By Tress Fereday and Katja Schroeder
It is official. What you don’t know about Marketing can hurt you ̶ and your business.
Unfortunately the business world is littered with companies that jeopardize their long-term viability in the quest for short-term market dominance.
After a decade and a half of consulting with companies of all sizes on their Marketing Communications efforts, we’ve gathered the top five missteps many companies make, and great companies avoid.
1) Decisiveness Can Be Your Downfall
Strong business owners and senior executives must make cunning and quick decisions since the path to success is littered with companies that were afraid to act then missed out, right?
Mmmm. Maybe not.
Sometime decisiveness can hurt you. Rapid decisions made without feedback from your customers or key stakeholders can be a mistake. Whether you are planning on pricing changes or new product launches, formulating these in the vacuum of the board room can spell disaster. Plus, it can create costly damage to your company’s reputation.
One of 2011’s more spectacularly tone deaf moves was committed by NetFlix announcing the plan to split the DVD and streaming businesses following a recent price hike. And, “Qwister” than they could say goodbye to more than 800,000 subscribers and $9 Billion in market cap, the company recanted their plans less than a month later.
So what went wrong? For one, the company had been successful for more than a dozen years with positive press shining on their faces each day. Then they were unexpectedly pummeled by the storm clouds of negative coverage.
In The New York Times article from October 2011 under the headline “Reed Hastings Knows He Messed Up” the beleaguered CEO admitted, “we simply moved too quickly, and that’s where you get those missed execution details.”
You can deploy focus groups, stakeholder interviews, or customer surveys to secure feedback before launching new initiatives. And, don’t forget to shop the ideas by your internal audiences as well.
This insight will help you craft your messaging and your positioning to help combat any negative backlash that may be coming your way.
And, even if you are a media darling today, take heed from Reed in his written statement regarding the price hikes, “In hindsight I slid into arrogance based upon past success.”
2) What Goes Up Must Come Down (Then Up Again, Hopefully)
We’ve all heard the old adage “what goes up must come down” that most people attribute to Sir Issac Newton. Others say it isn’t from him, but regardless it’s a sound principle for this conversation.
In this 24/7 social media, real-time world, we can get caught in who is “trending.” That is hype, and not something you want to build a long-term business strategy on or around.
We could conduct a graduate level class on the flops in the soda world from New Coke to Crystal Pepsi. Many of these introductions enjoyed breathless teasers and per-announcements then tanked after the launches.
Despite the latest earnings dip and raised sustainability issues at their factories in China, Apple still remains a media darling of the moment. We should note that their prospects were not always so bright, and the company limped through the early 90’s.
Every heard of the Newton? We haven’t either. It was one of the first personal digital assistants handhelds that couldn’t drag the company out of their doldrums.
Now if you believed the “hype” on Apple at that time, a Fortune February 1997 article on their purchase of Steve Job’s company Next Software said this. “You can’t justify it. Apple did precisely the wrong thing. Now the only future for the company is to get smaller and smaller until there’s nothing left. In fact, the only sensible conversation to have about Apple is the one in which you argue about how long it will take to die.”
The company said goodbye to Newton and hello to the iMac in 1998, and their prospects began to turn. Then faster than Steve Wozniak can appear on another reality show, the company under Jobs released a string of hits with the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad, and completely transformed how consumers “consume” content.
Want to know what Fortune says about the company today? Well Apple was number one on their 2012 “World’s Most Admired Companies.”
The articles says “To say it was another big year for Apple would be a gross understatement. With the passing of Steve Jobs, questions swirled around the company’s future. But under new CEO Tim Cook’s guidance, Apple continues to prosper.”
The evolution of Apple is a company that was up, then down, then up again. Hype and positive press won’t pull you through because what goes up, must come down.
Remember, if your goal is to be the media darling today, then you better be prepared to be the media buffoon tomorrow.
3) Your Most Junior Employee Knows More Than You
Yes, you are well educated and brilliant. Yes, you participate in very important high level meetings each day. Yes, you review sales reports, financials, customer satisfaction surveys, and other important metrics on your company each day.
