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When it comes to marketing nowadays, it can feel slightly daunting—especially in our new post-quarantine environment of hybrid offices, work-from-home lifestyles, and our personal and professional lives overlapping more than they ever have before. Marketing is no longer as straightforward as it once was.
Gee, a CEO, teacher, and an award-winner marketer, has helped hundreds of businesses in his career, and sat down with Hollywood Branded to share his valuable insight on why we have this problem, and what marketers can do about it. In this blog, Hollywood Branded discusses positioning your brand on value versus price, why most marketing fails, and what you can do to generate more effective marketing.
Gee is the Chief Executive Officer of KEXINO, an award-winning marketing agency. Over the past 14 years, KEXINO has helped more than 350 startups and small businesses from over 20 countries grow awareness, reputation, trust, and sales. A Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Gee is also a Visiting Professor at a European business school, teaching Marketing and Behavioral Economics to final-year MBA students.
Question: You are a very accomplished marker and have a very interesting background to how you got here. I think it would be fantastic for you to dive in and share a little bit more about how you got to where you are today.
Answer: I've been in marketing a long time, Stacy. I've been in marketing since 1998, since the days of dial-up Internet and AOL CDs...Later on, for seven years, I was Worldwide Director of Marketing for a software company and software companies serving Bluetooth clients such as Time, Inc., Ikea, Nestle, Airbus, Marvel—these sorts of guys. The reason we started the agency was when I was in that position, whenever I was inviting marketing agencies to pitch for our business, I was pretty amazed that none of them would take any fiduciary responsibility for the marketing plans that they were actually proposing. And I just thought that was really, really weird. All of the agencies were more interested in the tactical elements, you know, web design ads, events, exponential whatever, and no one was asking me about the business result on which the marketing plan needed to deliver, and I thought that was a bit crazy, you know.
So it dawned on me that there were a ton of startups and small businesses out there needing help with marketing from a business perspective. Primarily from a business perspective, you know, designing and managing a marketing plan, and generating qualified leads to, you know, ultimately produce a tangible commercial difference. So like I said, this was 2007, which is around the same time, the Internet sort of began to really affect our daily lives. The iPhone had just come out, and it was the big brands who were the ones taking advantage of the potential of the Internet, based upon
their deeper pockets, basically. They had more technical experience, and I felt the small businesses were getting left behind. You know, affordable broadband was just coming on board, and I felt there was an opportunity for a marketing resource specifically aimed at small businesses and startups that could help those guys leverage the power of online engagement. And so 2008, I resigned my comfortable corporate job with its trappings of international travel and company cars and expense accounts, and all that sort of stuff. And so we launched KEXINO, and that was nearly fifteen years ago. And now, primarily, we focus on marketing with the capital M. So yes, of course, we get involved in the tactical stuff, you know, the design, web development, and SEO and copywriting, and PR, and social and advertising, and all the rest of that sort of stuff. But primarily, we like to focus on the strategic stuff, number one; primarily because very few agencies actually bother to do that nowadays, which I think is part of the reason why we have the situation today where so much marketing fails to generate a tangible result, it just doesn't move. The needle is—there's loads of noise and not very much signal, you know? And like you mentioned, I also teach.
Question: If you are advising a client, what would you say that they need to go out and do now what they're marketing? How would you suggest they take a step back, reevaluate and re-approach?
Answer: Firstly, we have to understand that the future of marketing is in terms of tactical, is quite different to where we were before. That's quite clear, and I don't think anybody disagrees with that, right? Certainly, the fallout from Covid, working from home, and all that sort of stuff is forcing businesses to think differently, especially in B2B. Because if you've got a contact who's only in the office a day or so a week, how do you reach that person, right? So it's forcing us to think differently, but at the same time, it's giving all of us an unbelievable opportunity to stop all the crap we've done for the past decade or so that's been pissing off customers as well as generating smaller and smaller results. It's the chance to take the team off the, you know, this kind of works, cruise control setting to simplify, to focus, and to change the definition of success.
I think if you're a marketer with an uppercase M, as I call them, it's realizing that your job is not as a sales support role. It's not to update the website, to reorder all the tote bags, or, you know, check if the booth is going to fit in the exhibition space. The reality is growth. It's your job, right? That's the job. It's the only job. And like we're just saying, marketing isn't just marketing anymore. Marketing is sales, marketing is operations, marketing is customer support, marketing is finance, and it's important for everybody around that business to rally around that new mental model. What are the implications for your particular business of that shift? Number One, marketers have to be able to speak the language of the boardroom, the language of finance. I think it's increasingly important for marketing to continue to have the skills that the business needs. Need to abandon all the geek speak that we love as marketing people. Understand and really communicate in the way the business needs. From an industry perspective - from an execution perspective, I think we need to reform marketing by getting people to accept that value is subjective and context-dependent, and meaning-dependent. It's produced as much by the singer as it's produced by the song, if you like. The standard economic model overweights the extent to which value is produced in the factory, in the manufacturing department, and not in the head. I think we're going to have to change that because I see the next real advance in our industry moving forward is not going to be the technological. It can be psychological. It's going to be to understand the how people think and of people who react to certain stimuli and shaping the way that we communicate our business value accordingly.
Question: There's this belief system that marketing is just tactical, and there is no strategy. Why do you believe there is this disconnect?
Answer: I think there's a number of reasons for all that. Number one, people's idea of what marketing is, and what marketing actually is are two very different things, and much of that has been driven by what they've seen in the past. Marketers haven't been allowed to do what their job is supposed to be doing so. What it's defaulted down to has been a sales support role. So marketing, you think, "Oh, yeah, well, that's pretty pictures, that's brochures, that's design, that's events, that's tote bags, it's squeeze balls," and this is one of the issues that I have with this whole thing...I think marketing is in crisis for two very separate reasons, which are nonetheless connected. The first reason is it's not respected in the boardroom. I really believe marketing is ideologically disliked in the high levels of business only because they don't make understand it.
Right now, this comes down to two different schools of thought in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, and it's important to understand the difference between effectiveness and efficiency; it somewhat explains the reason why the boardroom, CEOs, and especially CFOs, have an absolute fear of marketing, and I think it's because the way businesses conflate efficiency with effectiveness. They're not the same word. Effectiveness is about how well you're doing something to achieve your goals. It's how successful you are at delivering what you set out to do, while efficiency is a ratio. It's about how much input you make to deliver a particular output. So if you're chasing an efficiency matrix, what you're trying to do is generate the same, or near enough, the same output for as low an input as possible. Which is the way that much of the rest of business works, right?
So what businesses are doing a try is they're trying to apply an efficiency model to marketing, but they take the life's blood out of what marketing can actually be by doing that because the thing is, marketing doesn't work that way, right? So if you're chasing effectiveness instead of efficiency, what you're about is maximizing the outcome based upon a particular tactic or combination of tactics. It's about achieving the biggest success you can. How effective you can be rather than efficiency, which is getting the best result for a specific investment. So efficiency is a ratio between input and output, which is the way the finance department sees the marketing department. The problem with thinking of it as an efficiency model is that we're dealing with a target, which is not rational, logical, repeatable output because we're dealing with human beings.
Question: What would be your words of advice on how to kickstart a better marketing strategy?
Answer: Turn off your computer. Stop starting up Canva or Photoshop or InDesign, or all of these things. You don't need them at this stage. The first thing you should be doing is talking to your customer. You should be doing that before anything.
Gee has so much great information from his experience in behavioral economics. Check out the podcast below to learn more about positioning your brand on value versus price, why most marketing fails, and what you can do to generate more effective marketing!
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Topics: Podcast Interviews, Podcast, HB Podcast