How to spot a marketing wanker

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I’m somewhat disappointed in the marketing industry with regard to how they obfuscate, mislead clients and generally say and do anything to make a buck. I know this is true because almost every client I talk to has several horror stories of those who came before me. And, rightly so, they are suspicious and guarded when it comes to engaging. Fair enough. Now, I’m not saying that ALL folks involved in the marketing business (and related categories) are all money grubbing slight of hand artists. I know many consultants, designers, web developers and other people who really know their stuff and operate at the highest levels of ethics. I just believe they are in the minority.

I’m going to share with you some warning signs to look for when choosing a marketing partner so you can avoid getting ripped off or ending up with ineffective solutions. Hang on, it’s going to be a wild ride.

An industry of yes men.
Most people who are guilty of doing bad work or not caring about the success of their client are not bad people. Most simply don’t know any better. They are mostly focused on their own short term gain and are choosing the easiest route to get a check and go to the bank. However, when it comes to strategic marketing, the easy route is seldom the road to meeting a client’s expectations. For example, it is easier to agree with a client that a shiny, new website (or brochure or whatever) will solve all their business problems instead of asking the hard questions and getting to the bottom of the problems.

As “experts” it is our responsibility to do what is needed to meet or exceed client expectations – not just be a sycophant with our hand out. The exception in this case would be if the client simply wanted a shiny new web site and didn’t care about any other outcome. In my experience, client’s expect far more than this. They are looking for a positive impact on the bottom line. And that’s going to take some work.

Red Flag: I’ve got a hammer and every problem looks like a nail
Talk to a design studio and there’s a pretty good chance the solution to your problem will be a fancy brochure or ad campaign. Talk to a social media expert and the answer is likely to be “Twitter”.  But seldom are challenges this simplistic. Reaching and motivating prospects to become customers is a multi-faceted process with intertwining methods, media and variables. No single tactic will create an influx of new business.  Look for a potential marketing partner to ask questions that go beyond what they do – questions about your business, how revenue is generated, your sales process and more.  The conversation should be about business – not about portfolios, pretty pictures and how “creative” they are. Even a specialist should be able to understand how their specialty fits in with other things you may or may not be doing.

Red Flag: It sounds too good to be true

Marketing types are infamous for over-promising and under-delivering. Anyone that says they can significantly impact your business in 30 days is suspect. Effective marketing takes time. On the other hand, it shouldn’t take too long either to see some action. Every situation is different but your gut should tell you if the timing doesn’t make sense.

Another common tactic is low-balling the fee then, every time something comes up, (and it will) you get what’s called a “change order”. The trick is to unrealistically limit the scope while knowing that the project will require more work. Instead, look for marketing partners who work on a flat fee basis. Their quote may look higher but it will represent a realistic fee that you can bet on with no surprises. However, there is a limit to flat fees – if the scope really changes, it is fair to adjust the fee but in most cases, this shouldn’t be necessary if the consultant is doing their job of accurately defining what is required to complete the project.

Red Flag: No discernible process
Effective marketing is all about process. Whether you are looking for help with a plan or creating sales materials or a web site, a potential partner should be able to clearly articulate what their process looks like and how it works. Meeting with the client for an hour and scurrying off to a dark office to whip up THE SOLUTION (“Cows with Sunglasses!) is not a process. There needs to be a logical process and a lot of collaboration with executives, sales people, the marketing department and others who are directly impacted by the decisions being made. A lack of process is the single most common factor in marketing failure.

The fact is that anybody can claim that they are marketing experts. There is no certification or other qualifications – you just need a laptop, a cell phone and a few buzzwords and, viola!, you are a guru. What is harder to fake is the ability to demonstrate that they understand how business works and are willing to invest the time and energy to completely understand your challenges before recommending any solutions. And today, with Google, it is easier than ever to check on the claims and experience of a potential partner. Do your homework, get educated about marketing and you’ll quickly be able to weed out the wankers.

Please feel free to comment. Even if you are mad at me or think I’m a wanker.


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