The Secret to Good Organizational Marketing

The Secret to Good Organizational Marketing

There’s a secret to good organizational marketing—a secret that’s rather simple, but rarely implemented. It’s true for one-person marketing departments, international marketing teams, third-party marketing agencies, and marketing consultants. It’s likely true for you, too.


In a previous article I talked about the concept of good marketing; that “good” can mean both effective and virtuous. Here’s the quick scribble I used to illustrate the concept.

good marketer 2x2

In this piece, I want to riff on the idea of being effective (moving up the 2X2) and share what I think is the key to effective marketing on an organizational level.

Anyone can develop individual competency in our field. Fire up your browser and you’ll find a ton of free info on how to conduct every sort of marketing tactic under the sun. Best time to post a video, how to write a marketing plan, where to send press releases, sizes for social media assets, blog post formulas—the internet has got ya, fam.

That’s how people these days become good. But, how does an organization become effective at marketing?

Aligned Vikings eat dinner

It’s tempting to think that by hiring competent marketers, the best of the best, the result would be a company that’s good at marketing. Certainly, it’s great to have a high-powered team, but that’s no guarantee the company will be effective. To move an organization into competence, into effective marketing, you need alignment more than competency.

It’s a little counterintuitive. You’d think a marketing department of twenty tactical experts doing their thing would result in a successful company. But, unless they’re working on the same goals, the company isn’t going to benefit much.

A simple metaphor is a Viking ship with the top oarsmen in the clan. Unless everyone is rowing in unison and in the same direction, Björn will not be home for dinner. Ever. Conversely, a ship with mediocre oarsmen aligned in timing and direction will get the job done just fine.

So, how do we get an organization aligned?

Just one word

Like Mr. McGuire in The Graduate, I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening?

Plastics. Strategy.

You may be thinking this is obvious. But, I’ll challenge you. Take some of the projects and tasks you’re busy working on and ask yourself, what strategy is this connected to?

I’m willing to bet that in some instances you don’t really know what the strategy is. (And, no, “make money” is not a strategy. It’s a goal.) In other instances, you had to work a bit to connect the dots.

For as obvious as strategy is, and for as much as we like to talk about it in the business world, I just don’t see it much in the wild. A lot of companies don’t have one, or if they do, it’s sitting on a shelf in a binder collecting dust.

Referring to the strategy isn’t critical for a lot of what goes on day-to-day. We all know selling product, retaining customers, and remaining competitive are important activities that don’t require justification. But, to create an organization that sits at the top of the incompetent/competence axis, you have to get aligned.

The Strategy Stack

Ideally, your organization’s strategy stack will look something like this.

an illustration of Mike Gastin's strategy stack for marketing

At the top are the goals and objectives of your company (or client’s company). These are critical, as they will have a ripple effect throughout the organization. A company that’s hoping to be acquired soon will conduct very different marketing than a company that’s trying to unseat a rival to capture the number one position in the market.

Underneath the goals and objectives should be a corporate strategic plan. This should identify how the company is going to accomplish its goals: acquire companies with new technology, increase manufacturing efficiencies to be more competitive, enter new markets—you get the picture.

Underneath the corporate strategy should be a strategic marketing plan. It should identify what marketing is going to do to deliver on each of the company’s strategies. If one corporate strategy is to increase prices to add more margin, marketing might develop a strategy that involves increasing brand equity in order to justify higher prices to the market.

Lastly, you should have a tactical marketing plan. This should map out the what, how, who, when, and where of each marketing strategy. This is about execution and checklists.

Team work makes the dream work

Ultimately, there should be a clear line from the daily activities of your social media coordinator to the decisions that were made in the C-Suite. Everyone involved should understand how their work contributes to the goals and objectives of the company.

This may sound like simple stuff, and in theory it is. Implementing this approach in an organization is certainly hard work but it is the soundest way to transform an organization into an effective marketing machine.

Posted by Mike in Articles
The Good Marketer

The Good Marketer

What does it mean to be a good marketer?

Is it a simple matter of increasing sales or growing margins? A collection of industry awards and professional accomplishments? Maybe it’s years accumulated on the job or promotions secured. How do you and I know if we’re good marketers?

One word

The key lies in how we understand the word good.

There are many ways to understand good, but for this discussion, I think it can be distilled down to two concepts. The first being good as competence. A good marketer is one who is able to get results; a marketer that knows her stuff. The second is good as virtuous, meaning a marketer that is ethical and moral in the way they market and in choosing what work they do.

