Marketing is changing so fast, it’s easy to get our heads turned by new, high-tech developments. Doesn’t my company need a smartphone app? How should we leverage augmented reality? What about gamification? But, as a marketing consultant who is putting my own theories to the test as I work to drive sales of my first book, it’s become clear to me that many companies have needlessly forsaken some marketing strategies that still have life in them.
I recently chatted with Tim Hayden, the SVP of Mobile Strategy at Edelman Digital, a conference where we were both speakers. He’s obviously a believer in the future of mobile — and so am I — but he agreed that high tech isn’t always the right choice. “There’s so much that’s sexy in social media and in mobile right now,” he said. “Anyone who’s bought a smartphone in the last 18 months is doing some things they hadn’t imagined yet.” When they read about a big company launching a cutting-edge initiative, they want in — but the economics usually only make sense for large companies that have experimental budgets. Instead, he says it often pays to focus on bread-and-butter marketing (like direct mail) or even on technical innovations of the past few years that are effective, but less novel (like mobile websites).
Some of the best marketing I’ve seen in the past year has come from an unlikely source: Kochi, India. A year ago, I traveled to Tissa’s Inn, a small, charming hotel in that seaside community. Like all hotels are required to do, they photocopied our passports and took down our contact information. But they’ve made better use of it than anywhere else I’ve stayed. Having your passport means they have your birth date — so they make it a point to send an effusive, personalized birthday email. “We fondly remember your stay with us and your birthday today. All my staff joins me to wish you A HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” They’ve also emailed us on Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas, which means that I hear from them more frequently than anyone besides my mother. And the close of each email is a link to TripAdvisor and a request to write a review, if we haven’t already done so. It’s zero-cost marketing, but it’s friendly, personalized, and keeps them top of mind better than most multimillion-dollar companies.
In some cases, even email is overdone. Matt, a former student of mine from Suffolk University, now works in sales — and finds email totally ineffective for his purposes. “Honestly, I get more meetings with the C-suite with a handwritten letter,” he told me. The secret that both Matt and Tissa’s Inn have discovered is that successful marketers need to go where the competition isn’t.
To improve your marketing, and perhaps even save some money, it’s important to first determine if you’ve fully extracted the value from existing ideas, existing product lines, and existing marketing channels. Innovation is great — but not before you’ve leveraged what you’ve already got. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
What is everyone else doing — and how can I do the opposite? Other hotels blast out e-newsletters to their entire database; Tissa’s Inn sends simple, personalized notes. Other salesmen wantonly barrage top executives and hope to score a hit; Matt crafts handwritten letters that break through the clutter.
What worked in the past that’s been abandoned — and why? Sometimes, marketing strategies are dropped for good reason: the smart money got out of telemarketing a long time ago, because no sane person would talk to a salesman after the advent of caller ID. Other times, it’s simply laziness: it takes longer to write a handwritten note, so people switched to email. That can become your competitive advantage.
What circumstances have changed that might allow for new opportunities? When you’re examining your product mix, recognize that the past may hold untapped resources. It looked like solar panels were dead after the oil crisis abated and President Reagan unceremoniously ripped them off the White House roof. But when climate change became a pressing concern, the industry once again had popular appeal (and President Obama even put them back on).
What untapped markets might exist? The wave of history passed from vinyl records to 8-tracks to cassettes to CDs to digital downloads. But that doesn’t mean vinyl is dead. On the contrary, it still has a competitive advantage — its superior sound quality, compared to digital. Not everyone cares — honestly, I don’t — but a small, high-end market is most certainly willing to pay for that difference in quality. It occasionally makes sense to write something off for the masses, but resurrect it for a niche audience.
Sometimes — depending on your industry and target audience — the new, shiny tool or technique is the right way to go. But often, you can get a better result by drawing from your existing resources and simply being strategic about how to communicate in a more memorable way than your competitors.
This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review website on November 26, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.