“Your Marketing Sucks” – an interview with author Mark Stevens

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip March 22, 2006

Mark Stevens is head of MSCO, a hybrid marketing and consulting firm, and author of the best-selling business classic Your Marketing Sucks

Your Management Sucks

[Listen here for the full podcast]


Your first book is titled “Your Marketing Sucks.” Why does so much marketing suck?

Most marketing doesn’t generate return on investment, and what marketing really is supposed to do is grow a business. It’s not supposed to create sexy commercials or public relations stunts or or create controversy. It can do all those things, but only if the endgame sells products and services. So marketing over the years has been distorted. The best example of that occurs in what I call the “Stupid Bowl,” not the Super Bowl.

So much of marketing today is only aesthetically driven: “Can I make a beautiful ad? Can I make a sexy ad? Can I show a car” – watch TV tonight, and you’ll see 15 car commercials. Each one will be the same. You don’t know which car it is. This drive for aesthetics instead of return on investment has damaged what is a very important part of the business process – marketing. And whether you’re a small company or a very large one you’ve got to engage in marketing that generates return on investment. It has to generate more than you spend. And that’s been lost.

So how do radio stations create marketing that generates more than we spend?

Basically you need two things: a killer application – something really strong about the product that makes people want to buy it in a world filled me-too alternatives, and a killer offer – one which stands out compared to competing offers.

For example, if we’re selling a teapot it might be one which automatically purifies the water to make it as clear and clean as spring water (the killer application). And you’re getting a year’s supply of tea free (the killer offer).

And the offer should make it hard for people to resist. So you tell people that if they want to learn the secrets – here’s the telephone number to call to order the teapot and/or the website to go to. But you also tell them, “For our free booklet on 25 ways to make a pure, better cup of tea – a reinvented cup of tea – go this number or this website, and we’ll send it to you free.” Why are you doing that? Because you’re better able track whether or not people are listening to the commercial. Are they responding to it? You also get their email address when they ask for the booklet on the better way to make tea. You’ve now captured them as a prospect and can go back to them. And you’ll know – right away – if you’ve succeeded by their response.

There’s lots of talk about accountability in advertising now, but accountability isn’t just about how radio is measured – how heads are counted – via diaries or meters. It’s about saying “listeners bought this product because of this commercial.” And that is the job of the station and the agency, not the ratings company.

Radio has to sell more than time, it has to sell ideation to help the advertiser be more effective and successful. Everybody’s afraid of Google, but radio shouldn’t lay down at all. There’s something about radio that Google and television cannot do: Radio is very personal. You can’t beat the personalization of radio.

What’s the best way to use radio as a marketing medium?

When you’re marketing using radio you have to always recognize that it’s a personal media. So we like our clients to either tell a story in their radio commercials, or where possible, have the personality tell the story.

We’re about to launch a product on Car Talk, for example. We’re going to have the hosts, in a live read, direct their listeners to a website. Only in radio – that is so powerful – two well-respected figures who are able to drive people to a website in a personal conversation with their listeners. Then we have to make sure we can measure whether people are coming to the website. Are they leaving their email behind? Are they asking for the coupons that we’re gonna be giving on this particular campaign to buy the service at a discount? And if they’re not, the silence will tell us that we’re failing.

But in most agencies, nobody really cares, because “we got an award for the commercial.” The agencies forgot how to sell.

But the stations say the agencies and buyers view us as a rank and only a rank. All they care about is where we’re ranked.

If you simply accept the status quo, then you just say, “I’m not going to try to increase the spend on my station.”

Anybody who’s ever done anything great in business has stepped out of the pack and said, “I’m not gonna accept the status quo.” And there’s always been some risk. But today, so much of traditional advertising isn’t working, and the babies are going to get thrown out with the bathwater unless people intelligently challenge the status quo, step up to the plate, and say, “Look, listen, I’d like to talk to you respectfully – it’s not just rank. I can give you some important input into the mind. Let’s do a little test together. Don’t spend another dime with me in the beginning. I’ll show you that I can add value.”

People will listen if you talk to them that way. And maybe you can’t talk to a 21-year-old media buyer, but you can certainly talk to a vice-president of media buying. And you can call him up and say, “Can I come in and talk to you and take you out to lunch? I have an idea I want to discuss with you. Don’t spend another dime with me than you’re doing now. But let’s try one test to spend it differently because I think I can add something to you.”

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