This post is for freelancers, agencies, and marketers. It would also be helpful of those who hire freelancers, agencies, and marketers read this as well. Enjoy.
Back in 2010, I wrote a post on this blog called: “If you build it, they will come.”
The basic premise was that companies that invest the time and energy to build a community of engaged customers and focus on consistently delivering great products and services, would attract and retain a loyal base of customers. If you built THAT, I argued, they would come.
It was classic 2010 vague and aspirational social media talk. It was not inaccurate, just woefully incomplete, and a tad naive.
It’s been 10 years since I wrote that post and I’d like to think that I’m older and wiser now. I tend to assume that everyone knows it’s not that easy. Yet, I’m still surprised by the number of people that I encounter who, to this day, believe in an even more naive and misguided idea: that simply showing up makes you entitled to results.
When I started True Voice Media, my Social Media agency, back in 2011, people would hire me for my expertise in helping them to understand how social media works and then guide them through implementing those strategies.
My scope of knowledge since then has grown beyond social media to include an understanding of how comprehensive & integrated marketing strategy works and where it intersects with Brand Strategy, Sales Strategy, and organizational dynamics, including leadership and culture. In the beginning, I only had a few of the pieces, where as now I can see just about the whole board. I’ve had to learn about social, content, search, advertising, user-experience design, conversion optimization, online marketing, offline marketing, public relations, and more…
Nowadays, when I consult a client , I’m thinking about how all of the various pieces interact with one another. I’m thinking about how to prioritize under limited time and budget constraints. I’m thinking about return on investment (ROI) and return on ad spend (ROAS). I’m thinking about the sequence of events and the assignment of responsibilities. I’m thinking about all of these things in addition to making tactical decisions such as the words being used in ad copy, or where to put the call-to-action on a landing page or in a video.
- I’ve never worked on a single project that went entirely according to plan.
- I’ve never met an organization that wasn’t operating under some constraints whether it’s time, budget, talent, competition, or uncontrollable externalities.
- I’ve worked with clients who followed my advice explicitly, and those who hired me to wholesale ignored it.
I’ve had a decade of experiences that have compounded on top of one another, leading me to where I am now. My clients hire me for this experience and the insights it has inspired in me.
Would you like to know what I’ve learned?
The Misalignment Crisis
Perhaps the biggest problem in Marketing today, is the crisis of misaligned expectations: Clients with their Agencies or Vendors, and CEOs with their Marketing teams. I’ll explain the problem and then how to fix it.
How I approach campaigns
I deliberately approach every single campaign with a pessimistic frame. I start with the assumption that every campaign will fail miserably, that no one we try to reach will care, and the client will lose all of their money, waste all of their time, and ultimately go out of business.
Stay with me.
It is not that I believe this.
It is that I understand that there are many mountains to climb on the way to success. Modern Marketing is not just complex, it’s extremely occasionally mindbogglingly complex. Every single thing that you do as a marketer, has dozens and possible hundreds of conditions that yield success or failure. Every. Single. Thing.
Thinking with a pessimistic frame forces me to think through all of the obstacles I will or could encounter. I see all of this complexity and know that we have to solve our unique equation:
Goals + Budget + Timeline + Audience/Stakeholders = Strategy
If we can take the time to solve for all of the variables in our unique situation, then we have a good chance at success. Failing to think through all of the steps in the process can lead to choosing the wrong strategy in the first place, or having a campaign going over-budget and/or missing deadlines.
How non-marketers approach campaigns
By contrast, too often I have worked with clients, or been brought in on projects where the campaign is embarked upon with an (overly) optimistic frame. They believe that the campaign will be success in a relatively short period of time, they assume that they will hit their sales forecasts, then reinvest the profits and scale the business. They do not see mountains, but molehills. They see modern marketing as having become less complex.
They ask questions like:
- “should we do social media or search;” or
- “how many leads do you think we’ll get in the first month?”
- “how soon can we get it done and launch?
These are the campaigns where steps are missed, advice is ignored, and the same steps inevitably must be taken but only after losing time and budget as a result of moving forward too quickly and carelessly.
If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?-John Wooden
Egalitarianism & Meritocracy
- You can’t just “do social media” and expect literally ANYTHING to come of it.
- You can’t just put up a website or landing page and expect anyone to convert.
- You can’t just launch a podcast and expect anyone to listen to it.
This is true even if you have a great product or service. You are not guaranteed attention, even if you pay for it. If you do pay for it, the only thing you are guaranteed, is placement.
You are competing in an environment where attention is being pulled and manipulated every second, algorithms are constantly changing, and where your competition now includes everyone and everything, all of the time.
If you want to succeed, understand that you are likely starting from nothing and it will take time, money and effort to garner any results. You will have to start with a premise and adapt along the way.
Success if earned, not given. If you can’t accept that, you don’t get to change the rules, you just shouldn’t play the game.
There is a simple way to fix all of this.
Prepare Your Clients for the Climb
The bottom line is this: as agencies, freelancers, and vendors, we need to be willing to tell our clients the truth, even if it’s not pretty.
We need to confront and align expectations as early in the process as possible. We need to set realistic expectations and should the client need to be convinced, be able to explain in crystal clear detail all of the complexities of why something may not work.
We need to move slowly and thoughtfully and if we must move quickly, then we need to be extremely clear about what that entails and what is compromised by that speed.
The expression “Fast, Cheap, and Good, choose two” is wholly appropriate and accurate. Use it.
“You can pay a little more or get a little less” is likewise useful. Use it.
We need all non-marketers to immediately understand this truth: