5 marketing fundamentals that are completely unchanged in the new times
Reinventing the wheel won’t work if the chassis is busted
This article was written, for the most part, before the murder of George Floyd. Nothing in it is to suggest that businesses should not take decisive positions on social issues. But to be an influential business, you must have enough paying customers to survive the occasional crisis. You must connect with the right people. And whatever medium we connect through, the currency is the same: Language.
As if marketing weren’t already challenging enough for so many firms, this tumultuous year may give you the sense that you have to scrap and re-work your entire marketing strategy. If you want to be relevant in the new times, you have to change everything. Scrap that website. Scrap that lead generation strategy. Scrap that email campaign. Redefine your purpose.
Not so fast. Reinventing the wheel won’t work if the chassis is busted.
A marketing professor of mine once quipped that way too many people try to think outside of the box but haven’t figured out the box in the first place. Many things have changed in the last six months. Priorities have changed for quite a few businesses and consumers. But we shouldn’t forget all that hasn’t changed and won’t change. As I’ve stated before, quite a few marketing fundamentals transcend the times.
Here are five.
Storytelling is still key.
How much did you pay for the last major household appliance you bought? How many square feet is your home? What are the gross margins on your top three offerings?
If you’re like 49 out of 50 people you can’t answer more than one of these questions off the top of your head. But you still remember the whimsical twists and turns of Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss stories from your childhood. You still remember a friend of a friend telling you about the time they set the kitchen on fire baking a cake.
It says a lot about the way the human mind works that we remember trivialities packaged in story form but can’t remember compelling, relevant data if it’s not fresh. People across cultures, continents and generations use stories to make sense of the world. Forget marketing rhetoric; storytelling conveys purpose and builds lasting connections.
Time and attention are precious commodities.
If it takes someone more than seven seconds to figure out what you do and why they should care, that person is far less likely to do business with you. You’ll lose out to a competitor with a more succinct value proposition.
People are irritated by ambiguity.
We’ve been dealing with information overload since the internet became commonplace. Now we’re also being bombarded by information about the pandemic: its origins, the merits of different public policy responses, how to avoid exposure and stay sane, how to avoid bankruptcy, etc. And everybody who has any stake in the well-being of our society is also following or participating in the Black Lives Matter protests. To make things more overwhelming, much of the information we hear day-to-day is conflicting, editorialized or fictitious.
Clarity and candor are a kindnesses, and they’re great for business.
Branding and marketing are still about trust.
How do you feel when you realize a conversation you’re having is, in fact, a sales pitch? Awkward. And if the pitch is a solution to a problem we don’t have, or haven’t come to terms with, it’s just so much worse.
Rather than going for the hard sell, or leaning on rhetoric to build the case for your business offerings, here are two things you can use to connect much more effectively:
- Tell stories that establish a shared purpose with your clients
- Produce content (blogs, webinars, guides, etc.) that helps people understand complex issues, identify opportunities, solve problems and make more informed decisions
Don’t hold your cards too close to your chest.
The meaning and impact of words haven’t changed.
If you can’t define the problem you help solve, you have weak marketing. A streamlined approach to client onboarding won’t fix that.A strong SEO strategy won’t make up for a failure to describe your purpose using words that resonate with your audience. A high-functioning, secure, mobile-optimized website isn’t a substitute for unclear messaging.
People respond to clear calls to action, not riddles. And heartfelt, clearly-stated words—not search engine optimization—are what make you authentic.
The discipline of marketing is always evolving and changing, but we shouldn’t forget that some fundamentals endure. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, revisit the fundamentals.