What to Do When Marketing Goes Wild

Have your company’s marketing initiatives wandered astray? Is the proverbial tail starting to wag the dog with respect to your current marketing campaigns? How do you know when marketing is out of control? Those of you familiar with my work know that I’m generally a strong advocate for sales- and marketing-driven organizations. However my typical pro-marketing position assumes that certain key fundamentals are in place to ensure that the lunatics don’t somehow become in charge of the asylum. In today’s column I’ll discuss how to keep marketing in check so that brand focus is maintained and your company avoids the costly trap of marketing gone awry. On more than a few occasions I have found myself called in to rescue companies from themselves and/or their consultants with regard to ill advised or poorly conceived branding or rebranding initiatives. I have watched companies spend tremendous amounts of money, time and energy debating logos, taglines, corporate color pallets, font styles, ad campaigns, positioning strategies, marketing messages, brand promises, etc., with the only outcomes being failed initiatives and splintered management teams. I have often counseled clients to beware the change agents for the sake of change. There are few things in business that can impede corporate progress like failed marketing initiatives. If you don’t believe me just try confusing, offending, or alienating your customers and prospects with mixed marketing messages and see what happens. Today’s consumers aren’t going to tolerate trite marketing gimmicks that either insults their intelligence, or that requires too much intelligence. Don’t fall into the trap of cranking out cute ads where form trumps substance by having the message either lost in the ambiguity of the marketing, or overshadowed by the complexity of the marketing. I would advise you to gut-check your marketing and branding initiatives against the following three points to determine whether or not your message is accretive or dilutive to your objectives: Leadership: There are a number of ways to get in trouble here…poor leadership, no leadership, or fractionalized or disjointed leadership can all be quite problematic. Marketing is not a part-time endeavor. Moreover if you don’t have a qualified C-level marketing executive leading the charge, don’t just trust things to the most vocal staff member. Lastly, don’t decentralize marketing…consistent messaging across business units, products, markets, and constituencies is critical. Don’t be guilty of mixed messaging because the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. Alignment: A fundamental precept to all marketing initiatives is that they must be in alignment with the corporate values and vision. Remember that good marketing adds value, leverage, and velocity to your vision. It should never dilute it or distract from it. Most importantly good marketing is never in conflict with corporate values…compromise in this area and trouble will most certainly follow. Managing Outside Vendors: Remember that consultants work for you, and that the decisions should be made by you and not the vendor. Good consultants build consensus and unify management focus, they do not splinter opinion. If you have a management team that is split down the middle on a marketing or branding issue then you have not arrived at the right decision. Bottom line: Solid marketing and branding initiatives are mission critical to sustainable increases in growth objectives. That being said, flawed marketing or branding initiatives have crippled many a good company. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied into something that doesn’t resonate with discerning reason. If something is important enough to implement, it is important enough to do well.