Not all marketing ideas are created equal...
TV vampire Damon Salvatore once famously said: 'There's no such thing as a bad idea. Only poorly executed awesome ones.'
I can kinda see where he's coming from - although there are notable exceptions. Lying down on the train tracks...tasting a cactus...hugging an angry honey badger...all fairly bad ideas.
And if ol' Damo could stop just drinking blood for five darn minutes, he'd see that the world of online marketing is saturated with ideas - and, unfortunately, yes, despite our best efforts, many of them are bad. Of course they are - as Linus Pauling once said, 'The best way to have good ideas, is to have lots of ideas.'
You can't hit a home run every time.
Let's clear one thing up: No marketer is coming up with crummy ideas on purpose. Whether it's rebranding, content or individual campaigns, we all set out with the intention of creating useful, remarkable stuff. In the beginning, they all seem like good ideas. So why do some hit the mark and others don't?
And - crucially - how do we separate the good ideas from the average (and even bad ones...) ideally before we spend precious time developing them?
In this article, I'm going to run through some simple ideas to help you do just that.
Do not trust yourself. Ever.
*Controversial statement warning.* You won't find this on any inspirational quote images, but I think the number one mistake you can make as a marketer can make is to simply trust your own judgement.
Woah woah woah...before the vigilante mob comes for me, let me say that the idea of self-conviction is clearly admirable. But as a marketer, success isn't typically about what you like. It's about what will resonate with your audience. And without actively asking them, all you're doing is guessing, or stroking your own ego by doing stuff you like.
Think of marketing as a big ol' dinner party. Lobster roulade might be your favourite dish in the whole wide world, but if your guests hate it, the party is gonna be a huge bust. They'll leave early and probably call you names when your back is turned - and come on, that's just gonna hurt your feelings, especially after you cooked 'em a meal.
The lesson here is, any time you have an idea - even if you think it's the greatest idea of all time - please, run it past somebody else first. Ideally someone who's representative of your target audience! Focus groups, market research, questionnaires and surveys. Whatever it takes.
You need to validate your ideas and make sure you're serving up what your audience likes. Once you've canvassed opinion, it's time to make decisions, and you're definitely the boss here - but at least you're making judgement calls with real-world feedback ringing in your ears, rather than simply your inner voices. I hate those guys.
The Research Sandwich
The way I see it, great online marketing begins and ends with one thing: research. And in the middle, for good measure, is a big fat layer of more research.
Because, for one thing, it's incredibly noisy out there in marketing land. Whatever your metrics for success, I'll bet good money that you'll only achieve them by creating something that stands out from the ever-growing crowd.
Without the knowledge of what's happening in your industry, what your competitors are doing and what really works, you might as well be going in with your eyes shut. And succeeding in online marketing is tough enough with 'em open.
This applies to pretty much every facet of your marketing:
- Branding. Differentiating your brand from the competition requires a lot of analysis of what other companies are doing, how it resonates with the market, and how best to pitch yourself. Without this knowledge, you're highly likely to become a 'me-too' brand, or, worse, just operate a brand that's clearly inferior to your competitors.
- Content. Imagine having a sweet idea for an infographic, putting hours of work into it, only to find out your competitor already knocked it out of the park with a nearly identical piece. Content needs to be fully scoped out - you need to identify what worked in the past, and work out a plan on how to make it even better. I'll cover this in more detail shortly.
- Social. In a domain that's so very public, the last thing you want to do is fall flat on your face. Falling over is embarrassing. Don't be like the guys promoting the new Susan Boyle album, who used the hashtag '#susanalbumparty.' If they'd done some prior research, someone might have told them how silly that idea was.
Use past success as your starting point
The best blueprint for success is, simply put, success. Or, to put it in slightly less nonsensical terms, the best starting point for any marketing campaign is to take the lead from campaigns that have worked in the past - and not necessarily just stuff you did, but others in your industry, too.
In the world of content marketing, in particular, the ideas are already out there, and you'll know which ones they were because - uh, well, they worked.
So let's say you're looking to build brand awareness and build inbound links (thus driving organic traffic) by creating and outreaching an infographic. You could brainstorm ideas...run focus groups...check out industry forums...they're all fine ideas, don't get me wrong.
But ultimately, your sole metrics for success here are shares and links. So get out there and find infographics that already snagged an insane amount of shares and links - then make it better. Bring the data up to date, improve the design, make it more comprehensive. Then get out there and hustle those sites that already linked to it. 'Hey,' you'll say. 'That piece you shared is awesome, and I know your audience loved it, but check this out: I made something even better.' You can read more about this technique here.
I know, the idea of being an innovator is appealing and the feeling of success in that scenario is undoubtedly more rewarding. But hey - you wanted ways to mitigate the risk of wasting time on bad ideas. And this is definitely one way to do it!
Planning before Execution
It's only natural that many online marketers are besotted with the act of executing their ideas. That's typically the bit where the results happen, after all.
But I want to use a sports analogy to explain why this is a short-sighted and highly limiting approach.
When I'm not writing articles like this, you can often find me at Goodison Park watching Everton play Premier League Football. And while most people focus on what happens at 3pm on a Saturday (the bit that, technically, decides results), in many ways, it's the unseen preparatory work on training fields and in the gym that ultimately determines how the team performs.
I'm essentially saying that the actual execution of your marketing idea, far from being the main event, is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as taking to the field without putting in the preparation is going to lead to failure, your marketing is doomed to fall flat if you didn't do the majority of the work in advance.
There's all the research I've outlined above, with extensive consultation at every stage of the process. For content marketing and press releases, pre-outreach is an often-overlooked (but essential) component to successful campaigns. You should already have warmed up contacts to share your content and lined up some favourable press outlets long before you hit 'send.'
The overriding point here is this: don't race to execution, take your time and do your work beforehand. When it comes to execution, this should be a miniscule part of the process which is little more than flicking the switch on a plan that's already well in motion.
Marketing, ultimately, is a game of ideas. Some good, some bad. The points I've made in this article are by no means going to eliminate the bad ones, but they should help to minimise them and put screens in place to catch the ones that do slip through!
To summarise, the structural basis behind any great marketing idea is made up of lots of research and consultation. If your idea stinks, it's much better to find out in a focus group than face a torrent of social media derision.
Once your idea is validated, the work isn't done. At this point it's an acorn that requires careful cultivation if it's to grow into a mighty oak. Do the work in advance and save yourself the headaches when your idea becomes a reality!