The forgotten marketing metric: RESULTS

It was one of the few warm, early spring days in April. I was coasting back into the neighbourhood after a ride on the local bike trail, while such things were still open during the pandemic. Three of the little, neighbourhood girls were playing outside in the sun. The oldest saw me, stood up and yelled, “Hi, Kerry.”

I was going too fast to address each by name, so I called back, “Good morning, ladies.”

The middle one stood up, put her little fists on her hips and said, “We’re NOT LADIES!! Not YET!!” What a kick! I had my kids, and my grandchildren are cute, but not five-year-old-cute. I love kids.

I was particularly amused that she, totally oblivious to my age, education, experience and profession, would announce my failings as a speaker of English. Ah. The innocence of youth.

Then my mind flipped, as it often does, to the business at hand, including a marketing article for Coverings and the crisis of the Covid-19 virus. What does one do about that?

We at Coverings have access to a huge array of resources, both current, periodical and historical. In the periodical area, we are seeing self-acclaimed marketing experts confidently advising all and sundry to do what amounts to nothing new, but more of the same: blog, post, blast, cast, vid, snap, insta, face and twit. Some more.

Going back to origins, marketing used to mean more. If I recall correctly, a seminal precept of professional marketing was to identify a market, study and understand the market and figure out how to attract, hold and get a response from the market, come up with original ideas and address the market. See how it works. Go back, make adjustments again and repeat. It would have been anathema to throw a lexicon of digital buzzwords at a stump and see if any would stick, let alone charge somebody for the experiment.

Half of my master’s degree is in PR. I interviewed back in the day with FleishmanHillard. Many of my friends in school went the PR route, following the siren’s call of big money. However, I had been watching, and it appeared to me that the big PR companies hired the best talent for the best starting wage, milked them of all their best ideas for three years and threw them to the wayside. I decided not to play.

So, on the side of the big PR agencies, their staff is always young, fresh, eager to please and full of energy.

I am reminded of a major advertiser a few years back that advised me that, in all his marketing, he needed to, “go with the big guys.”

Uncharacteristically, I did not decide to argue. The fact is, though, he was not one of the “big guys,” unless viewed in the very narrow perspective of that industry at that time. The Big Guys (and Ladies) are advisors to governments, big pharma, big agra, big industry, big finance and so on.

However, everybody likes to think he or she is “big” (only in the business sense, please), and, having survived the grist mill of entry-level public relations, the only visible public-relations policy on the broad advertising field is monkey-see/monkey-do, yielding the above-mentioned strategy of charging to see if something works. Nobody wants to go out on a limb to see what gets results.

We at Coverings have surveyed you, our readers, regularly, and we have asked you many different ways how you respond to marketing efforts. For example, you have repeatedly said you don’t want your InBox bombed on a daily-or-more basis with commercial suggestions. My friends in the marketing profession discovered years ago that a new product release is “information,” so they equate every sales message with original thought and ignore you if you object. I am fond of quoting a once-big-guy in Canadian magazines as saying in a professional journal, “editorial is simply filler between cash.” Since he was a “big guy,” all the lookers-on went with it. Which makes you a commodity.

So let’s be honest. That’s what my mentor in public relations taught me. That was Dean Simms, the owner of Public Relations International in Zurich and Tulsa. (Go figure.) Simms was the agency of record when an unknown murderer replaced the Tylenol in capsules with cyanide in Chicago in 1982. It was Simms’s plan that rescued the brand from a travesty that would have killed any other. It’s a story.

Honestly, the readers of Coverings are not big guys. Some of our suppliers may be. Sort of. But even a Mohawk or Mapei, big enough in their own right, is not in the category of Procter and Gamble or Air Canada. For the rest of us, we have to get it right or die. We don’t have the luxury of millions of shareholders to shoulder the cost of a mistake.

What might a mistake look like? Let’s take a survey of a few trade publications over the past month and see if we can find a clue. How about this headline from Media in Canada on April 13? “Only one-fifth of Canadians want brands to stop advertising entirely.” Only? That means 20 percent of Canadians are so fed up with advertising that they would rather do without than endure more of the same. To the point, a huge conglomerate can “afford” to irritate 20 percent of its customers. We can’t afford that luxury.

From the April 11 edition of Ad Age: “Twitter discloses how it shares data with Facebook and Google for ads.” Our surveys show that you don’t want people following you, spying on your habits and using your activities to generate a deluge of product offerings. This one can be tricky if you are a curious sort or have to do research for your job. In my case, I had to look up Guerrilla Warfare by Che Guevara and have been bombarded by all kinds of interesting offers since.

Once again, you are not Facebook or Google, looking through other people’s windows when they’re home is likely not on your list of honourable activities and you can’t afford to have your customers think you do that sort of thing.

The catch is, you either “Agree” to their policies, which can extend to dozens of pages, or you get cut off. There is no option to separate the access from the abuse. It’s kind of like the old secretary/boss relationship. If you want the job….

Over on Ad Age Digital, April 10: “Google ordered to pay for news snippets in French antitrust crackdown.”

From Strategy C-Suite, April 7: “Driving trust (and purchase) during a pandemic.”

Media in Canada, April 2: “Digital consumption is growing more in some categories than others.”

These are taken from a one-week period. RESULTS Since it’s during the pandemic, we can go back and see in 2019 Strategy Ad Tech that, “A survey shows that while many Canadian execs feel like they’re lagging, it takes time to see ROI.” You can almost hear them cajole: “Trust me.”

When you review the professional marketing literature, it fairly screams out that things are not as they should be, but if we just try harder, spend more and jump from fad to buzz-word, everything will work out.

Well, it hasn’t.

The solution? Most of you can define your market. Most of you sell locally or regionally. So does it make sense to put money into websites, podcasts, YouTube videos and mass-blasts to an unfocused market extending to Nigeria and the Levant? No.

So identify your base of potential customers, study and understand the market and figure out how to attract, hold and get a response from the market, come up with original ideas and address the market. See how it works. Go back, make adjustments again and repeat. We may be talking local newspapers, sponsoring a sports team, launching a Covid-19 response, buying a billboard — the choices are actually limitless. You can try skywriting if you think it will get a positive response.

At the end of the day, that elusive quality, trust — the same stuff the journalists think can drive to sales in a pandemic — will carry the day in the real world of local business. In fact, that’s what the digital monoliths are trying to counterfeit with their fake “likes” and hired “reviews.”

We may not all be gentlemen and ladies. Not yet! But it’s worth wondering if it’s time now, before the markets get fed up and hide.

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