As a marketing writer, I need to know about the latest trends in content marketing. I need to know where the next big thing is coming from and where the industry is going. I need to identify (and understand) the newest developments in software and systems. It’s my job, it’s what I do. And I do it so that I can interpret and relay how these things might affect the way you do your marketing.
I am constantly striving to get ahead of the curve. But here’s the thing: in order to run a successful business, you don’t necessarily need to be. In fact, for most businesses, when it comes to marketing, being ahead of the curve is a dangerous place to be.
And yet, you read so many posts and articles about the newest, untested marketing fashion – why?
Because blogging about marketing is very competitive. Writers and pundits are constantly trying to bring you fresh stories about the latest developments. They are relentlessly positive about the next best thing for all sorts of reasons. And I have nothing against this. The problem I have is when they promote these as solutions you need to apply right now when the reality is that these cutting-edge ideas might not work for you. Quite often they will be inappropriate, unworkable, impractical or ineffective.
What’s important when reviewing new developments is perspective. It is not about using the latest marketing idea as soon as it appears, it is about using it when it is right for you, or working out IF it is right for you.
Incidentally, this is where a good consultant or agency can really earn their keep. Following fashion is fun, but not always sensible or financially attractive.
Take developments in social media as an example. Every year brings new platforms and new channels. Bloggers write about them, hype them, and tell you they are the future. And you may be tempted to launch a campaign tightly focussed on one of these brand-new platforms, or invest in advertising, or content.
But most social platforms need time to build momentum – most have just a handful of users to begin with and need time to mature. Many emerging platforms have relatively little data about their users’ demographics or habits. Investing significant marketing assets in a new platform is taking a massive stab in the dark. And often, these innovating platforms are popular for a while, but then - almost overnight - become obsolete.
What’s worse is that there are already plenty of well-established social platforms out there with a huge audience and a track record of reasonable return on investment.
This makes investing in a new, untested platform a hasty choice of strategy.
We’ve seen a whole slew of hot topics emerge over the past few years – AI, chatbots, the Internet of things, voice search, influencers and more. All of which have been hyped, promoted and talked about as if they were inevitable. Often giving you the erroneous impression that everybody is doing it and prompting the question: why aren’t you?
This is the nature of journalism – it needs you to get excited by new things, to constantly thirst for the latest thing. Writers know that people hate negativity, so they are almost always positive about any new development, whether that is justified or not.
However, new and exciting does not equal useful and beneficial.
Being second is often better than being first
Business is littered with examples of successful companies that were not the first to market. Being first to market is fraught with difficulties – it is easy to get it wrong. There is usually a good deal of customer education that has to be done when launching a new concept. In some cases, you are even creating the market for a product or service. That’s a lot of work, time and expense. Often, the most successful approach is to watch the mistakes that others make and then launch a product or service that has the benefit of hindsight to a market that is already primed for the product. This is called Second-Mover Advantage.
Here’s an interesting fact – Google was the 21st search engine to enter the market.
Sometimes the initial costs of breaking down the barriers to market can even end up bankrupting a company. A friend of mine is a consultant in the golf industry and he tells me that it is only the third or fourth owner of a new golf course that actually starts to make money.
Tried and tested marketing wins
It’s the same with marketing. The methods that work best are those that people had been using for a while – that have proven effectiveness and a good return on investment. Keeping it simple has never been a bad policy when it comes to selling and marketing.
So never try anything new?
Having established that reliable, tried and trusted methods of marketing are always your best bet, does this mean you should never try anything new?
Of course not. In fact, if there is one truth in the world it is that everything changes. If you have been doing the same thing the same way for a while – it’s probably wrong.
But the important thing is that you don’t do something new just because it is new. Just because you read a blog post about it being the next big thing. Make sure it will truly benefit your business.
The key is evaluation. Taking steps to evaluate any new idea to ensure it will bring benefits and not needless expense and disappointment.
Here’s the way to go about it:
- Is it being used by anyone else? (And who are they?)
