#1. Begin with the end in mind.

With apologies to Steven Covey, the first rule of marketing should also be: “Begin with the end in mind.” Many people leap to a marketing conclusion before understanding their marketing needs. Before you leap to the conclusion of a brochure, or flyer, or newsletter, or special event, ask yourself (or your dean):

  • What do we want to accomplish with this job? What is the goal?
  • To whom are we talking, and why? And why now? And why this way?
  • How will we know we achieved what we wanted to achieve? How will we measure our success?
  • Is this the best way to accomplish our goal? What other options might accomplish the same thing?
  • Are we communicating to our audience in the way(s) with which they are most comfortable? Is it the most convenient way for the audience? Is there a more innovative way that serves the same purpose?

The essence of good marketing is simple: Say the right thing at the right time to the right people in the right way. Turn that into four questions:

  1. Are we saying the right thing… the thing our audience wants to hear?
  2. Are we saying it at the right time… the time our audience wants to hear it?
  3. Are we saying it to the right audience?
  4. Are we saying it in the right way… the way our audience wants to receive the message?

#2. To get where you’re going, you must first know where you’re at.

And its corollary: You may not be where you think you are. Research is your best marketing investment. It helps you discover where you’re at – not where you think you are, but where your customer thinks you are. Good research saves you money by allowing you to spend your marketing budget in the smartest way possible.

Warning: Audiences seldom believe what we believe, but what we believe is irrelevant. We’re not selling to ourselves! The task is to discover what audiences perceive and then shape that perception. Remember, perception is reality to that audience. What they perceive is what they believe, no matter how wrong the perception might be.

Good research doesn’t need to be expensive or complex. Asking a variety of people a bunch of questions will open your eyes to the ways others view your product or program. But don’t ask the people closest to you because they will probably believe the same thing you do.

Use this analogy to sell research to your dean:

“Look, when you go to Google maps, and you want to know how to get some place, the ‘directions’ button requires you to enter a starting point and an ending point. Without knowing the starting point, it’s impossible to get directions to the ending point.”

Do the research. Discover where you are. Then make plans for how to get to where you want to be.

#3. Awareness: Buy It or Earn It … But You Gotta Have It.

Marketing is all about generating awareness. The primary goal of every communication is making the customer aware of the product because a customer cannot want what a customer does not know exists. Okay, too convoluted. In simple terms: You have to educate me about your product before I can buy your product. And there are two ways to do that.

  1. You can buy awareness. Throw enough money at me and eventually I’ll hear what you’re saying, even if I don’t want to. You might not convince me to buy your product, but at least I’ll know your product exists, so there’s a chance I might buy it. It works for a lot of “deep pockets” companies who spend a lot of money just reminding me that they exist.
  2. You can earn awareness. Do something interesting and unexpected and you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make me aware of your product. That’s especially true in our online age, where a humorous video on YouTube can generate millions of impressions … without requiring millions of marketing dollars.

We in academia tend to opt for #1 but we substitute “paper” for “money.” We churn out reports, brochures, newsletters, flyers and whitepapers because we’re convinced we can “buy” awareness by browbeating our customers.

News flash: It’s smarter to earn awareness. Be funny. Be edgy. Get your customer talking around the water cooler. Make your target stop what he or she is doing to watch your commercial. You don’t have to spend a lot to be creative, but you do have to be brave. Be what your customers want you to be… the cool guy.

Moral of Tip #3: If you can’t stand out from the crowd, don’t bother standing up.

#4. Make the first impression a good one.

Seriously, dude, TMI. Researchers estimate the average American is exposed to more than 3,000 advertising messages per day.* Simply put, that’s too much information for most of us to comprehend or catalog, so we quickly learn to filter everything we see and hear in order to survive.

Consider: I can push another channel on the remote, switch a dial on the radio, turn the page in the newspaper or magazine I’m reading, or dump your letter (unopened) in the rubbish bin. And technology makes filtering even easier. I can use TIVO to skip commercials, install ad blockers on my computer, place my name on the do-not-call registry, or unsubscribe to e-mail. With that sort of gauntlet to run, your message must be better than “good” … unless you’re delighted to know your message is being filtered out of existence.

Mom was right: It’s all about that first impression. Your message must be so clear and so memorable that it slides past the filter, or it must be part of a message machine so strong and so powerful that it pounds through the noise. A clear and memorable message might hinge on a single extraordinary image or a perfectly turned phrase. Many times, less is more. Speaking lots of words doesn’t sell your product; speaking the right words (or using the right image) does.

A successful message starts when you step outside your box and into the box of your customer. What resonates with her? What makes him sit up and take notice? What gets them to make time for you? View your message through different lens. Stop worrying about what you’re “supposed” to say and start worrying about what your audience wants to hear. You’re likely to discover it’s the same message, just viewed in a different way.

Okay, I’ve already lost some of you. The filter kicked in. You started to skim. Fair enough. But think of it this way: I only needed your attention for 60 seconds and I wasn’t asking anything from you in return. How much attention do you need from your customers and what are you asking in return? If you don’t want the filters to kick in, make sure your message is clear and memorable.

* What… you thought I’d actually reference a citation when you can Google the query yourself? Hey, it’s the 21st century already.

#5. Stop Pushing!

No one likes to be pushed. We barely tolerate it in a crowd, and most of us view it as grounds for a fight in a bar. Even first graders know that pushing is a bad thing. So why do we think it’s okay in marketing?

Don’t think you’re pushing? Think again. Are you promoting what you want to sell or are you filling a need of your customer? Are you talking about what’s important to you, or are you listening to what’s important to your customer? Are you pushing what your school wants or are you discovering what your customer wants to support?

Stop pushing. Start pulling.

Remember your parent’s advice on those first adolescent dates? “Ask him what he likes to do,” they said. “Talk about what interests her,” they encouraged. “Don’t talk about yourself. Talk about her,” they insisted. Marketing is just like that. It’s about building a relationship, but most of us are trying to jump into bed on the first date.

Pull out the needs of your customer. Draw out his problems, her questions, their dreams, their wants and expectations. Listen first, talk later. And here’s the surprise: You’ll discover you have the ability to fulfill their needs, provide solutions to their problems, answer their questions, achieve their dreams, and grant their wants and expectations. But this time they’ll see it as a gift to them and they’ll embrace it with open arms.

So, stop pushing. No one likes to be pushed. Find out what I want, what I need, what fulfills me, what makes me whole, what makes me like myself. If you can give that to me, I will be yours forever. All you have to do is ask.