Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Marketing for dummies

Posted on | March 20, 2008 | No Comments

I try to put myself in a marketer’s shoes as much as possible, but it’s tough with a quarter-century of ink-stained wretchedness beneath my nails.
But when I try, here’s what I think: I want to get my messages to audiences through channels where I can turn those interactions into sales leads. Qualified sales leads. Ideally, I want to turn them into sales. But today, I’ve got more problems than I had 45 years ago. This is because the Internet is not doing it for me. It’s supposed to, but it ain’t. Unless I’m a direct marketer, I have very little idea whether my ad campaigns are doing anything to generate sales. I may have a sense that people are looking at my ad — or even engaging with it– for a period of time, but I have no correlation between that and a sale.
Meanwhile, there’s the suggestion that cacophony on the Internet is such that people are fleeing from marketing more than we’re trying to shove it down their throats.
It seems to me that the prevailing wisdom is Internet=Great user experience/choice/free crap/wisdom/knowledge/community=Fantastic user willingness to be marketed to.
No one that I know of has done a survey that suggests that the great mass of human beings want to be hounded by marketers just because they’re online.
So my calendar tells me it’s 1963 again.

Frequent Ghost Buster Ry Schwark and I had an email exchange this week where we waded through the issues.
He’s very experienced in the communications business and understands what he calls “the seductive call of online measurement.”

I think print is even better than TV in a way. I can Tivo past a commercial, but if I’m reading the page, that ad just keeps staring at me. As I page past, I still see it.

That led to me saying…

Agree totally. I’m no marketing whiz but I think that even in the web commerce environment the acts of being marketed to and purchasing products are completely distinct, done at different times. When I get an email alert from southwest airlines on some sale, I don’t immediately buy a ticket. When I do buy a ticket, it’s at a different time for a specific reason. I choose southwest because I know the brand from years of radio, TV, billboard and print advertising (and from being a customer).

Which led to Ry responding:

Which raises a bunch of issues in our world. How does the buying decision happen? In a consumer products world, much of the decision is about the emotional feel of a product. Branding is king.

His world (technical software) is tough because engineers don’t get brands; they get technology, but so much of the research in that segment proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that that brand matters. Yet no one’s listening. Are engineers that stubborn? Maybe.

At the end of the day, there is only one really effective way of advertising with measurement. It’s called prostitution. Someone advertises in public; someone else likes the ad and buys the product right then and there.

Maybe we’re in the wrong bidness, folks.

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No Responses to “Marketing for dummies”

  1. Lou Covey
    March 20th, 2008 @ 10:11 pm

    What is at issue here is communication. We all like to think, especially those of engineering tendencies, that there should be a fool proof way of creating successful communication. The problem is that we think communication is only successful if your audience agrees with you. The real reason companies are abandoning advertising is not enough people agree with the message and the advertiser is blaming the medium, rather than their content.

    Communication is successful when the audience has enough information to make a decision in the affirmative or negative. If they can’t make the decision, you haven’t finished communicating. And if you don’t like the decision, you need to change your message.

  2. wretch
    March 21st, 2008 @ 8:06 am

    I’m beginning to believe the technologist approach has infected endeavors beyond technology.

    If you accurately measure, you can control. This works brilliantly in a wafer fab.

    It seems this approach is being applied ever more rigorously to economics, education, marketing — but I don’t believe it’s possible to control markets, the test scores of students, or the buying habits of consumers.

    These are processes that can be made only so efficient, it seems to me, before you hit a point of diminishing returns.

    I’m not sure I believe this yet, but it seems like once you get past a point of diminishing returns in processes that cannot be measured (and therefore predicted), if you persist, you might actually start doing harm.

  3. Lou Covey
    March 21st, 2008 @ 9:20 am

    You can’t control, but you can better know what the market really wants and adjust accordingly. Market demand controls and drives production and innovation, so you have to understand the market to effectively serve it.

    But while technologist apply measurement to control manufacturing, in marketing to use measurement to give them a reason not to market. “See, we advertised for a year and didn’t improve our sales. Advertising doesn’t work. We’ve been cranking out four press releases a month and sales didn’t increase. Public relations doesn’t work.”

    But the media has been tacitly helping form that opinion by allowing corporations to shove poor communication through the pipeline. Everyone in the communication infrastructure, including advertising agencies and PR companies needs to take a stand and tell their clients to stop producing drivel.

