The Hardest Part of Marketing

Marketing used to be known as a fluff department. Placing an ad or two, talking about “brand awareness” as this vague thing, putting logos on koozies, etc. . . . you know the stereotypes. But things are changing. Marketers are in the c-suite and are responsible for driving tangible value and shaping organizations. It’s both awesome and terrifying.

Koozie Testing
“Send the results of the koozie A/B test, Ross.”

I personally love marketing even when it’s hard. I like the juggling, the suspense of seeing how a campaign will turn out, and the pressure to leverage new technologies. But there’s one part of my job that I find really challenging: managing expectations.

Why is that so difficult? That’s business 101.

 
There are 3 reasons I find expectation management challenging specifically in marketing.

1. So many components of marketing are new.

 
When a new marketing technology comes out, for instance marketing automation, everyone is excited. You have to build the excitement to get buy-in for the investment. But you have to balance that excitement with the knowledge that you don’t know how that technology will play out until you’ve had time to test and tweak.

Let’s say you are starting a new online banner campaign that leverages keyword targeting, plus content targeting by leveraging third-party cookies, and then let’s add a layer of location targeting as well. The cost-per-click might be a little higher than usual, but you’re getting an extremely targeted audience.

But, the first month doesn’t go as well as expected.

 
Well, no one at your company had ever tried that before, right? You still have to go back and say, “we’re going to test different keywords and broaden the location radius” which can make it sound like you built up a lot of hype for nothing.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try new things. It DOES mean that when I’m trying to drive the evolution of marketing I have to be upfront about the process and not put all my eggs in one basket (or put all my ad dollars into one campaign).

2. Marketing has higher expectations internally.

 
This is a good thing but can be a double-edged sword. Instead of just making t-shirts for the company hotdog eating contest, you can run reports on brand-sentiment, generate qualified leads, and use RFID to track highly-qualified prospects at an event. It’s cool, right?

NEW YORK - JULY 04: Atmosphere of 2007 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)
“What’s the source attribution for contestants, Doug?”

But once you kill yourself getting the sales collateral perfect and refining the corporate branding, you can become a victim of your own success . . . if you aren’t managing expectations.

People always want more of a good thing, but pace yourself by managing expectations internally.

3. It’s hard to manage your own expectations.

 
Marketing is transforming quickly, and you want to be on the cutting-edge. You see the success of your marketing in hard numbers. But you want more.

This is where I tell you (myself) that you can do it. And you (we) can! But it will take time and patience, and we may not get there right away.

I recently attempted to climb a 17,000 foot mountain. Yeah, that’s right . . . attempted. I didn’t make it to the top. But I learned what I needed to do for the next attempt. When I was climbing, it was easy to look up and think “I don’t think I’ve made any progress! And I’m tired!”

But then I looked down.

 

Descending Iztaccihuatl
Descending the mountain that defeated me, Iztaccihuatl.

I’d made it pretty far, enough to make myself a little dizzy. While it’s important to focus on your goals, it’s also important to look back at what you’ve accomplished and use that information to manage your own expectations.
 

If you let yourself get discouraged, it’s easy to stagnate.

Set ambitious, but realistic goals for your marketing, and you’ll look back and be astonished by how far your marketing has come.

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