Creating a successful marketing program is like putting together a 10,000 piece jigsaw, with two significant differences.

  • A jigsaw only goes together one way, every piece fits into its neighbours in a unique way, whereas a marketing program has an infinite number of ways of being put together.
  • When doing a jigsaw, you have the box it came in to give you a very clear and absolute picture of the outcome. Not so in marketing, and while we work hard at clarifying objectives, they are never as clear, and rich with detail as a picture.

Some weeks ago, I found myself in a huge toy store in western Sydney, doing the right grandfatherly thing on my way to get some ‘grandpappy’ time with my granddaughter, who is absolutely the most gorgeous thing God ever put breath into. I was confronted by isle after isle of toys, a vast array of options, no idea of what any of it was, all attractively packaged in adult proof packaging, each with claims to greatness and testimonials from auspicious sounding bodies.

This is not my area of expertise.

I asked a young woman looking after some stock who appeared knowledgeable for advice. She recommended a couple of things, one of which she personally guaranteed because her now 6 year old daughter had had the same one, and loved it absolutely, without reservation, and still played with it.

So I shelled out the required for this fancy looking thing with lots of colours, of course requiring a steady diet of batteries stored in a kid safe unit welded to the bottom, and wrapped it up for my  granddaughter.

A bit later after her mother had wielded the knife required to free this revelation from its adult proof packaging, Georgia was presented with this wonder toy.

She turned it over in her hands a few times, whacked it on the top, which did turn something on, that played a series of flashing lights, and a little tune, which enchanted her, for about 10 seconds. She then turned and toddled over to her seat in the corner mumbling mmmbbbbaaa, mmmbbbaa, which is code for ‘Blue Bear’, a tattered old blue of her fathers that had been rescued from a box in the roof of our place and cleaned up. She took ‘Blue Bear’ over to play with her new fancy, expensive shiny toy, then proceeded to fill her pants.

This experience struck me as an absolutely true metaphor for what we all do when confronted by all the tools, smoke mirrors  and bullshit that is sold as marketing by all sorts of shysters.

We chase the newest shiny thing, forgetting the old fashioned, basic building blocks that have worked for the last 100 years. We abandon them, in favour of the junk that delivers a short term buzz, but is long term just a waste of time and money in almost every case.

In an earlier post, I articulated my views of the 4 foundations of a brand, and used the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle to make my point. To follow up, I thought I would  give you some thoughts perhaps tools to help you sort the jigsaw pieces as you go about building your own marketing programs.

Let me put a stake in the ground.

Nothing about the strategic framework of marketing has changed in the last 100 years. We are still finding customers for our products, solving their problems, adding value to them, and trying to make a profit on the way through. Peter Drucker was right, ‘The sole purpose of a business is to find customers’

So, the strategic foundations of marketing have not changed, but the tactical end of marketing has changed radically.

To quote that well known marketing guru, Albert Einstein,  Everything should be made as simple as possible, no simpler’.

My goal is to give you a few Mental Models’ that might help sort out and simplify the enormous array of choices you face when building a marketing program that enable you to make better choices.

I have spoken about these 4 foundations in the past, so there is little point in repeating myself, apart from reminding you that foundations are just that, foundations, without which the building will fall, and that they are largely invisible from the outside.

Briefly, the foundations are:

Business Purpose. The Why, the story of the business. This drives everything else. The foundation of the foundations if you like.

Customers. Who is it you are seeking to engage to sell. This implies that you have said ‘No’ to a lot of potential but casual customers on whom you will not spend any resources.

Value proposition. What is it that you are doing for them that delivers value. What can you deliver that makes you different, and for them, the only choice.

Leverage. What enables you to leverage, amplify and deliver the value proposition. This is in effect your brand building  toolbox, and the exercise of the leverage comes from your revenue generation infrastructure, from which you will have to make a lot of choices.

Following are 7 models I use in the marketing planning process.

In addition there is a tube of glue, the stuff that holds it all together, and you must have the tube of glue to optimise all the effort put into the rest, irrespective of how much money you spend, how smart you are, or how good your product.

There are thousands of tools, the choice is mindboggling, and all claim in one way or another to make your life easier, more successful, and ultimately, make you rich.

However, beware the vendor who tries to sell you a solution that covers everything, there is  no such animal.