But, a scary fact is that your entry-level employees may hold more information and insight into your customers and front-line business than you. Sad, but true.
We’ve all heard of “management by walking around.” It is an easy thing to forget, but can be invaluable to your business.
Impromptu interactions with your junior staff can unearth invaluable information. The trick is to allow them to open up in a productive way. Ask questions and listen. Don’t criticize or make them feel like “snitches.” If you do, they will clam up because no one wants to be the company “fink.”
If you haven’t watch at least one episode of the show Undercover Boss, then take a look at it. The premise is that owners, CEOs, and presidents don bad disguises then secure an entry-level spot at their business. The episode where the head of Waste Management attempted to handle the dirty job at his front-line was a classic.
The company leaders all learn that many of the programs they personally created don’t work in the real day-to-day life of their business. The senior leaders then leverage much of the insight they gathered from their time “in the trenches” to improve the business.
4) More Isn’t Always More
Most company heads are Type A personalities, which means they are ambitions, hard charging, goal oriented and always on the go.
So it can be easy to issue mandates and directives throughout the halls of your business as you cruise by to your next meeting. Some leaders are just thinking out loud and trying to quickly solve problems, but unknowingly your junior staff may start scrambling to try to implement these ideas because “more is more” right? Absolutely not.
Keeping a strategic focus on quality vs. quantity is important.
Starbuck’s comes to mind. The company was founded by Howard Schultz after he visited Europe and enjoyed the coffee house experience that was non-exsitant in the U.S.
The company went public in 1992 and trained consumers to expect to spend $5 on a cup of coffee while using a new language “venti, please.” Expansion became the main focus with locations including drive throughs, which then positioned them against powerhouses like McDonald’s and diluted their quaint community coffeehouse price differential.
The years of 2007 to 2009 were not kind to them. The CEO took a big pay cut, profits were down 53 percent, thousands were laid off, stores were closed, and the company jet was sold. Wow, that was quite a fall.
So be wary of mandates and a “more, more, more” attitude that can cause your company to backtrack on past success, and take you away from your core competitive differentiators. Remember that targeted strategy with complementary, qualitative communications always wins the race.
5) Waiting Isn’t Such a Bad Thing
O.K. Just to warn you in advance, but you are probably going to hate this one.
You’re a hard charging leader and you want what you want … yesterday.
But unfortunately, many successful brand building endeavors are like gardening. They take time, water, fertilizer, and a little patience. You can add some quick seasonal color to get you through your next quarter, but you still plant the seeds for next season and beyond. Now some of the seeds flourish, then unfortunately others perish. (Remember the Apple example?)
While patience may not be your strong-suit, you’re in it for the long haul, unlike the dot coms of the late 90’s that were here and gone before you could say blockbuster IPO.
Remember Pets.com with the hand puppet mascot that appeared everywhere, including during a wasteful ad buy during the Super Bowl? Well they went bankrupt in 2000. We could go on and on from that era, but you get the picture.
Now of course you have short-term sales projections and quarterly numbers to meet, but balancing this with the long-term viability and success of the company is key.
General Electric comes to mind as a stellar example. It all started with Thomas Edison, and it became the world’s most valuable company under icon Jack Welch.
In a 1998 Business Week interview, Welch, the management guru and strategist said, ”You can’t grow long-term if you can’t eat short-term. Anybody can manage short. Anybody can manage long. Balancing those two things is what management is.”
So there you go, from Jack Welch himself, balancing the short with the long-term is crucial.
So, that $3.5 million for one 30-second Super Bowl spot just may not make sense for your target audience in the long run. Creating a marketing approach that does not jeopardize your long-term success for short-term gains is the essential.
If not, you may find yourself liquidating your assets ̶ including your sock puppet mascot ̶ which by the way is still available for purchase on eBay for $6.89 and up.
Originally published by Business2Community, August 2, 2012