Every time I hear another horror story about the burden of debt that’s been placed on the shoulders of my Millennial peers as a result of their pursuit of higher education, I am struck by the deplorable disparity between the amount of money students pay to gain a degree and what they actually end up gaining (in job opportunities, salary, etc.) as a result of that degree.
I don’t mean to malign my alma mater—my college years did impart a few nuggets of knowledge worth remembering—but there are some key marketing truths that those seemingly endless hours spent in lecture halls failed to convey:
- Marketers are storytellers: This is one of the most essential marketing truths that is rarely emphasized in the halls of academia. In many institutions, the core curriculum for marketing majors requires several Statistics courses yet categorizes Creative Writing and Web Design as mere electives. While metrics are vitally important to marketing, all that data is meaningless unless you can use it to craft a message that’s capable of hitting your target audience right in the heart. Does Dove really care about promoting a positive body image in women? Who knows. But the latest installment of their ongoing “Campaign for Real Beauty” carries a message that resonates with women around the world. And it works. Since the “Campaign for Real Beauty” was launched in 2005, Dove’s sales have increased from $2.5 billion to $4 billion.
- Competition is good: The widely-accepted approach to competition in business is that you work hard, knock off your opponents one-by-one by exploiting their weaknesses, and eventually reach the summit of your industry’s Everest. But there are two key things to remember about competition: 1) there’s always going to be someone out there who is smarter, faster, stronger, wealthier, etc. than you, and b) that’s okay! Competition is healthy (provided you have the self-confidence to handle the pressure). When used properly, competition will inspire you to solve your clients’ marketing dilemmas in ever more unique ways. Need proof? Look no further than Baltimore-based Under Armour. When faced with an athletic apparel market dominated by longtime players Nike and Adidas, Under Armour used the competition presented by these titans to craft a unique tagline (“I Will”) and approach to marketing to the “underdogs” of the athletic community. And their strategy of using constant product innovation to remain relevant to consumers brings us to the next point…
- Beware the power of inertia: I suppose part of this lesson is taught in school: “An object in motion tends to stay in motion…” and all that. But what we’re talking about here is the danger of a body (or a product, service, idea, etc.) at rest. From kindergarten through graduate school, students are taught how to follow rules, use formulas, and color within the lines. Yet the key to success—in marketing, business, and life—is to keep moving forward, to keep exploring the boundaries of what is truly possible. Who would’ve guessed that a cartoon video with upbeat music and an off-beat subject matter would be a good way to warn people to be safe around trains? Created for Melbourne, Australia-based transport organization, Metro Trains, the “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign resulted in a 21% decrease in accidents and deaths on the Metro Train network.
- Failure is inevitable; own it: You will fail. Period. A client will hate your pitch. Your brilliant campaign will flop. That incredibly clever Tweet you spent half an hour composing? No one will re-Tweet it. The more avenues that companies can use to directly communicate with their clients, the more rejection that company’s marketing team will be exposed to. It’s okay. In academia, a 4.0 GPA is a sign of growth and professional potential. In the business world, a perfect score is a sign that you’ve failed to explore your potential for growth. McDonald’s Canada’s “Our Food. Your Questions.” campaign is the ideal example of a major company taking ownership of its failures and making a commitment to its customers to be more transparent in the future.
- No one has all the answers: And anyone who tells you that they do is lying. This is a life truth as well as being one of the core marketing truths. Developing and implementing a solid brand-building strategy is a team effort that requires intense collaboration between a company and its marketing firm. Neither party has enough answers to go it alone, but together, they can craft a truly memorable brand identity.
Anne-Marie Botek, Copywriter