The toolbox is where the huge changes have come. From a few years ago where you had a limited number of choices and the times at which you interacted were also limited, the 6.30 news on TV, driving the car on the way home from work, to an infinite number of choices, all available 24/7.

How we reach and engage customers has changed radically, the fight to the death is now for our attention.

How do you choose your poison?

A year ago, Scott Brinker’s Martech landscape had 3,874 digital tools.

A staggering number, dwarfed by the 5,381 in the just released 2017 version, which I am sure was a redundant number the moment after he drew the line under the data.

When you consider this is only the digital tools available to the marketer, the size and complexity of the jigsaw we are dealing with is immense, and there is no silver bullet, so often promised, in sight.

Sorting the options is a complex task, made easier by using a few ‘Mental Models’, tools that make the sorting easier, or at least a bit more manageable.

The process.

A process is a series of steps that are repeatable, and able to be continuously improved.

You should have worked this process in this order, the why, followed by the value proposition, then the ideal customer profile, and then, it is time for the rubber to hit the road, enough of the nice words, how do you leverage the outcomes, how do you implement?

The point here is that most of the impact comes from the strategy development you do, that is 75% of the work, and is make or break. It is the important but not urgent stuff you have to do well, but often gets passed over in favour of the urgent but not important things that happen every day to distract you.

Responding to that Facebook notification makes little sense when your strategy is unclear. The only risk there is that you might miss a really interesting cat photo, get your strategy wrong, and you might lose your business.

The tactical decisions should take less time, are less critical, but usually consume all the money, and are more easily reversible.

The strategic decisions made should always, without exception, drive the tactical choices you make.

Take heed of Einstein’s words: , ‘If I had 1 hour to solve a life defining problem, the first 55 minutes I would spend defining the problem, the rest is just maths”

Play the Options game

Revenue generation, which is the term I now use to describe what used to be Marketing and Sales, on a limited budget, indeed any budget, is an options game.

When you look at it like an options game, you do the research, collect information, and only make a choice when you have to, when the option to delay the choice is no longer open.

This is not procrastination, quite the opposite, this is the process of actively making choices to achieve a specific outcome, using the best information you have to hand.

It is an active process, the decisions will not make themselves, it will not happen by osmosis, you must choose!

There is never enough budget to do all that you would like to do, therefore you have to make choices between a range of options.

While creating a plan, and picking the right tools is all about having a picture of the outcome you want, the completed jigsaw, it is also important not to be locked irrevocably into a course of action in the face of new data, changes in the market, or just common sense.

Therefore, play the options to achieve the outcomes you want. Do not rely on others to tell you what to do.

Do the research, seek information and intelligence, make sure you know enough to ask intelligent questions, and be able to see and smell bullshit when it is in front of you, as this part of commercial life is knee deep in it, and often it is made to smell remarkably fragrant, and sounds like the siren song, so it is buyer beware.

Acknowledge the ‘Journey’

Every purchase requires that the purchaser go through some sort of ‘journey’, from the point of recognition that a  purchase is necessary or desirable, to the transaction, and beyond. In a consumer purchase, this process may take a few milliseconds, but in a major purchase, and most particularly in a B2B purchase where others need to be involved, it can be a very long process, depending on the nature of the purchase.

A customers journey begins with some awareness of a problem, followed by some level of research, it may be looking at supplier sites, forums, checking your friends, seeking ideas and specifications.

A short list will be prepared, even if it is casual, then more research will happen, web rooming, demonstration, followed by a decision to buy, then the transaction and after sales services and expectations.

This will vary in every case, the point is that in the past, the only access to the information was either the advertising or the retailers, so very early on the seller knew you were in the market, they could feed you the information, not necessarily for your best interests, but for theirs.

Not so now, you can be at the point of ordering before the seller has any idea you are there.

At the time the potential customer is moving through the process, the potential supplier, not knowing who they are, or where they are, needs to be able to engage in some way, to provide the information and advice they need, answer their questions, get onto the short list, become the chosen supplier.

The buyer has all the power, they no longer need the seller for anything other than the final transaction, everything else they may need is available to them, so the challenge of the marketer is to be in the place where the buyer goes looking for information, reassurance, and answers the questions they have progressively in a manner that reflects the buyers journey.

