Being your own best marketing teacher

I’ve been out of school for (mumble mumble) years but I still consider myself a student.

I’m constantly learning about marketing and new ways to engage prospective customers.  The absolute best way to learn about marketing is to watch other people – your spouse, your kids, your friends – and pay attention when they react to an ad or a mailer or a referral.  For instance, I watch my wife at night, when she’s sorting through the stack of mail, to see what she tears open and what she trashes without first opening it.  I listen to my kids when they tell me about a cool new app or commercial they’ve seen.  As long as I don’t influence them with my opinions coloring theirs, they teach me a lot.

The second best way to learn about marketing is to catch myself in the act of responding to someone else’s marketing efforts.  I do it all the time.

Let’s say the mail has just arrived and I grab the newest magazines.  As I sit at my desk, feet up, I occasionally find myself reading an ad without thinking – and then I stop for a second and wonder why.  What caught my attention?  What stopped me from turning the page?  Was it a topic I was already interested in?  Was it a surprising photo or clever headline?  What exactly was the trigger?  And then, did the ad actually make me interested in knowing more about its subject?  Did it influence me to consider calling or clicking or writing down a note?  All these are the questions I ask myself only after I have been caught up in the ad – not before, or the “data” is invalid.

The same goes for when I mindlessly watch TV and catch myself actually focused on a commercial.  Usually, commercials are just background noise.  But then, something occasionally pulls me in and when I notice that I’ve been hooked, I stop to analyze what just happened.  OK, sure, I’m always attracted by a sexy model, but hardly ever enough to really listen to the sales pitch.  Yet, every once in a while a commercial sinks in without my intentionally intending for it to do so.  That’s when I go from being a viewer to being a student and thinking about it analytically.  I make a mental note of what happened…what hooked me and what drew me in.  On the occasions in which I actually find myself seeking out the product afterward, I again rewind to learn what made me react the way the advertiser wanted me to.

Often, the answer isn’t as simple as how effective the ad or commercial or website was.  Often, it’s a combination of things, including some desire or disposition I had already brought to the party; perhaps having seen other ads or commercials for the same or similar thing before but now, I suddenly noticed it; something other people have said about the product or brand recently that gave the ad new context; some news or article or review I may have read about it; and most potently, an immediate need that was answered by the ad or commercial or web page.

Whatever the influencers, this I know:  I wouldn’t have been moved to act, having just seen the ad, without having seen it to begin with.  Woody Allen has said that 80 percent of success is just showing up!  So you gotta show up.  I also know that clever creative isn’t the end-all, but I more regularly notice ads, billboards, direct mail, radio spots and TV commercials that have some imagination and freshness – on top of a strong selling message, and I most typically ignore anything and everything that seems old or familiar.  And I’ve learned, and continue to learn, so much more by paying attention to my own unintentional behaviors, as I learn by watching those around me.

I encourage you to be your own best marketing teacher in the same way.  Every time you buy a new brand of paper towel, or call a new plumber, or visit a new doctor, or make an online purchase, stop, rewind and consider all the factors that drove you to that specific buying decision.  Every time you inadvertently find yourself paying attention to an ad or commercial or recall a billboard you passed, stop, rewind and reflect on what was it that grabbed you and pulled you in.  Once you’ve gone through the day’s mail, notice which unsolicited mail you didn’t throw out and critically think about why.

Then take what you’re learning and measure that against the marketing your firm is doing.

There are a ton of books on marketing and lots of marketing theory classes at the local colleges, but you can acquire a great deal of knowledge on your own by simply watching yourself and others around you reacting in the real world…just like your prospective customers do every day.

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Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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