The Biggest Problem That Ails Marketing Today

Someone recently asked me “I would love to hear what the biggest problems with marketing are currently?”

I feel the biggest problem facing marketing currently is customer weariness. People are tired of being sold to especially things they don’t need. According to a recent study, an average person is exposed to 5000+ marketing messages in a day!! It is not difficult to analyse how many of those would be relevant or useful to him.

5000+marketing messages in a day

Every week, I receive a bundle of brochures from retailers in my mailbox, which as it is, ends up in the recycle bin. As a marketer, I feel guilty, and do sometimes flip through them in solidarity with another marketer who must have put in so much effort to put them together. But to be honest, I find them useless, maybe I am not the target customer for whom it is printed and distributed. Looking at them I have often wished, there was an app where I can feed in my monthly grocery list and it can give me an idea of how my bill would look, if I purchase from WoolWorths or Coles or Aldi. ( There I just gave you a business idea, if you cared to listen :)) It would make life easier, since “best price offers” is what the brands are trying to sell me here. Imagine the many man hours wasted! The story of my inbox is no different. 99% of the marketing emails end up in trash. Unopened.

The point is, the customers today are smart, they know where to look for information when they need. Your product/service messaging is not going to do any better than the 4999 others unless thy have a need, you can address.

So does that mean marketing is redundant? No! absolutely not! Though I cannot say the same for our methodologies and our understanding of our customers needs.

Many a time we marketers are guilty of sitting in our offices and coming up with marketing plans that are far removed from what our customers really want. We create target personas, based on our understanding of the market. We have conveniently categorised our customers’ into demographic cohorts of Baby boomers, Millenials or Generation X, Y, Z. We have figured out how each behave based on available data and our experience tells us that the product at hand is good and useful for a person with X needs, but how can you ascertain that your gut is right? In the end every individual is different, his needs varying.

It is simple, we need to talk, gather our own data and then reach a decision, every single time we put together a marketing plan. At times you will be surprised the kind of information you unearth by spending time talking to real people, understanding their needs and challenges. Maybe at times spend time observing how your customer behaves when on a shopping spree. There is no right number to it, it can be 50 or 500. You will know when you see the pattern emerge.

During my Digital Marketing Nanodegree Program at Udacity our first project was about putting together a detailed Marketing plan. The task given was to market the Digital Marketing Nanodegree program and get people to register. Now the most obvious target audience for such a course would be professionals/students from the different disciplines of marketing, like PR, SMM, SEM, Advertising etc. because they would think of the course as upgrading their existing skillset. They are the low hanging fruits, right?

For my research, I adopted a two-pronged approach. I first decided to go through the profiles of 600+ students who had signed up for the first batch of Udacity. As part of our introductions, we had to share what we do and why we decided to take up the course on a common forum. I went through all the responses and categorised my batchmates based on their reasons for joining the course. My data revealed that while the largest group of people to sign up for the course were marketers, the second largest group and almost as many as the marketers were, (Surprise!!) Startup owners or people in the process of setting up their business. As a next step, I interviewed students who had enrolled and people outside who had no clue about the program. I spoke to entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs and found them to be inclined towards a program for which you did not need a marketing background. They saw it as an investment, which would ensure they not just learn how to market their business better but also, gain the know how to deal with third party service providers ( read digital marketing agencies) and know exactly what to expect considering most startups work on tight budgets.

Now if you ask me, I would focus on marketing to this group of startup owners, firstly because a need exists which my service can cater to and secondly if a business owner signs up and benefits, he might encourage others in his team to sign up in the future as his company grows. For an individual looking for a skill upgrade it is just a one time investment. Also the research revealed most of the marketers signed up within hours of getting to know about Udacity’s DMND program. So while reaching out to them through known channels is a given, I would like to spend time planning my efforts for converting the startup owners.

Almost a decade ago while working with a PR agency, I had worked hard on a pitch presentation for a client launching Universal remote controls in the Indian market. To have a better understanding of their customer base, I had conducted a market survey, asking people, their existing relationship with their remotes and if they would use a universal remote control if they had the choice. The research threw up some very interesting data based on which we realised our messaging needed to be very different for the market segment the client wanted to capture. We won the account. The day we signed the agreement, the client told us, we were in a very close battle with another agency and what won us the account was our presentation, the fact that we went out and spoke to people and understood what their customer needs and had real data to back it. Before launching our marketing campaign for the client, we did another survey. We asked some families to use the remote control in their homes for a fortnight and share their experience. Their feedback helped us in fine tuning our messaging. The whole exercise took time, but when we finally went out into the market we knew exactly what our customer’s pain points were and how our product could resolve them.

With the internet boom and all the information available at our finger tips, it is easy to lose touch with the real world, the real people with real needs we are selling to. Everytime I go beyond my comfort zone, I am amazed, at what awaits me.

Yes, I think this is what ails marketing today, we are losing our touch on the pulse of the people, customers whose lives our brands want to make simpler, easier and add value to. We have to stop seeing them as just demographic cohorts, yes it is important when we talk about capturing big markets, but it is equally important to engage with individuals in these groups to understand where they come from, what motivates them.

Let us not tire our customers and add to their existing woes, we need to give them a chance to tell us, what they need.