Note: I want to avoid getting stuck on the idea that good must equal charity. Certainly, if you were Mother Teresa’s marketing manager you’d be right up there in the pantheon of virtuous marketers. But, to be clear, meeting people’s healthy desires, helping a business thrive, and creating good jobs through your marketing activities easily falls within the concept of the virtuous good.

Mapping the terrain

Now, let’s take these two meanings and create a 2X2 chart, plotting virtue-good along the x axis and competence-good along the y axis. Here’s what you get:

good marketer 2x2

The Repugnant Sewer

This is the place where, thankfully, that which is bad meets marketing that’s completely useless. It’s the sewer and we see it for what it is. These are the horrors of society, like human trafficking and genocide. Sadly, at times “marketers” become more competent and are able to get some of these ideas to catch on, making them more accepted and moving them out of the sewer.

Sexy Poison

This is competent evil. It’s the effective marketing of goods and services that damage relationships, make our bodies sick, put our children at risk, or rob us of our agency. This is the peddling of ideas and causes that are destructive and dehumanizing. The scary thing is, the more competent the marketer, the less obvious the poison. Of course, we have to take into consideration the somewhat relative nature of this discussion. One person’s poison can be another’s small pleasure. Alcohol use or gambling come to mind here.

Wasted Benefit

Here we find the good suffering under incompetent marketing. These are the good causes, the good companies that make good products and offer good jobs, the good ideas, the good movements, and the good organizations that want to make the world better—each not realizing their potential. Their brands are weak, their campaigns broken, their strategies missing, and their tactics all wrong. If only …

Mountain Top

Imagine the combination of a decent company, with a product that makes life better and a marketing function that knows how to deliver. Or, an organization that cares for those who can’t care from themselves, coupled with a marketer that knows how to get the community to go all in. This is the mountain top—nothing but fresh air, clear skies, and a view that goes on forever. Notice, there’s hardly anyone here.

Being a good marketer

This is an overly simplistic framework for something that’s much more complicated and subtle. But, even in its oversimplification, it reveals the truth. The temptation is to use the complexity/subtlety argument as a rationale to reject the picture that the 2X2 creates; to dismiss it as silly and to move on. That would be a mistake.

Each one of us, at any given time, has aspects of our work that fall farther left on the chart than we’d probably like. And, unless you’re a perfect machine, there’s always opportunity to become more competent. Marketing can be complicated and it’s too easy to ignore the nagging question of goodness by getting lost in our work, as if being busy is justification enough. But, to become truly good, our underlying work must be to continually move farther right and further up the chart.

With each improvement in skill, each campaign launched with the benefit of our stakeholders in mind, each product or service we promote that makes lives better, each human problem solved, each life we enrich, each unfulfilled promise we reconcile, we move closer to the mountain top.

No one occupies a static place on the chart. We move, moment by moment, as we go about our work. If you want to be a good marketer, get into the habit of considering where you are at any given time and work hard to reorient towards the summit.


If you enjoyed this, make sure to check out The Currency, my podcast for marketers.

Posted by Mike in Articles
How to Create an Insurmountable Gulf Between You and Your Competition

How to Create an Insurmountable Gulf Between You and Your Competition

You can create an insurmountable gulf between you and your competition. It all starts with applying a unique lens to your product—one that hardly anyone uses.

Monocles, Lorgnettes, and Spectacles

I love a good lens. Not the kind we put on our faces, although a stylish pair of glasses can do wonders, but rather the metaphorical kind.

Like a carpenter with his favorite hammer, I’m quick to reach for a lens whenever I set about solving a client problem. The beauty of a good lens is it brings into focus obscured and hidden details. In fact, I’ve found the right lens is transformational, recontextualizing a problem in such a way as to make the solution obvious. Lenses are the business thinker’s friend and when used intelligently, they never disappoint.

In this piece, I’m going to share a lens with you that will reveal the pathway to creating an insurmountable gulf between you and your competitors.

A Question

What do you sell?

What is your company’s offering—a widget, software, a service, consumer goods? Take a moment and answer. Got it in mind? Good. Hold that thought because we’re going to come back to it in a moment.

Of Cornucopias and Firehoses

There are about 30 million businesses in the US. A true multitude, which results in an overflow of offerings. As consumers we can all agree, it’s a beautiful thing. But for business owners, it’s a different story.

Our market is so thick with entrepreneurial endeavors that we find ourselves surrounded by competition. It’s the rare business that enjoys the fabled Blue Ocean. (I’ve never encountered one, have you?) For this reason, we are driven to create competitive advantages, to be somehow different, better, more desirable.

Commonalities and Opportunities

Even with all our differences, most every business shares two things in common: products and customers. (I’m using the term “products” to encompass all offerings.) You could say that products and customers constitute the simplest of business models.

