April 26, 2016 by

Do you know who your competition is? This is not a trick question. Nor am I expecting you to answer in the negative (although if you did I’d like to interview for that CMO position you so desperately and obviously need). Rather, I would bet that you know exactly who your competition is. And not just your primary competition, either. After all, it’s no great mental feat to notice that if you’re a pizza joint, your arch nemesis is probably pushing pie as well. I’d also illegally wager that you, theoretical dough wrangler, know your secondary competition includes other restaurants, grocery stores that offer take-out, GrubHub.com, and lazy trips to the fridge for leftover chicken tikka masala. And that is awesome – because it’s hard to win when you don’t know whom you’re playing against.

But, just as importantly, do you know who your marketing’s competition is?

This is also not a trick question, although it is pondered less often than my previous query. And the answer is actually a bit intuitive if you stop to think about it: Products compete against similar products, but ads compete against everything. See, your marketing efforts don’t just have to out-hustle, out-work, out-imagine or out-think your competition – they have to be good enough to stand apart from the din of daily existence.

In some cases, like when someone sorts their not-quite-extinct physical mail, that means standing out against other self-mailing ads from disparate companies. But usually it’s more challenging than that. Much more. It is, after all, quite rare for someone to actually be searching out an ad, let alone yours. So your messaging has to be more than just something you want to say. It has to be something people want to hear, to know, to act upon. Related in such a way that they enjoy hearing it or viewing it or experiencing it. And since your ad always begins as an interruption, reading, watching or clicking on it better come with a reward – be it a smile, a laugh or a bit of useful knowledge. Otherwise, you’ve just wasted the consumer’s time and your own efforts in getting their attention in the first place.

Naturally, the idea of your marketing taking on the thousands of other brands vying for the same eyeballs can seem more than a touch daunting. And while I, as a writer and creative director, would love to tell you that a great piece of creative work will solve the problem, the truth is that it won’t. Not on its own. The creativity and wise decisions must not only flow from the final, produced pieces, but also from the media strategy, the messaging strategy and the overall marketing strategy. A great message seen by the wrong people or at the wrong time is irrelevant. The wrong message presented artfully is dead on arrival. And a fantastically viral video, tweet or Instagram will be much ado about nothing if it’s not reinforcing (and being reinforced by) a broader effort.

(And if your business is primarily B2B, don’t fall into the trap that people reading an industry publication or website take off their consumer hat when viewing the advertising. No one picks up an industry rag and thinks, “Two men shaking hands in front of columns really speaks to me.”)

Luckily for you and me and the few other folks who understand that marketing done right is always an investment and never a cost, the dearth of good strategic marketing benefits our own efforts. Yes, awful marketing may be a blight upon our inboxes, senses of good taste and culture at large, but the one good thing about bad ads is the stark contrast they provide for the great ones. So really, when you push yourself or your CEO or your agency to craft better plans and better creative, you’re doing the smartest, safest marketing of all – the kind capable of taking on the world. The kind that actually works.

Jason Fox is the executive creative director at Webster, and the chin behind @leeclowsbeard.

Jason Fox is the executive creative director at Webster, and the chin behind @leeclowsbeard.

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