We try not to bring up Mad Men too often in this blog, but this show has been fueling America’s fantasies about the advertising and marketing industry for the past decade. Some of these predetermined notions are good: episodes when Ken Cosgrove shows how both clients and their agency can benefit from a long term partnership, or when Peggy Olsen climbs another rung up the ladder to disprove corporate misconceptions of women in the 1960s. These parts of the show give marketing depth.
However, intertwined with these mythbusting moments of clarity are the (often more memorable) moments of genius. Every fan remembers when Don came up with the famous “It’s toasted” line as the Hail Mary in an otherwise failed campaign pitch. The problem with this scene is the same problem marketers have been running into since the industry began: clients want exciting ideas that bring explosive growth more than they want the stable RoI of steady, long-term campaigns.
Is Flashy Marketing Worth It?
Yes and no. Growth hacks sometimes do work. For instance, in 1996, then brand new Hotmail added a “Get your free email at Hotmail” link to every email sent out through their service. They grew their customer base from 20,000 to over a million within six months. When Avis was listed as the Number Two car rental company, they used it to their advantage by reporting this meant better service and shorter wait time. Their profits increased significantly after running an ad campaign promoting their place as No 2.
Publicity stunts and ad gambles get the most attention, but a dramatic increase in numbers isn’t always the DIY effort it’s cracked up to be. It often requires months of planning and meetings, a hefty ad or PR budget (We’re talking tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars), and capital to handle repercussions if the whole thing goes sideways (like the Cleveland Indians’ infamous 10 Cent Beer Night).
Part of what spread the myth of the Growth Hack and its magical powers of attraction was… the growth hack itself. Startups were (and still remain) the most common employers of this tool, since they need tons of customers but have little to no marketing budget. A sudden, cheap influx of business sounds like a dream, and for most companies, that’s all it is.
No Risk, No Reward?
That’s actually the last mentality you want to have in marketing. There are hotshot millionaire marketers out there who claim trial and error are the heart and soul of successful campaigns. We’ll do one better: trial and data. You never want to waste time just “trying out” a new approach. Great marketers do their research. They interview the customer base. They test prototypes with the product development team and take complaints and QA reports seriously.
That’s not to say every marketer should keep their head down and do their job. Quite the opposite. Due diligence in marketing must be paired with creativity and a bit of ambition. But all things in equal measure. There’s a thrill in the “So crazy it just might work!” ideas. There’s also a boat load of stupidity behind them. If it’s so crazy that it might work, you need to collect more data.
Like scientists, marketers can admit that certainty in this field is never absolute. We can look at how similar campaigns worked out in the past; we can examine what client feedback tells us. And then we try to get as close to our estimations as possible.
Perhaps that’s the key difference between the fireworks display of high end adverts vs. the RoI of stable marketing efforts: We expect and plan for a reasonable outcome, and we end up that much more likely to achieve it for you.
But, how do we achieve that?
The Comic Book Approach
Over the past 150 years or so, comics have grown from a small strip in the Sunday paper or the occasional political cartoon into a global industry spanning a full spectrum of tastes, interests, and wallet sizes. From multi-million dollar comic book collections to local zines to the source material for the big budget movies you see today. How the hell did that happen?
Time, patience, and a steady stream of content. It’s been said for years now that “content is king”, to the point of beating a dead horse. The original content providers, before ads and blogs were fused into one wacky pairing, were writing news articles, comic strips, opinion articles, and radio serials. The creators churned these things out weekly. They were nothing like the big budget films mentioned above. But they kept people coming back, and they got those same people talking.
A single great idea every few years is nice. But a good idea every week is more valuable in the long run. Audiences want a form of entertainment or source of information that they can depend upon. If you were to begin a regular podcast, what is the one thing every podcaster will tell you? Pick a release day, and stick to it. Whether that’s weekly or monthly or even daily, stick to a schedule and keep the content flowing. Like the teams of writers, pencillers, inkers, and letterers releasing weekly comics, your marketing team must work like a well-oiled machine, relying on their creativity to keep content fresh without getting worn out.
How to leverage everyday creativity
We’re talking about content here. That doesn’t have to just mean blog posts. Content also includes videos, infographics, AdWords, social media posts, news releases, you name it! Even your company’s Instagram feed is content, and people want to see it. The more well-made content you have out there, the easier it is for people to find your brand, learn about your product, and get in touch with you.
Creativity isn’t all yo-yos and office air hockey tables. If you want a real life tool that can be leveraged, you need to look at a few key factors:
- Does this marketing team pore over web data and user trends?
- Do they use my brand and our market as a point of inspiration for their projects?
- Are they promising me specific results, or are they showing and promising me high quality work? (you want the latter)
- Do they have a history of producing this high quality work as a matter of course?
Positive answers to these questions will separate the true assets from the fancy haircuts. When you hire on staff or employ a company that takes a practical, passionate approach to your digital marketing, you’re ensuring steady growth through regular blog updates, audience interaction, SEO, advertising, and multimedia content.
A website does not blow up overnight. Ok, the rare one does, and they make a cool million that they blow on more flashy marketing. Real honest websites will take their time, spread by word of mouth or timed email campaigns, keep in touch with old and new customers, and become a bedrock for industry standards.
You don’t have to choose one over the other, but be wary of the thrill of massive ad campaigns or oversimplified growth hack thinking. Those strategies can work, maybe one day in every three hundred and sixty five. For every other day of the year, we’ve got you covered.