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Doctor doctor give me the news. Why marketers need to heed good advice and take their medicine

I know a man (definitely not me) who doesn’t always listen to those closest to him when they offer advice. This man (definitely not me) was told recently by a loved one that he may have been drinking a bit too much red wine, needed to cut down on the salt and should probably do a bit more exercise to help deal with the stress of a global pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse. ‘Thanks for the helpful suggestions,’ he (definitely not me) said, sarcastically.

It was all good advice that went largely unheeded. But when this man went to see his doctor for a check-up, similar suggestions were made, and they were taken far more seriously. Why?

Very few of us are able to look dispassionately at our own lives (or businesses) and we often don’t place as much value on advice that comes from inside the tent. The doctor had spent many years training, learning and diagnosing, so the opinion just had more weight. You’re not just paying for a 30-minute consultation, you’re paying for the 30 years of previous experience.

Businesses also regularly seek external advice and they are, in general, happy to pay for it – especially if it protects them in some way or saves them money. The lawyers, accountants, engineers and pretty much anyone ensuring compliance have done their required training, and all charge handsomely to deploy their expertise.

However, many businesses seem much less willing to pay for something that will help them grow. Value created in the factory is no different to value created in the mind, after all, and that’s what brand value is. So, despite the masses of evidence about the commercial impact of creativity and good design, why is it so hard for some businesses to invest in expert branding and design advice, given that the people offering that advice have also done their required training?

To escape the dreaded corporate egocentrism and see yourself as others do, it often takes an independent view. And, just like the doctor, someone who has dealt with hundreds or thousands of similar companies is able to show you what you’re doing wrong, what you’re doing well, what it might be leading to and what you need to change. It’s basically a form of coaching and if you need a lesson in the effectiveness of a good coach, Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, The Big Short and Flashboys, explored this theme in the second season of his excellent podcast Against the Rules.

One of the major challenges when it comes to good health outcomes is not the diagnosis. It’s ensuring that the medication is taken. Remarkably, “data show about one-quarter of new prescriptions are never filled, and patients do not take their medications about 50 percent of the time”. You can get all the good advice in the world, but it means nothing if it’s not acted on and marketers (and the business leaders who employ them) occasionally seem unwilling to take their medicine. In the creative world, making sure that happens often comes down to trust and good service.

Gordon Ramsay is one of the world’s best chefs. He has spent years perfecting his craft (and swearing at his staff). But he has said that while people will initially come for the food, they will keep coming back for the service.

In my experience, the best agencies abide by a similar rule: the work needs to be good, but it’s the service that separates the good from the great.

There are approximately 150 agencies in Auckland, and you will occasionally hear them trying to differentiate themselves by claiming they have developed a new model. At Iceberg, we have nothing that’s new or sparkly like that. But we know what works. We ask the right questions; we talk in a language that businesses can understand, not in a language that will impress the creative community; and we figure out what you stand for, what your problems are and what you need to do to fix them. These skills have been honed over many years, both through our training and by working closely with clients, gaining their trust, diagnosing their ailments and then executing to a very high standard

When trust is present, clients think more deeply, they listen to the advice, they prototype exciting ideas, they question the status quo and they’re more willing to be brave (like Oatly, the Swedish oat milk company, which believes most marketers are “scared shitless” and has been selling like plant-based hotcakes and raising multiple millions from investors in large part due to a clever, genuine and often confrontational marketing strategy).

As agency planner Martin Weigel pointed out recently, “The Marketing Accountability Standards Board estimates that brand value alone contributes an average of 19.5% of enterprise value”. That hasn’t stopped a slide towards short-termism and the pandemic looks likely to speed up that move away from brand-building. There is an understandable need to look closely at budgets given the pressure many businesses are under, but good marketers need to be listening to their partners’ advice, spending their often-shrinking budgets in the right way and making sure their brand is strong enough before they start building on it.

Right, time for a red wine, a bag of chips and a nice lie down. 

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