A couple weeks ago I visited the Enterprise, which is both an aircraft carrier and a military museum, resting in New York Harbor. During the visit we sat in the gunners’ seats of the huge anti-aircraft guns, surrounded by wheels and gears and machinery. Perhaps it took a couple of kids too long to get bored, because I ended up thinking how much those big guns are like marketing – especially the kind of hands-on marketing we do in entrepreneurship and small business.
Maybe you’ve visited that same ship. You’ve probably seen how they did it in scenes from film. And if not, you can still imagine what’s involved. First, it takes time to aim the gun on two planes: it’s surface direction and its slope upwards. Second, they had to set the timing so the shell would explode at the right point in its path up and then down. And third, when fighting enemy aircraft, they had to hit moving targets.
I don’t claim to know what works with marketing, much less what works for you and your organization. I do have, however, more experience than I’d like with what doesn’t work. And those guns served as a reminder. As with managing those guns, managing your marketing involves matching what you sell to who you sell it to, the messaging, and the delivery. And often we have to hit moving targets.
Thinking about that, I came up with these three lessons from the big guns:
1. “I don’t know marketing, but I know what I like.”
I don’t think anybody ever just jumped into the gunner seats and started shooting with any success. It took training. They had to understand how the angles and slopes and timing worked together. It was something they learned, first. Then, once they’d learned, some were better than others.
Is it just me, or does everybody reach adulthood with an innate confidence in their own instinct for marketing? We’re fine with not really knowing math or finance or engineering and production, but we’ll approve advertising or packaging without even asking ourselves whether or not we know what we’re doing.
I confess I learned this the hard way. I grew up believing I was a good writer. That idea was validated by years in journalism, then magazine articles, and books published. I had a class in advertising as part of my MA in Journalism, and classes in marketing as part of my MBA. So when it was time, in the early days of my own company, to write ads, I did it myself. And I did it poorly. It took a kick in the stomach and significant waste of money for me to discover that copy writing is different.
And then came packaging, and tag lines, and media planning, and damn, I had to learn to shut up and listen. It wasn’t easy.
Paying specialists is expensive. You may be like I was, lacking the budget to not just do it yourself. But over the long run, marketing expenses that don’t work are really expensive too.
2. It’s so much about lining things up.
Firing the guns took setting direction, slope, and timing, while allowing for wind and pressure and aiming for a moving target. It all had to work together. Let’s call that alignment.
As with the big guns, alignment is also critical in marketing.
It starts with matching what and who. That’s what you sell and whom you sell it to. Sell luxury only to people who can afford to buy it. Sell software to people with hardware. Sell heaters in Minnesota and air conditioning in Arizona. Sell hamburgers and drive-through to vans full of parents and children, and fine food and luxury dining to aging couples.
Then it takes matching the message to both the what and the who. You don’t sell luxury on price, right? Organic and local is great for restaurants, not so much for automobiles. Sell sizzle for steaks, but soothing for suntan lotion. “
And then match the medium, the delivery, channel, packaging, and so on. Line them all up. What works for one strategy is terrible for the next. Get all those factors lined up in a row, just like the proverbial ducks.
3. Ready, aim, fire; then review and revise.
The gunners don’t just fire and fire again. They watch results – where the shell exploded, and how close to target – carefully. Then, before they fire again, they revise their settings. They adjust direction, slope, and timing. Each shot fired gives information that improves the next shot.
So it is as well with marketing. Analytics are everywhere: clicks, page views, store visits, calls, returns, redemptions, conversation rates, and on and on. Some tools give more accountability than others. Some tools give more information than others. But the learning never stops.
Conclusion: planning, implementation, planning process.
All of which reminds me that marketing takes some know-how, planning, implementation, review, and revisions. Like those gunners, we’re all dealing with several factors that have to work together, and most of the time we’re all aiming at moving targets.
Tim Berry is Founder and President of Palo Alto Software, Founder of bplans.com, and co-Founder of Borland International. He is a Stanford MBA, and principal author of Business Plan Pro. He blogs at Planning Startups Stories.