This is always a good test of new ideas and concepts – is anyone using them now? There are plenty of marketing ideas that are just that – just concepts – they’ve not yet been put into practice, or if they have, only in a handful of instances.
Do some research and see if there are companies actually using the marketing technique.
It’s also important to see who these companies are. Are they businesses comparable to your own? You often see quoted examples of businesses using a new marketing technique that are huge or have a totally unique business model – companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and the like. These are unlikely to share the same characteristics as your business – your market.
Furthermore, these huge corporations have plenty of money to invest in a bit of speculative marketing – they can afford to lose it if that experimental marketing strategy goes South; you, most likely, cannot.
Of course, if you find out you are the only company in your industry not using the technique, then you are moving too slow and need to evaluate and adopt new ideas a whole lot faster to survive.
- Does it work?
The businesses that are using this new channel, technique, technology or process – are they getting good results? Are there good, solid case studies out there showing effectiveness and a real benefit?
- Is it right for you? (Is it a good fit for your products or service and your company culture)
Although the marketing idea might be a good one and proven to work, will it work your product and services? Think about Pinterest or Instagram – two channels that are totally reliant on visual images. Is your product photogenic? Can you generate images of your service? If not, then these two channels will not work for you no matter how successful they might prove for other businesses.
Not all marketing concepts will fit with your company’s culture. Take guerrilla marketing for example, a tactic that can backfire spectacularly; this might work well for an independent, young, brash, B2C brand, but would be totally inappropriate for an established, well-known and respected B2B supplier.
- Is it right for your audience?
This is possibly the most crucial question. What works for one company in one market might not necessarily work for another in a different market. Knowing your audience is the key to marketing success, so think about whether you can make this marketing idea work with your prospects and customers
- What tangible benefits will it bring?
So it might work and it might be right for your business and target market, but will it bring real, significant benefits? Is it worth doing? Any marketing effort needs to show a return that makes it worth the investment in time and money.
- Can you afford to wait? (And will this bring its own advantages?)
Doing nothing is always an option. Will waiting reduce the cost? Will it make it easier? If it’s a new marketing concept then remember that there will be a relatively small number of people who understand it, there will be few resources – such as software systems – to support it. It may be difficult to find or train the expertise you need to implement it.
On the other hand, will waiting put you at a commercial disadvantage? Is it inevitable, and getting in early will bring you advantages of momentum or experience? This needs evaluating very carefully as many of the factors will be unknowns. But if everyone is investing in the marketing idea, it may be time to gamble, (as long as you can afford to).
- Is it better than doing something else?
This is a key question to ask. Would the time and money you intend to invest in the new technique produce better results if invested in an existing marketing method?
- Test on a small scale
One way to proceed is to invest a small amount of time and money – an amount you can afford to lose – testing the idea in a small way with set parameters and then measure success against defined objectives. This is not always possible and some techniques will only work if you go big, but small experimental campaigns are a great way to see if a new marketing concept works for you.
Jumping the shark
It is so easy to sit back and carry on doing what you have always done – because it just works. But one day, you will wake up and find it no longer works. Or it starts failing and you don’t know why, by which time it is too late to test and implement a viable alternative marketing strategy.
So it is essential to look at new marketing ideas, to keep up to date with the latest thinking, the latest industry practice, the newest ideas. Because the future of your marketing, the future of your business, will depend on something new that hasn’t happened yet. You cannot bury your head in the sand.
Jumping the Gun
But from my experience, you always need to take what you read about the latest, best marketing thing with a pinch of salt. A dose of reality.
But far more important than that – you need to look at each new idea, and if you think it might work for you, consider it seriously, evaluate it and then if necessary, test it.
That way, you will be able to get the best out of the marketing idea, knowing that it is a good bet, knowing that you’ve done everything you can to ensure it works for you and will bring you success.
Ignoring new ideas is not an option, but neither is blindly following the latest marketing fashion. Using the steps in this article should help you determine whether a new idea is actually going to be the one that propels your marketing to the next level.