Saturday, September 5, 2015

No Silver Bullets and Other Things I've Learned About Marketing

According to military historian David Chandler the campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte consistently rose above the expected. For more than 20 years Napoleon showed genius and skill as a general on the field of battle. To what did Chandler attribute Napoleon's great string of successes? First, he was a master of translating theory into action. And second, in addition to being a man of action Napoleon was not concerned about being original. He borrowed from history, developing and perfecting the ideas of others.

Napoleon made no secret of this secret of his success. "Read and meditate upon the wars of the great captains," said he. "This is the only means of learning the art of war."

Success in marketing is precisely the same. There is no need to re-invent the wheel, the chariot, or the smart bomb. Marketing successes and failures are well documented. Books on marketing are abundant. Those who read them, and learn what is valuable through trial and error, action and evaluation, will become increasingly powerful.


In my two decades of experience thinking about marketing related problems, a number of observations have impressed themselves upon me so that they have now become personal marketing principles. Among these I include the well worn maxim, "There are no silver bullets."

I know that a lot of business people wish there were indeed a silver bullet, a top secret marketing tip that they might be privy to. This would help them find relief from having to do any further homework, any further study or thinking or work.

When you stop and think about it, virtuosity in any endeavor is the result of a hours of practice, preparation and sweat equity. Some people have natural abilities, but unless sharpened and honed the most gifted musician, athlete or sales professional will falter. Applying oneself to think from a marketing point of view is not natural to many of us. It is a skill, however, that we can learn.

Unfortunately, most books on marketing are an attempt to chronicle universal truths that apply to all businesses. They do not and can not necessarily address all the particulars of our specific situations. Each of us in a different set of circumstances. Thus we must each do our own homework and think through how this principle applies to one's unique place.

Rod Johnson, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Eventis Telecom, once observed that successful people do the things that are necessary, not just the things that are enjoyable. "It is interesting," said Johnson, "that by doing these necessary things routinely and developing skills in those areas, they become enjoyable or at least not unpleasant."

So it is with finding business and marketing solutions. We must invest time to think, to gather information, and do our homework.

Read the rest of this article here. (Originally posted online in the 1990's)


1. Nothing stays the same forever
This applies as much to business as to life. Situations change. One of the best books I've ever read on this subject is Andy Grove's Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company.

2. Don't overthink it.
Charles F. Kettering, founder of Delco and head of research at General Motors had this statement placed on the wall of the General Motors Research Building in Dayton: "This problem when solved will be simple." Decision making is a critical function of leadership, but when there's something at stake, many people begin to overthink things and make them complicated. The result is analysis paralysis and indecision.

3. Does it ring true with your inner tuning fork?
What does your gut tell you? The computer age is quite amazing when it comes to providing information and data. We now have ways of knowing how many people are reading our websites at any moment, what pages they go to and what actions they take. Advertisers can, by means of cookies, track what we're looking for on Google and send us ads directed to these interests. Google tells them exactly how many people looked for this gizmo this past month. Email marketers know exactly how many people opened the emails that were sent and what actions, if any, they took. Our access to all these numbers has made us almost obsessed with numbers so that we almost can't make a decision without reliance on the numbers. Instead of being happy with the information we've got we want still more numbers to be absolutely sure.

It can be argued that numbers don't lie. But sometimes the numbers can be misleading. At the historic Battle of Thermopylae a small force of 300 die-hard Spartans held off the massive Persian army led by King Xerxes who was determined to overrun Greece.

4. Sometimes solutions are counter-intuitive
Pilots learn to trust their gauges because in certain situations what feels right is actually wrong. In short, there is value in teams, or in having a circle of people with whom you can openly discuss ideas without personal agendas getting in the way.

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Whether you're selling ideas, products or services, understanding marketing is as useful for employees and individuals as it is for businesses. Think about it.

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