise awareness.” I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been in a meeting and someone profoundly states, “We just need to get the word out. We need to let the public know about us.”

Let me emphatically state:  Raising awareness is NOT a marketing goal. It is a means to an end and should always be regarded as a tactic in support of some higher-level strategy.

Earlier this month I listened as a nonprofit communicator talked about media relations. She used examples from her organization to talk about writing press releases, pitching stories to the news media and developing relationships with reporters and assignment editors. I was tempted to quibble with her implied assumption that the traditional media are not waning in significance. When someone asked about social media, she brushed off the “new media” as not being serious forms of communication. I couldn’t disagree more, but I’ll save that rant for another occasion.

What I found troubling was that this PR practitioner was operating efficiently at a tactical level, yet she was unable to tie her tactics to any strategy. We spent 90 minutes bumping into trees without once having seen the forest. I wanted to see the big picture. I wanted to know the impact of her communications tactics. When asked what she hoped to accomplish by raising awareness of her organization, she talked about the warm, fuzzy feelings that would be evoked in the general public. Still unclear, I asked what she wanted the audience to do with those “warm, fuzzy feelings.” She was at a loss for a solid answer.

Creating warm, fuzzy feelings is not a marketing goal. That’s a means to an end. Warm emotions can only have an impact when accompanied by a call to action resulting in someone actually taking the desired action.

Communicators are naive if they hope their CEOs will be impressed with only soft, warm and immeasurable results. Those communicators will be vulnerable targets when downsizing occurs. Only those who create results and can demonstrate their impact will be of ongoing value to an organization. Everyone else is just a drain on the organization’s precious resources.

So, I will close with this simple question:  What impact do you hope your communications will have?

If your answer is “to raise awareness” I would challenge you to dig deeper by asking, “What do I want someone to do with his or her increased awareness?”


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