To show you how you can create that insurmountable gulf, we need to focus on the product-customer model.

Without Further Ado

Let’s get back to your answer to my earlier question. Let’s talk about your product.

There are so many ways to look at your product. You can view it through its features or view it through its pricing. You can view it through its manufacturing or through its constituent parts. The list goes on.

Each of these views (or lenses) help us understand our product in a unique way. For instance, when we think about it in terms of its sales, we’re assessing it through the lens of revenue generation. We’re not necessarily thinking about it in terms of the cost to make the product, or in terms of its efficacy, or about its brand. When we think in terms of sales we’re locked into answering revenue-related questions surrounding that product and nothing else.

The trick to creating the insurmountable gulf is all in using the right lens—in seeing your product in a unique way.

Now, a lot of people will tell you that using your customer as the lens is the way to go. Customers are certainly a critical piece of any product puzzle. But, I do not agree with this advice.

This way of thinking—that the customer is the one lens to rule them all—consigns us to endless focus groups, voice of the customer programs, and a myriad of dubious online customer surveys. We get stuck focused on use cases, features, and benefits—fine things in their own right, but not enough to really change the game.

To see the full picture we have to use the lens of your customer’s journey. This is the lens that doesn’t just look at your product, but rather contextualizes your product within your customer’s full experience. It may not seem like it right now, but this way of looking at your product can generate significant innovation; insurmountable-gulf-level innovation.

What Do You See?

Looking at our product through the customer’s journey reveals one very important insight, the key really: the entire experience is the product. This is the truth that if we choose to act on it will create the insurmountable gulf.

Your customer has a journey that starts with a felt need, consummates in acquiring your product, and continues as they use it, maintain it, and eventually replace it. There are tens, if not hundreds, of points along that journey where your customer is interacting with your company and experiencing your product.

What are all these interactions and experiences like? What is it like to experience your marketing? What about your sales process? What is it like to buy your product or take delivery? What is it like to use your product? To contact customer support? To replace your product when it’s used up or worn out?

We easily get focused on the features and benefits of our product, and we should. But, in doing so, we lose track of the fact that our customers form their opinion of our product based on the whole experience. Whether they know it or not, to our customers, the whole experience is the product.

If your widget works great but your sales team is cranky and your after-sale support is nonexistent, then really your product is subpar. The fact is, our customers are not just buying our products, they are buying the whole experience. If the experience is lackluster then the odds are they won’t come back, even if the product is decent.

They’re Just Shoes

Let me give you an example. Have you ever bought a pair of shoes from Zappos? It’s crazy. They’re just shoes. In fact, Zappos is just a retailer. They don’t make their own shoes or sell a private label version. They just retail a huge collection of name brand shoes on line. Simple. But people love Zappos, like really love them.

From a start up in 1999 to a multi-billion dollar business today, Zappos enjoys the insurmountable gulf when it comes to retail shoes. It was so successful that it was acquired in 2009 by Amazon for $1.2 billion. The reason? Well, it’s the experience. They bend over backwards to make your experience amazing. You can even call their customer service department and ask for a list of pizza delivery companies in your neighborhood and they’ll come through.

Zappos gets it. They know that the entire experience is the product and they’ve crafted, scripted, and innovated every moment of their customer’s interactions and experiences. All of this is done specifically to create an experience so unique that no one can hold a candle to them.

The Gate is Open, Drive Through

What does this mean for us? It means we have an opportunity. Most companies do not think this way. They don’t consider all aspects of their customer-facing operations as part of the product. Sure, we all want to have great customer service and quick delivery times. But, I can tell you with confidence, it is the rare company that purposefully crafts the entire customer experience from pre- to post-sale to product lifecycle to repeat purchase with the understanding that the experience is the product.

This means that companies who understand this insight have an opportunity to create real advantage. What if you mapped out your customer’s service journey and you began to look for ways to improve just one aspect of that experience? What if you were able to innovate that one aspect and you developed a unique and better way to engage your customers? What if you only did that this year? How would that impact your customer relationships? How would that help your sales team? How would that effect your revenues and margins? What if you did that every year, just focused on one aspect of your customer’s journey, and innovated, improved, and transformed it?

Do you think you’d pull out ahead of the pack? Do you think you’d transform your brand? Do you think the market would view your offering as head and shoulders above the competition? Could you create an insurmountable gulf?

Zappos did it and I know you can, too.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like to read my take on The Good Marketer—it’s a framework for how we marketers can accomplish good through our work.

Posted by Mike in Articles