Letter to a Marketing Mentee

by Tim Francis on May 7, 2012

Mentorship is important.  I do my best to offer mentorship to those – for lack of a better term – “behind” me on the marketing path.  And I also receive mentorship from those “ahead” of me.

I thought you would appreciate what I shared in a recent email with a Mentee of mine.  I’ve changed her name and a few other details for confidentiality purposes.


– – –

Hey Jenny,

Here’s some titles, I suggest you grab these books and read them on whatever schedule suits you best.  Classic “must-read” material includes:

How to Write a Good Advertisement by Victor Schwab
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples
Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

There are others too, but this is a good start.

I should probably also point out that there is a huge chasm in marketing, and you’re either on one side or the other.

Side #1: the fluffy “brand-first” side of things where creativity is more important than sales.  Surprisingly, a lot of agencies and university-trained marketers fall into this category, and it’s incredibly unfortunate.

People slap each other’s backs and congratulate each other on the cutest and most intelligent campaigns, regardless of the ROI (return on investment) for the client.

If they take the time to measure anything (not always the case) they’ll measure things like impressions (CPM), viewership and distribution… instead of sales and profit, or – if that isn’t possible – other “Cost Per Action” metrics such as “Cost Per Lead”.  If you’re not tracking these kinds results, it’s impossible to know if a campaign is making money or losing it.  It’s actually quite dumb.

Side #2: scientific advertising where sales is more important than creativity.  Results are more important than effort.  It still has creativity, but nothing matters more than sales, profit, leads, and ultimately ROI for the client.  Response is tracked.  Decisions made on hard numbers.

This is my domain.  I treat my clients’ money like my own.  If 5,000 people see an ad, or visit a website, or “like” something on Facebook – but no one buys anything – the campaign is a bust.  I need to know that my client is making more money back than spending on me, or else my contract with them (sooner or later) will be toast – that’s just how it goes.  Gotta pull your weight!

If it’s your own money on the line – if you’re the business owner – which of the two approaches do you think you would prefer?  Your parents own a business; ask them what helped them pay for your school fees when you were a schoolgirl…. cute, creative ads, or the cash they brought in from sales?

Whichever way you go in your marketing and advertising career, please always remember these two sides.

Because you’ll run into graphic designers who want to be creative first and foremost and give your piece a modern, cutting-edge “feel”, with no rationale other than “because it looks good”;  you’ll run into ad brokers that suggest all kinds of wild and wooly ideas on how you can spend more money with them; you’ll run into all kinds of people who throw pixie dust in your eyes, trying to make you believe that the most clever, funniest, cute, adorable, *most popular* approach is the way to go… they’ll go around the office and ask everyone what their opinion is… and it’s total BS.

Ultimately they’re playing with their clients’ money, so they don’t feel any pain if nothing sells.  How arrogant.

You know whose opinion I want? The buyer.  And instead of hours of focus groups where I ask people *if* they would buy, I want to ask them *to* buy…. instead of asking them to raise their hand to vote on what they like more, I want to ask them to vote with their money…. then (and ONLY then) will you know if you’ve got a winner.   In most surveys people will be polite or succumb to group-think…. but their honesty only shows when their money is on the line….

(and if they want you’ve got, they WILL buy from you!)

Anyways, you’ll never hear a professor say the above in a class (because they don’t know – mine didn’t), and you’ll never hear a Madison Avenue big-corp Ad Agency speak in those terms either…. but I guarantee that your mom, dad, and anyone else who has actually owned their own business and staked their OWN MONEY on something will rejoice in this approach… consider it street-smart marketing 101.

Oh – and as far as branding is concerned – Yes it’s important… the stronger the brand, the more trust, and the less work required to sell something…. which is all awesome and crucial.  I think there’s up-front branding, and back-end branding…

Front-End Branding: logos, colours, layout of website.  Dr. Glenn Livingston discusses this brilliantly.  Ultimately your branding must speak to the BUYER’s desired solution that they will pay money for.

Everything revolves around that – what is the customer giving us money for.  Not the business owner’s opinion, and especially not what the designer’s personal preferences are.

There’s a reason that the layout and feel of grocery store flyers are numbingly consistent from week to week.  Because they sell. People would get freaked out if suddenly a strange new “creative” design replaced the tried, tested, and true.  (Maybe grocery chains could benefit from a small split-test to see if a slightly different layout might bump up sales, but I doubt that a multi-billion-dollar industry is in the mood to risk their weekly sales targets on a “creative” idea… not a chance.)

Back-End Branding: what is the business’ reputation?  This can only come as a product of a job well-done by the business…. a reputation that is earned through the completion of a sale, and the fulfillment of that transaction.

Think of what people have come to know what to expect from your parents’ business…. now THAT is a brand!  …not some clever, meaningless, vague, hyperbolic slogan that doesn’t sell.

When people mention your parents name and their business’ name, it’s basically a gold standard.  Their reputation makes them the first business that comes to mind when people in our city think of their industry.

RANT COMPLETE.  Enjoy the above books!  Let me know when you’re ready for more.

Tim :)

P.S. reading the books is one thing… but you need to get practicing, or else it’s all for nothing.  Find a way to implement…. even if it’s just volunteering to write headlines for the church newsletter… anything!

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