  4. Mike Santarini
    March 21st, 2008 @ 9:21 am

    Great post. I’d be interested in knowing what types of advertising affect you (all the folk who read and post here) in your personal lives. That is, have you ever seen an advertisement on the web and clicked through to final purchase? Have you ever seen something in a magazine (an advertisement or editorial) and gone to the store or the web to purchase it? And when you purchased it, did you ever fill out a survey that asked “how you heard about it?” Did you even remember where you heard about it? Perhaps, you had heard about a given product via a mix of advertisements and media. Perhaps you had heard about it because you couldn’t avoid the advertisement wherever you went. Perhaps it was a crazy jingle or a crazy-annoying hook ala “where’s the beef?” The web is good in it allows everyone to track hits, leads, and sales—it is quantifiable—print and TV ads rely on the traditional advertising leap of faith: put up an advertisement, a billboard, a tv spot and hope viewers of those will investigate further (generate leads) and perhaps buy. In engineering, in accounting and in court, numbers rule the world (and most Veeps of marketing in high tech are engineers with MBAs) and the numbers look pretty on a spreadsheet and with a few clicks on excel can make a pretty pie chart or a pretty short tail, long tail non-Gaussian curve but they don’t tell the whole tale of what gets me, personally, to buy stuff.

    PS: I like your new car, Fuller! Burgundy interior….very nice.

  5. Luke Collins
    March 21st, 2008 @ 9:49 am

    Long-time reader, first-time poster and all that.

    Don’t want to upset anyone or cause panic and general exodus to the hills, but I haven’t seen a web ad for months. Someone told me about AdBlock Plus, an add-in for Firefox, which just almost all ads being displayed. Result – a visual calmness that delights the eye and enables me to read what I want to read.

    Result for me – great! Result for the marketeers – despair and chaos ‘cos I ain’t paying the eyeball tax.

    You can say I am in a technosavvy minority (or use proper words if you like) but if ad blockers like pop-up blockers have, I see trouble ahead.

  6. Luke Collins
    March 21st, 2008 @ 9:51 am

    And the missing words is ‘stops’. That’s STOPS ads being displayed.

    Sorry ’bout that.

  7. Loring Wirbel
    March 21st, 2008 @ 2:43 pm

    The prostitution angle is interesting in that Valleywag seems to have found a sudden fascination with call girls, courtesans, and Silicon Valley prostitution trends. A way to improve click-throughs, perhaps?

  8. wretch
    March 22nd, 2008 @ 10:25 am

    Lou — I agree — you’ve explained the proper use of measurement in marketing.

    I’ve the impression that some, perhaps many, companies use measurement not to evaluate what’s happening and respond, but to justify what they’re doing. Worse, they’re using it as the foundation for the expectation of eventual zero-defect marketing.

    “I scored 4 points in the game last week; I scored 8 points in the game last night; therefore I’ll score 128 points three games hence. I have to keep shooting!”

    It’s that kind of thinking that I suspect has infected marketing. That if you can identify a statistical trend, you can completely control the trend — that it is possible to make marketing a near-perfect scientific process.

    From your (Lou’s) subsequent comments about bad PR and bad messaging (which I’ve seen first-hand in a short stint in PR), I’m guessing we’re just looking at different sides of the same coin here.

    To bring in Mike’s observations — I can tell you what my small handful of favorite commercials are, but I cannot tell you what specific brand they’re selling. Since I don’t care, I don’t notice.

    I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything on a click-through, ever.

    I am certain I am subject to brand-awareness campaigns and to brand identity (can the Shaq sneakers at Payless really be of significantly less quality than the Nikes from Foot Locker? And yet I bought the Nikes. [on sale]).

    It looks like we are agreeing that no one can accurately measure brand awareness, and yet, if I’m any example, it works.

    My bottom line: marketing is not a science (and neither is economics or education), and pretending it is (they are), in my opinion, is an error.

    So back to my original question: does anyone else here share one of my pet theories, that the wafer-fab philosophy has infected other endeavors, and the results are not positive?

  9. Ryerson
    March 24th, 2008 @ 11:06 am


    I think there has been an evolution in business over the years I’ve been in it from “business judgement” to measurement. I think in the misty times of yore, we didn’t have the tools and technologies to track and measure all the things we can today. (as a side note, my experience is that this increase in technology has also resulted in more centralization of power in corporations… not always a good thing.)

    But when measurement becomes the default management decision-making tool, things that don’t measure well suffer. Like many forms of marketing.

    Marketers live in a world where they have to answer the CEO’s question: “What do I get when I give you this many million to spend?” Many of them want concrete answers and there usually aren’t any. That CEO has many choices about where to put that money. Why not someplace where he knows and can measure the return?

    Big consumer companies spend a lot of money to understand exactly how their brand plays out in the buying process. That gets them past this hurdle. But I don’t think any of us would argue that buying a pair of Nike shoes is the same as buying an design tool.

    How does brand play into that? How do we get past that hurdle?

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