Why Marketing Should No Longer Be Just a Creative Exercise

When presented with a product, most marketers have historically turned to their creative agencies to come up with the creative messaging, target audience, and media mix to help them market the product. Today, creative messages, even the cleverest ones, are not enough. Not only are consumers too smart to be tricked into buying a mediocre product by a memorable jingle (“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”) or clever tagline (“15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance”), they tend to do more research and put more weight in peer input than in ads.

If your product sucks, no amount of advertising or marketing is going to get more people to buy, especially when they are empowered with information and other customers’ reviews online. Even pricing is no longer a lever that has much impact given that most consumers can use Google Shopping or the dozens of other price-comparison sites to easily find the lowest price for any product.

So what’s a marketer to do? The answer lies not in more clever or extreme viral marketing. Rather, marketers should think about innovating, and not necessarily just in their marketing. Innovation comes in many forms. Perhaps a simple framework may help – the BTM framework (Business-Technology-Marketing innovations) – first described and discussed here. There can be innovations in marketing (more creative or accurate concepts for marketing), innovations in business (new business models that break through classic impasses), and innovations in technology (rethinking a product when an old form factor is not selling).

Marketing Innovation

Let me be more specific and illustrate with some examples. Marketing messages used to be driven by creative directors sitting in dark rooms dreaming up clever tag lines and jingles. A more innovative approach involved using search volume and related search terms to understand how a particular niche group of customers sought information and described the benefits of the product to their peers. These words were built into the marketing messages and allowed us to break through to the target customers because the words we used were the words they used (not the ones a creative director thought were clever and memorable).

Business Innovation

A great example of business innovation is the following. A startup marketing solar panels was not able to break through to large customers using marketing alone. Tons of large customers knew about them and even wanted their product badly. But all of them were held up by the fact that a large capital investment would be required to purchase and install the solar panels, despite the well-known savings that would result. So instead of doing more marketing or evolving their marketing message, the solar startup innovated their business model. They eliminated the upfront capital cost by giving away the solar panels and instead securing 10-to-20-year contracts with large clients like Whole Foods to smooth out the peaks and valleys of electricity usage and to derive profits from surplus electricity sold back to the grid.

Technology Innovation

Today, product and technology innovation need to be front-and-center even in a marketer’s mind and arsenal. For example, LED lights are well-known to be 50 to 100 times more efficient than energy-wasting incandescent bulbs. But in the form factor of a standard 100-watt light bulb, LED bulbs were $59 each versus a four-pack of 100-watt bulbs for 99 cents at dollar stores. No amount of marketing or even do-goodery on the part of customers could help sales break through. So instead, a design company rethought the product entirely – and instead of putting LEDs into a 100-watt light bulb form factor, they put LED lights into an Arc Lamp form factor. These sold as designer items for several hundred dollars and sold like hot cakes. The lesson here was that the LED manufacturer was not the one who came up with the innovation; instead it continued to pour money into trying to market the $59 LED light bulb to no avail.

What Does This Mean for Marketers?

Marketers should start to think outside the “creative box.” If they acknowledge that a more clever or memorable jingle or tagline won’t suffice, then how do they build in business and technology innovations to help them break through in marketing to drive more sales? This will require new and complementary skills and experience – e.g., business strategy, product development, technology innovation, etc. And therefore this calls for cross-functional teams and new processes that allow these diverse experiences to cross-pollinate and create innovations across all three dimensions of the BTM framework.

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