Marketing: What’s currently working & how to prepare for success

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 8 min read

Most of the companies that I’ve ever worked with, want to be a runaway success.

They want marketing plans that result in uncontrolled virality. They want to be seen, adored, and showered with sweet cash. They want the hockey stick and to be the next big case study.

Everyone wants to be above average, but if that were true, it wouldn’t be the average. In reality, most companies won’t have success-after-success, they won’t go viral, they won’t beat the average.

Despite this reality, I think there is immense value in going through the exercise of imagining runaway, viral success.

Today, I thought we’d check in on Marketing and answer two important questions:

  • What’s working right now?
  • What happens if it works?

Marketing your way to success

Perhaps it’s the way my brain works, perhaps it’s the way I was trained on strategic thinking, or maybe it’s just what is truly the most effective approach, but I believe we must start with the end and work backwards.

Here’s the opposite of what that looks like…

The marketing team is joined by the executive team and all of a sudden it becomes an exercise where everyone tries to come up with the next BIG idea. This is primarily because people tend to think marketing is all about promotion and ads. They tend to believe that promotion and ads success, is all about creativity…and of course, everyone in this room is creative, right?

So, people start chiming in about an ad they saw on tv or a billboard that made them laugh. Sometimes the conversation turns to the silver bullet, the growth hacks, and the first mover advantages. The room fills with tales of the most recent case study. “We could do something like that!” And seriously, what’s more creative than copying someone else?

In the midst of it, you imagine launching any of these campaigns, and you get a funny feeling. It’s like there’s no through-line, or that some critical questions haven’t been answered.

Why are we doing this? Is this who we are? Who is this for? What are the potential ramifications?

Thinking Before & Beyond The Campaign

green ceramic statue of a man

In the room where this sort of brainstorming happens, we rarely find those who have done the necessary work beforehand. These rooms are focused on a short term win. They’re focused on being seen as clever and brilliant marketers. They’re focused on themselves and the campaign.

If we look at what’s NOT working right now, it is this:

  • being the clever one to create the next big viral ad campaign
  • chasing the newest social media trend
  • trying to force what worked in the past to continue working

In the scheme of things, isolated campaigns are meaningless unless your metric of success is short-term attention. Successful marketing is rarely exciting. Typically, it’s shockingly boring and methodical. It’s stuff like picking the right time of day to post your content, identifying how to adapt to the recent changes in an algorithm, or choosing whether to call your lead magnet an ebook or a whitepaper. Sexy stuff, right?!

The excitement only truly emerges when the work is nested inside and supporting a larger idea: the Brand. It’s not about attention, it’s about the right kind of attention, from the right people, for the right reasons.

It’s not about whether people SEE IT, it’s about whether people GET IT.

What is currently working?

It bears repeating but there is no silver bullet or universally successful tactic. There is however a process to uncover what may work for your specific situation. So hat is currently working is the same thing that worked before: design a great strategy for your unique situation. Here’s where I recommend starting…

The critical step that must come before Marketing is establishing the Brand — I don’t mean logos, or color palette. I mean the blueprint for existence.

  • What is your Brand’s purpose?
  • What is the mission you are on?
  • What do you believe about the world?
  • How does your solution align with you beliefs, place you on the path toward your mission, and fulfill your purpose?
  • What are your unique value propositions?
  • What are the key messages you want to resonate in the mind of your target audience?
  • What are our company values?
  • What makes an ideal team member?

These are just some of the questions you need to answer before you launch that billboard with a bikini clad model because “sex sells” or releasing an irreverent viral style video because “dollar shave club makes me laugh.”

Who is it for?

Part of doing Brand work is knowing who you are for. Not every person is a prospect.

The visual aesthetic, the tone, the message, and every other signal you are sending, will not be picked up and appreciated by everyone who sees it…and you don’t want that anyway. The point is for the people that it is designed for, to lose their damn minds over it…in a good way.

Doing the work to identify your ideal audience and craft your messaging for them allows you to side step the problem so many organizations run into:

if you market to everyone, you market to no one.

By understanding who you are and who you’re for, you can now select the proper channels and market to your audience across the entire customer journey.

The Brand drives the creative, it clarifies the messaging, it identifies the audience, and it adds the context. The reason we do this work before the marketing, is because we want to make sure that if we do succeed, that we end up where we intended to.

Ready For The Spotlight

Skipping ahead, let’s say you are able to get your Brand mapped out, execute your marketing strategy flawlessly, and it works! You start getting more attention, and maybe through all of that consistency you do hit it big with a campaign that is beloved and highly shared.

Great, here’s why you may be more ready for the spotlight than others.

The spotlight isn’t what most imagine it to be. In their mind, it puts them center stage for all the world to behold and adore. But they’re not on Broadway, and that’s not a spotlight, it’s an ultraviolet light.

If you’ve never watched a crime drama or one of those investigative reports on motels, I’ll spare you the juicy details and get right to the point. The UV light reveals what the naked eye cannot. It illuminates your flaws, it shows your spots and stains.

The more success and attention, the more that UV light shines on you. Therefore, being ready for marketing success is far less about marketing tactics, and far more about company culture, corporate social responsibility, and how authentically a company is living its Brand purpose. Companies that haven’t done this sort of work including Brand and Culture work, are in for a rude awakening about the sort of attention success will thrust upon them.

So ask yourself, are we ready for the spotlight?

What now?

If you’re starting from scratch, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Do the important work of building a Brand Strategy to align your organization to a purpose.
  2. Do the even more important work of building an organization that lives that purpose, has a strong leadership culture, and is supported by a culture that is diverse, equitable, inclusive. This will be a company that is resilient and designed for long term success. (Find help for that here, here, here, and/or here.
  3. Let the Brand Strategy guide your Marketing Strategy.
  4. Bring in the right people to execute the Marketing Strategy with an emphasis on consistency.

If you’re already established, my recommendations are the same. Do, or revisit, any items on this list you’re not fully confident about.

What your company’s marketing department does, specifically, will be shaped by these exercises. Marketing should be driven by what you’re out to do in the world, built on the foundation of a consistent message and unique position, designed for an ideal audience to love it. Reinforce your messaging and unique position in the market, and show up to do it again tomorrow. All of this should be supported by a values-driven culture that creates a space for everyone on the team to bring their whole selves to the role and do their best work.

If you do all of this and you do achieve the kind of success that puts you in the spotlight, you’ve already planned for it. When companies that operate like this become successful they are able to do something that others can’t: continue doing what they were doing. They can keep showing up and keep putting out marketing that aligns with who they are, for the people they want to serve. Everyone else is stuck trend chasing, pushing snake oil, or hoping to get lucky just one more time.

Becoming Superhuman
Becoming Superhuman
Marketing: What’s currently working & how to prepare for success
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