Usually you will see this in some sort of pyramid, with lead, prospect, hot prospect, customer, or words to that effect. This can be misleading unless seen in the context of the parallel processes.

Customers do not move down the traditional sales funnel by osmosis, or gravity, they move down because you lead them down, even when in most cases you will not be aware of their journey.

Communication choices.

Bringing this all together is communication, by whichever means you choose from the huge menu available.

Communication is the means by which everything happens.

It is where you decide just how you are going to interact with this ideal customer as they move through their considerations.

There are 4 types of communication channel, Owned, Rented, Paid and Earned media.

You can pick any combination and ratio of the four, there are no other options, but within each there are multitudes of options, both digital and analogue.

  • Owned is yours, your website, newsletter, you own it, you can do with it what you like.
  • Paid media is pretty obviously advertising, digital and/or analogue, with a huge number of options.
  • Rented is your space on social media platforms, you are renting the space in return for your information that the platform owner uses to sell advertising.
  • Earned media is the good stuff, the referrals, links and backlinks. I do not include likes, as it is just too easy, there is no skin in the game, but to write a comment or explicitly share takes some effort.

There are multitudes of options, clearly understanding the habits and behaviour of your ideal customer is essential to be able to mix the communication so that it is seen at the right time in the customers journey.

Focus only on the bits that deliver the value

The genius of Vilfredo Pareto, the 15th century Italian mathematician who first articulated what we call the 80/20 rule is working all over the place if we care to look.

Focussing attention on the few things that deliver results and ignoring the rest is a hugely sensible but usually a very difficult thing to achieve.

You will absolutely find that 20% of your customers deliver 80% of your sales and profits.

That does not mean you do not need the other 80%,  but it does mean that resources you allocate to them would be better used elsewhere.

It works everywhere.

This mental model should feed your deliberations in every decision you make, every action you take.


When all else is equal, all you have is price, and then it is a race to the bottom, and the greatest risk in a race to the bottom is that you might win.

Seth Godin’s metaphor of the Purple cow is well known, but the Zebra’s arse makes a better picture to make the point.

Differentiate on every parameter that is valuable to your ideal customer.

However, differentiation for the sake of being different, that adds no value to a customer is just a waste of money and effort, but make that differentiation valuable, and the investment will deliver handsome rewards.


Correlation does not mean Causation

I would never own a Labrador.

They are lovely, friendly, trainable dogs, great with kids, but they send you blind.

It is obvious, how many times have you seen a blind person with a Labrador? Obviously there is a very high chance that labs cause blindness.

Oh!! Perhaps it is our old mate correlation, not cause and effect.

A while ago a client launched a new FMCG product, and it worked pretty well on a limited budget, which was largely directed to digital advertising.

The agency crowed about how great their creative was, how effective the ad placement had been, obviously it had been, as the product was a success, despite me being very sceptical about the value of many forms of digital advertising.

However, I did point out that the efforts of the marketing people to identify a hole in the current offerings that left a group of consumers underserviced, the sales force in getting good distribution against the odds had helped, as had the promotional program, and the in store tasting programs that got the stuff onto people’s mouths, pretty important with a food product. Nevertheless, the cocks crowed loudly and often, claiming cause and effect where only correlation existed.

So, there are the 7 mental models I wanted to share. That just leaves the glue that holds it all together.

The Glue!

Human beings relate to stories.

They do  not absorb written information very well, visual information is much better, but stories are the core of everything.

We evolved as a species telling stories, to keep safe, remember generationally where the food was, what to look out for, and so on.

What is your story?

You need to tell one, but tell it with a point.

Telling a story without a context, without a point, is not memorable, but tell a story well, that has a point, and you have them.

All the tools around, the thousands of them are no more than leverage for your story, your purpose, your why.

So, figure out the story of your brand, your business, and tell it consistently, and well, with the point.

Your elevator pitch is a story in 20 seconds, your logo encompasses the story, somehow, every piece of marketing collateral must communicate a part of the story, so that eventually, the parts add up to greater than the sum of all those parts.

Ever heard the parable of the frog and the scorpion?

The tortoise and the hare, the three little pigs, Adam & Eve, and so on.

They are all stories with a point, we remember the stories, so we remember the point.

When you want to know how to deliver a story, watch great comedians, they are the modern story telling masters.


For a verbal version of this post, recorded live to an industry group, Click here.