“You can’t polish a turd”. It’s probably one of the least glamorous terms in marketing but contains an undeniable truth. No matter how slick your marketing is, if your business’ product lacks real consumer value you will always be trekking uphill to turn in a profit. Whenever I look at a marketing problem for a business, I always first check to see if there are any operational areas of improvement that can be quickly fixed. Often fixing up problems like stock control, organisational efficiency and internal systems can lead to greater benefit than any actual consumer-facing marketing initiatives. I call this marketing from the inside-out, which simply means ensuring that your internal business conditions live up to your external marketing messages. Without a strong internal environment and integrity within your business, consumers and critics will soon find you out. I’ve touched on this concept before in my ‘Mission-led Marketing’ article, but let’s look a little deeper.
Ask anybody about the essence of marketing and they will likely explain how marketing is about differentiating yourself from competitors in the eyes of consumers. This is correct, and describes the competitive points-of-difference a brand uses to make its products stand out (PoD’s). There is, however, another consideration that is perhaps just as important as creating PoD’s when implementing marketing strategies. In order to compete and establish itself as a credible player within a larger market, a business or brand must satisfy basic requirements common to all organisations in an industry. These are called points-of-parity (PoP’s) and are vital to ensure viability in a competitive market. As an example of a PoP, in Australia all food products must have a nutrition panel on its packaging for it to have the right to be sold. Without this, you simply cannot sell within the market due to strict legislation. PoP’s are not necessarily static either, as market followers catch up and copy the PoD’s of innovative market leaders, thereby establishing new standards of competitiveness across the industry. An example of this is the Australian car market, where curtain airbags are becoming a mandatory safety requirement for all cars being released. Not so long ago it was only the premium market cars that had this safety feature.
Maintaining PoP’s only tell half the story of effective inside out marketing. Like I have eluded to in the ‘Mission-led Marketing’ article, it is the core mission of the business and its related business processes that often determine the success of a business in a given market. Simply ensuring that your processes and internal environment is in shape goes a long way to holding firm in the face of criticism. Failing to pay proper attention to these areas and becoming exposed can completely undermine any marketing message you put out there and can damage brand equity beyond repair.
To look at a recent example, Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign was undoubtedly one of the most powerful and successful marketing communications campaigns of the last decade. Going viral and scoring millions of views worldwide in just a few days, the 30-minute call to action ad/documentary sparked a worldwide frenzy and significant media attention. Before I give my objective marketing take on Kony 2012, I will say that I was initially surprised by the amount of negative sentiment towards the campaign. I particularly felt reluctant to cut down an organisation that was out there trying to make a positive social difference. However, as I looked deeper into it, I could understand why people were being sceptical of the campaign and the organisation behind it. The first major issue that surfaced was Invisible Children’s distribution and use of funding. The message thrown around by the media was that only 30% of total donations reached Uganda. Second, people who were either Ugandan expats or had been social workers in the country explained that Kony was much less prevalent than the film made out, essentially being a bit of a ‘dead-issue’ when compared to larger societal problems in the country. The third issue was that of Jason Russell, the man behind the movement who aligned himself so closely with the campaign that he inherited much of the organisation’s branding responsibility. Unfortunately for the credibility of his organisation, he was caught behaving inappropriately in public a couple of weeks after the Kony 2012 video release. I am not reiterating these points to go over old ground or discredit Invisible Children, in fact I applaud them for their creativity and ability to create such an effective communication campaign. What I am highlighting however is the extent of damage caused to your brand by not getting the foundations set before launching into a full-blown marketing campaign. The views and hits of the ad is a testament to the quality of the marketing communication, but that has unfortunately been overshadowed by the perceived deception and inconsistency of the organisation behind it.
The moral of the story is that unfortunately even the best marketing campaigns cannot mask organisational deficiencies. Consumers today are more discerning and critical than ever of marketing and advertising, and we as marketers and business owners therefore need to step up and take responsibility for the integrity and consistency for our business’ internal environment. When you have taken the time to develop water-tight business processes you will have an unshakable foundation to build communications from. But, with the stakes being set so high, the consequences of not marketing effectively from the inside-out are potentially deadly.