The Importance of Marketing Craft
I recently met a cousin of mine who is starting out in his marketing career. He’s a very bright, enthusiastic young guy who is a bit frustrated with his job at a major publisher.
Previously, he had worked at small, innovative firms and now feels like just a cog in a big machine. Even worse, he believes that he’s not learning anything. All the exciting stuff seems to be passing him by.
It’s a shame that all the crap that gets hyped by mindless digital maniacs ends up having that effect. In reality, my bright young cousin is acquiring skills that much of the digital world still needs to develop – the essential elements of marketing craft.
Marketing Craft vs. Marketing Crap
Of all business disciplines, marketing is the most instantly appealing. While other areas, such as finance, accounting or even management can seem like endless drudgery, marketing looks inspiring and creative. Very few would jump at the chance to comment on their company’s capital structure, but everybody likes to talk about marketing.
There’s some truth to these notions. Marketing can indeed be a lot of fun and certainly there is no shortage of opportunities to be creative. Nevertheless, marketing is a job. It requires skill, knowledge, experience and, most of all, must produce results.
Unfortunately, much of this has been lost on the digital world. There’s so much that is new and exciting, all of that “old economy” marketing stuff often seems passé. Why suffer the mundane when you can tweet your way to success?
Make no mistake: marketing without craft is marketing crap.
Elements of Marketing Craft
After a few minutes of discussion, it became clear that, while my cousin found himself somewhat removed from the exciting world of start-ups, he was learning how to do some very valuable things. For example:
Templating: One of the chief frustrations for young people starting out in marketing is that they don’t get to be creative or innovative. Instead, they find themselves making small variations on standard themes. What could be more boring?
In actuality, working with templates is an important skill. True professionals know to resist the urge to change what works in the name of being “original.” Understanding the subtleties of what to change and why is far more important and sensible than trying to reinvent the wheel each time.
Incidentally, web developers understand this, which is why they invented CSS. In a similar vein, usability experts emphasize the importance of following conventions. Many people who call themselves digital marketers, on the other hand, have never built anything, so the concept is often lost on them.
Briefing: Probably the most neglected skill in the digital marketing world is giving and taking briefs. Often, the concept is confused with generating a technical specification. The briefing process involves far more than that.
The essence of taking a brief is asking good questions in order to establish goals and intent. Generally speaking, people don’t really know what they want and it’s the supplier’s job to help them define it. That’s easier said than done.
People who give briefs, for their part, need to learn to speak in terms of goals rather than dictating implementation (i.e. “I want to do social media.”). If you can’t verbalize clearly what you want to achieve, your chances of success will be slim to none.
Briefing is a skill that comes with time and experience.
Building Effective Presentations: Good presentations should be as short as possible. It’s also nice if they have a point, which makes it so much more worthwhile for the people who are going to have to sit through them.
Far too often, digital presentations are too packed full of jargon and buzzwords to be meaningful. The purpose of a presentation is to communicate, not to show everybody how many acronyms you can use.
Framing Ideas: Ideas don’t live in a vacuum, but need to be put in context to be effective. Your ability to do that is a direct result of the number and quality of ideas you come across. You get infinitely more opportunities in this regard when you work for an established company than when you work for a narrowly focused start-up.
Getting Paid: I recently met with a senior executive of one of the world’s biggest ad agencies who lamented that they often lose people to hot young digital shops. However, he said that they often came back. Why? Most of the hot young agencies aren’t very profitable.
While innovation is fun and exciting, it’s standard solutions that drive profitability (which is how they became standard in the first place). In my cousin’s case, the stuff he was churning out with such regularity that it became boring was generating more cash than whole start-up companies generate in a year.
A business is only a business if it makes money. Poverty and creativity are two completely different things.
The Big Idea Paradox
Many people will say that marketing is about big ideas and, to a certain extent, that’s true. Home runs, touchdowns and scoring goals are the reason we watch any sport. However, in order to come up with a big idea that works, you’ll inevitably have to spend a lot of time with quite ordinary ones.
Moreover, as I wrote before in a post about technological evolution, big, breakthrough ideas are inevitably achieved through combining smaller more conventional ones. It is only through a thorough knowledge of the ordinary and mundane that the truly extraordinary can emerge.
In order to be consistently successful you need to perfect your craft and that’s as true in marketing as it is in any other field. While that might seem impressive or exciting, it does have the virtue of being true.