My 3 Cents: Guarantees in Marketing


I’ve worked with a lot of marketing and “strategy” companies in my time. There are 31 flavors of businesses who swear they have the answer that will take your business to the next level. And to their credit, many of them do exactly as they say. Marketing and brand strategy are actually vital pieces to the successful business puzzle. If your business doesn’t have the funds for a dedicated internal department, hiring these companies are essential, especially in the early stages before launch.

What is at issue is with the fundamental lack of understanding about what marketing does and how it works. I’ve listened to and given innumerable variations of the “what we do” speech. They have run the full range from helpful to “WTF?”. Recently, I was tasked to defend why a company should invest a significant amount of money into various brand building actions for a line that was preparing to launch. Their point of view as a manufacture was “If I give you ‘x’ amount of money, what can you guarantee me?”

It was a fair question. We were talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a manufacturer, they were used to money for product. You put in a dollar, you get a rubber duck. You put in 10 dollars, you get 9 rubber ducks (quality control being a tenacious mistress). I needed a way I could help them understand how marketing works. So I sat in front of my trusty laptop, I figured I could pump this out in about an hour and go grab an early lunch.

Two hours and several scrapped drafts later, the text cursor blinked on my empty page, taunting me. The short of it is that marketing works, except when it doesn’t. It’s really helpful, unless it isn’t. The only absolute truth I could muster was “Marketing and branding doesn’t always work, but if you don’t do it, you’re doomed.” That isn’t much of an optimistic answer and more than a little short of making you want to throw a house worth of money at something.

It occurred to me that in all the time I had dealt in marketing, no one had ever given me a K.I.S.S. explanation to how and why branding and marketing were essential. It has always been one of those things that you take for granted. Brand awareness, marketing, advertising, these were all assumptive ‘must-haves’ for success. People need to know what your about. People need to feel trust in your product through the polish of your marketing. You have to justify your price point with brand value. This company had been told this a million times but those aren’t ‘dollars and cents’ answer. They weren’t biting. I was getting frustrated.

We all know why, I just couldn’t put it into the way that they wanted, a way that could convince a company that had never spent a penny on marketing in its life to get behind a six-figure plan. I let the whole thing sit on the queue for a few days. I busied myself we other projects. But it kept gnawing at the back of my brain, that little text cursor blinking behind my eyes. I finally sat down in front of the indignant text cursor and started cheekily asking myself questions and answering them;

If I spend that kind of money can you GUARANTEE I will be successful?”

“Of course not.”

“Well why not?”

If I could I wouldn’t be working on this, I would be a billionaire sipping cocktails on my own personal island because I could guarantee 100% success to anyone with the money to invest.” Touche, me. If I couldn’t come up with a decent explanation I could at least vent my anger on myself through a good tongue lashing. “Then why should I invest all this money?”

The text cursor began to blink at me again, defiantly. I was reminded of my son who has a talent for asking questions that can’t be answered to his satisfaction. And then it hit me.

“What do you do when your son starts asking questions and demanding specific answers?”

“I tell him a story to explain.”

“So tell them a story, stupid.”

Me had a good point. I began to write down a story about launching a brand, talking in percentages. What follows below is exactly what I wrote to them;

I launch a brand right now in my head. I have no product or logo or anything. I have a 0% chance of success.

Well that is useless, so I decide to get some product made. I still have no marketing, press, advertising and no way for people to know about my product other than me telling people one by one how awesome I am. I now have a 1% chance of success.

I don’t like those odds so I throw some money into packaging, design, throw together my cool ideas into a fancy name and slogan. But I have no idea what customers think of my ideas. Plus I still don’t have a way of letting people know about me and maybe those who do hear about me do not understand correctly. I now have a 3% chance of success.  

Well I love Vegas, so I invest in a few trade shows. Now people are seeing my product but maybe my ideas are still not being understood correctly or not attractive to the public. I’m still living in a vacuum. I now have a 10% chance of success.

Luckily, all of this was in my head and I haven’t started yet so I decide to test all my designs and ideas before they go to market. I hire focus groups to use my product and report their feelings. I find out that there are some changes that need to be made and I make them before launch. I now have a 25% chance of success.

But I don’t stop there. I hire a company to investigate the market and they find that there is this gap in the market for mid-range priced products in my category. Less competition means a better chance of being noticed! I now have a 40% chance of success at launch.

I’m still not liking my odds. I need to do some more to hedge my investment, so I put the whole model into focus testing. I find out that my name needs changing. It’s confusing and no one gets it. I throw out some alternatives and all the test groups agree on 1 name. I also tweak my logo, company colors and slogan. My message is tight and test customers are really liking what they see. I now have a 60% chance of success.

So now I’m ready for the trade show but I still would like better odds. I decide to send all of my target distributors a “Launch package” that has examples of all the marketing support and benefits they will receive by picking up my brand. I also include samples of my products, knowing that after all the focus testing, they are going to like what they see. I include a copy of our upcoming shows and our booth locations so they can find us when they come. Now I have a 75% chance of success.

So you see, marketing is a form of RISK MANAGEMENT. The more you invest in marketing, the greater chance that your product will be successful both at and after launch. At the time of writing this I’m still waiting to see how they respond. In any event, I am happy with the answer I came up with. And should my son ever ask me “Daddy, what is the value of marketing?” I’ll have another bedtime story in my pocket for him.