How companies fail in commonsense marketing

Beware of making five-year projections, unless you’re thinking of leaving the company after four years.

These words belong to the King of Manhattan, David Ogilvy. Perhaps what he meant is not to go without planning, but plan carefully, adjust consistenly and execute relentlessly, all of it driven by commonsense.

Commonsense indicates a certain approach to marketing: figure out your company’s goals, then decide on what and how (communication, advertising and contact) to market goods/services your company offers.  Drayton Bird’s book “Commonsense direct and digital marketing” puts it in the following order:

  1. business mission (what do you want to achieve?)
  2. business objectives (are your goals SMART?)
  3. marketing aims (ex. get new customers)
  4. marketing strategy (ex. how you will market)
  5. communication objectives (ex. tell your existing customers about your new products)
  6. communication strategy (ex. building up a new database of customers via limited offers)
  7. advertising objectives (what do you want to achieve by advertising, a general, mass communication weapon?)
  8. advertising strategy (via channels will you advertise – TV, online, print?)
  9. creative strategy + media strategy (how will you convey your message? + which media and how much?)
  10. contact strategy (points of communication between your company and your customers – when/how you will use selected media to reach out your target?)

You work your way from business mission, answering all relevant questions  to business objectives and so forth. Your end result, after going stage by stage, is a well-conceived and solid marketing plan.

Yet, as simple is this sequence looks, it is regularly and sometimes consistently violated/omitted/ignored. An impressive list of small, medium and big brand and product failures is a testimony to that. Financial and other consideration matter, but marketing represents a big chunk of and reason for failures both for new and existing products/services.

According to one research, fewer than 10% of all new products/services survive past the 3rd year, some of the reasons being wrong assessment of existing markets, insufficient awareness generated by advertising, and wrong target group. Even the largest (and most successful) direct-selling, person-to-person marketing company and manufacturer of health/beauty/homecare products, Amway, has not been immune (Amway’s China failure).

The recurring theme among the most famous product failures is also conspiciously featuring wrong pricing, erroneous market assessment, ambiguous positioning, unclear message and wrong naming.

The underlying logic (and its failure) is notably manifested in the online part of marketing planning and execution. Inappropriate channels, wrong targeting and poor execution are prominent in social media marketing failures.

To conclude, marketing planning and execution errors originate either while not following the inherent commonsense order of marketing mentality (in accordance to the list above) or in insufficient, erroneous, unclear research, planning and implementation of one or more stages of marketing.

Commonsense is indeed a sum-total of logical thinking, gut feeling and intuition. Unless we use commonsense in our marketing efforts, we will be a man Nietzsche had in mind when remarking:

To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.

How NOT to lay off employees

Let’s make a little scenario, where you undergo the following experience.

You work for a mid-size Internet company. One day, you receive an email from the CEO to all employees announcing there are upcoming layoffs and restructuring. The email’s subject reads, “Important Updates – Please READ.” Why not mentioning directly about layoffs in the subject – the main subject of the email? In brief, the email (see the image below – I outlined the most “interesting” passages) states that few people will be laid off and the decision to lay certain people off is not based on their performance. It then uses terms such as “aligning business lines” and “reducing costs” as justifications for a layoff and stops short of being outright ridiculous.

The layoff emailIt is about 2pm. In about 30 minutes, you are cartered to the HR manager’s office, where you find quite a few of your colleagues crammed into a tiny space, all of you standing and facing the HR manager – she is seated. You are told that you are to leave the company. No further elaboration – it is all in the email, you are told.  It all goes for few minutes only and you are then dismissed.  You inquire about how you will handover your tasks and to whom – you assume before the end of the month. You are however told that indeed that day is to be your last day – you have 3 hours to handover all of your tasks.

You then return to your office. It is about 2:35pm. You open your Outlook and try to check your email. Your Outlook responds with “authorization failure.” You later discover that, during the time (5 mins) you were in the HR office, your email account has been blocked.

Below is the list of points of how the scenario unraveled, a case study of how NOT to lay off employees.

  • sending an email about upcoming layoffs, containing vague terms and no solid reasoning;
  • not giving an advance warning to affected employees (making the day of email announcement also the last day for affected employees);
  • ignoring employee-employer relationship specifics as written in contracts signed between employees and the employer (and the labor law – subject to sue the company);
  • inconsistently selecting employees to lay off (in some cases, not even consulting an employee’s immediate supervisor/manager);
  • making the employee layoff in an impersonal way (by bringing them all together to a room and the HR manager informing them that they are to go);
  • blocking access to email account/internet (again without any prior warning) for affected employees shortly after they were told to leave;
  • not offering to affected employees reasons/explanations leading to their layoff;
  • not letting affected employees to organize a handover of their work ;
  • claiming “there is nothing personal – it is only business” but contradicting it by saying that decision to lay off is not based on performance, which provides a direct or indirect measure of contribution to the business/output of the employee.

P.S. This happened in a company I worked for.

I was dully told that indeed today was to be our last day – in mere 2.5 hours (working day finishes at 5pm and we were at HR office at 2:30pm).