What's Wrong With Marketing?
On an obscure train journey one afternoon this week, I sat near a microcosm of marketing myopia - three executives working in the promotion of horse racing in this country. In the space of ten minutes (and in their own words) they revealed a number of common marketing/business traits.
1) Assuming homogenous demand.
One of the three was bewildered by the fact that while Chester racecourse had booming attendance in recent years this was not reflected in the static television viewing figures of their racing.
The answer is that Chester, an idiosyncratic historic venue with a tight oval track, is a great place to visit. But, because of this, the racing is also idiosyncratic,harder to follow on screen and less appealing to those who bet.
She was wrongly assuming that viewers wanted the same thing on their screen as they did when attending in person. When you put yourself in the customer's shoes, you have to remember they have different shoes for different occasions.
2) Diversifying the product to increase demand.
One of the ways racing has sought to expand its attendance and television audience has been through additional features designed to appeal to specific demographics. Thus, there is a rise of fashion shows and themed "ladies days" aimed at enticing more women and post-racing rock concerts seeking out the elusive youth demographic.
To some extent this works in terms of attendance, but there has been some alienation of the core audience. Moreover, there has to be a question of what these new customers are buying and whether they will have any loyalty. Is their attendance the physical equivalent of a webpage impression or is it more substantial?
Expanding your offer is not necessarily the same as enriching it. While that may be a justifiable move if you're moving your business (and implicitly acknowledging that your original business is in terminal decline), it is also the road to the industrialisation of novelty that William Gibson derides in his new book. Intensifying your product is the better way to go.
3) Hiring from within.
In the course of their conversation, the executives spoke of their backgrounds and how they all understood racing. One man noted how the industry was a small world where "people do seem to pop up in different places and circle around". That's no doubt factually true and hardly unique to racing, but there was no questioning of whether that was good thing.
In a fast-moving world knowing what your industry did five years ago may have some value, but it's definitely a diminishing asset. Knowing how things were done five years ago is of questionable value, especially if your industry is declining and/or you looking to get new customers. On the other hand, being able to determine why it's declining is invaluable.
If you want to be successful, look at what successful marketers do and adapt it to your industry. Not the other way round.
4) Celebrating the deal.
Finally, there was a lot of discussion and back-slapping about the deals and partnerships they'd each negotiated with various third parties. These all were apparently "good fits" and destined to provide great success in the future.
Doing the deal isn't enough, even if your bonus structure might suggest otherwise. That's just the beginning of the work that must be done to ensure that they have a successful outcome for your business. When that happens, you can celebrate and look for the next one. Not before.
I'm sure there was more I could have learned from these guys, but unfortunately I had reached my destination.