TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter – September 2002

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M&M&M's of MarketingThe Three Big M’s: Market / Message / Media
What does the word “marketing” mean to you?

For some people, marketing = advertising.

For others, marketing = sales.

But for many, marketing = ??? They have a sense that marketing is important, that they should do more of "it," but they don’t have a concept of what great marketing is actually all about. I’m going to wipe away that haze right now. I’ll tell you what you *really* need to know – and exactly what to do – if you want to get exceptional results. Oh, don’t worry if “marketing” isn’t part of your job description... or if you don’t have a “business” of your own. What you’ll learn can be applied to any activity where you need to influence other people or advance an idea you believe in.

But before we go any further, I need to “take your temperature.” Unfortunately, for many folks, marketing (and all its siblings: sales, advertising, public relations, et al) is considered a bit “dirty.” Somehow this whole business of being “promotional” is less than honorable, and best left to others with lower principles. This attitude is especially prevalent among doctors, lawyers, accountants, and technical professionals. I know, because I started out my career as a mechanical engineer and looked down my nose at all the “sales and marketing types” I encountered in my work. Making the transition from “tech guy” to “marketing guy” wasn’t easy. It only happened when I came to a new understanding… I once (naively) felt that the only requirement for success was to become “the best” at my profession. To this end, I went back to graduate school for a masters in engineering and a second masters in management, got my “P.E.” (professional engineer’s license), and spent most of my waking hours studying and thinking about technology and computers. Well, big surprise! The world DID NOT beat a path to my door! I’m sure many of my subscribers can relate. Success only cam when I “stepped back” and looked at the much bigger picture.

You must know this: almost everything you want to have in life is now owned, controlled, or influenced by someone else. The only way to get what you want is to help those other people get what they want. That’s the essence of marketing: finding out just who those important people really are, determining what they need or want, and developing both a compelling story and a “delivery mechanism” to tell that story to them. That’s the background that leads me to tell you about the three big “M’s” of marketing: Market-Message-Media. Note the order. Most people get it backwards. They’ll think, “I’m going to run an ad in the paper, send out a letter, create a web site, etc” (media). Then they’ll make up something to say in that media and fire it off in the hope somebody’ll see it and take action. All backwards.

The first task is to think deeply about your “market,” the people most likely to be helped by your product or service. Here’s an important tip for you: your market is not “everybody” (unless you’re selling toilet paper). This is where so many people go wrong. They’re so afraid they’ll lose business by focusing on a subgroup, they’ll try to be everything to everybody. The inevitable result is they don’t have anything specific and influential to say. They also lack the resources (money, time, and energy) to promote to a broad general audience.

The level of promotional “background noise” out there is incredibly high these days. Each of us is exposed to hundreds if not thousands of marketing messages/impressions every day. And, as the economy tightens, the volume knob gets turned higher and higher (in desperation). Moreover, if you’re providing anything beyond a very basic consumer item or service, the people you most want to reach (busy, successful people) have developed “defensive filtering abilities.” They’ve become very good at ignoring you! These people, out of necessity, quickly scan through those hundreds/thousands of messages coming at them every day, and do a quick scan/sort: “This is for me,” or “This is not for me.” Your “Not for me” message doesn’t even make it to the prefrontal lobes. But even the “For me” stuff that makes the first cut, gets only the briefest consideration.

So, your first job is to identify as many high-potential markets as you can (markets = groups of people who share something in common). If you’ve been in business for a while, this job is easier. Just look for common factors among your existing customers/clients/patients. Look for things like where they live or work (this is the easy one), their economic class, industry segment, size of organization, buying styles, ethnicity, demographics, psychographics, etc. I guarantee once you devote yourself to this task, you will become enlightened – and will realize your market is not “everybody” but instead, is composed of these specific groups of “somebodies.” If you’ve gone through this exercise but are still unclear about your specific market or markets, seek assistance. It’s too important not to do – and you WILL NOT be able to move forward without this knowledge.

Once you have a handle on your market or markets, you can progress to the second of the M’s: Message. It’s now up to you to craft a specific and meaningful message directed to your market. You got started on this last month (hopefully) in my article on how to give an “elevator speech.” As I said then, done right, your elevator speech can become part of your core marketing message. However, somewhat out of necessity, your elevator speech is substantially a “me” message (i.e.: what I do, what makes me better, etc.). Your market isn’t so much interested in you, only in what you can do for them. Remember, most people are permanently tuned into one and only one radio station: WIIFM – which stands for “What’s In It For Me” – and you better be broadcasting your marketing message on that frequency. Fortunately, when you really study your market, you’re able to understand what those future customers/clients/patients want, what problems they have, their interests, what they dream about, etc. Therefore, you’re in a much better position to draft a message that will get through. Even if you turn that “draft” over to somebody else to “set to music,” you are going to be much happier with the end result than if you just turned them loose on it without doing *your* homework. It’s unlikely that anyone you hire will care as much as you, understand your market as well as you, or be able to rough out the essential elements as effectively as you can.

Look, obviously, there’s a lot more to this than I can present in a short article. Entire books have been written on the subject (I have a whole bookshelf full of them). What I’m trying to do here is share my perspective with you and get you pointed in the right direction. Before we leave “Message” though, I’ve got to tell you what it’s not. Your message is not a “slogan.” Slogans are mostly meaningless indulgences. They don’t resonate with anyone other than the business owner. I cringe every time I see a local firm’s truck go by with the slogan, “Walstons: Simply the Best.” Ugh! The best? How? Why? Can you tell what kind of business it is from that slogan? Do you care? Neither do I.

Finally, now we can talk a little bit about media – and I’m only going to touch on it briefly this month. Selecting an appropriate medium to deliver *your* message to *your* market deserves an article of its own. I can tell you, however, that many people receive very bad advice in this area – often from “advisors” with intentional or unintentional biases. Let’s face it, the Yellow Pages rep is not going to be of much help when you’re deciding *whether* or not you’re going to advertise in the Yellow Pages. He or she might (if you’re very lucky) help you create a good Yellow Pages ad, and supply some market research. But don’t rely on the rep to answer the “should I or shouldn’t I?” question. The rep will say things like, “Of course. You have to be in the Yellow Pages. All your competition is in the book.” Even if they are, it’s not a foregone conclusion that’s the place you’re going to get the best return on your advertising investment. Most of your competitors don’t know if any one thing they’re doing is a good investment or not. They either don’t know how to track response or are too lazy to do it. You are therefore not safe in “following the herd.” Please note that I’m not knocking the Yellow Pages. For some kinds of businesses, you “can’t not” be in that particular medium. Also, this was an advertising example, and as you now know, marketing is about *much* more than advertising (or sales or PR or…). Marketing is *everything* you do to make a connection between you and your markets. It wraps around the products you sell and the services you provide. If you look at some of the most successful companies in the world today, you’ll see they are “marketing driven:” Nike, Apple Computer, Starbucks – they all have good/great products, but more than that, they have “marketing DNA” in their genes.

A final note: Great marketing is not a cure-all. It rarely overcomes a bad product or lousy service – at least not for long. However, when you couple truly great products and services with marketing done right, the results can be spectacular.

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