3 memorable marketing battles I've fought in the name of 'best practice'
Marketing (as a career choice) has been a largely rewarding field to be in; especially since digital marketing formally became such a massive part of it all. But, as many of you will know, it’s not without its challenges.
I don’t know what it is about the discipline, but it seems to attract a barrage of what I like to call ‘armchair marketers’. These are people who think they know about all things marketing, but yet don’t even know where to begin, or how the different aspects of digital marketing fit together - and work together.
These are perhaps people who:
Say ‘pooter’ instead of ‘computer’
Think marketing and sales are the same thing
Drop marketing buzzwords into conversations (but don’t really know what they mean)
But they don’t even know how to do simple tasks such as add a text box into a Word document.
And they’re the ones who ask what the ‘Open’ number means on the high level marketing mailer stats you’re showing them.
Yet these are the people who can be powerful commentators and critics of what you’re doing over there, in your quiet corner.
I’ve been there my friend. Having worked as an in-house marketer for quite a few organisations now, I know that it doesn’t matter what your job title or specialism is - or how many years of experience you’ve already got under your belt - that marketing initiative, campaign or activity can still be up for grabs to the interfering, senior knuckle-draggers who may be frequenting an oversized desk somewhere in your office*.
(*Just to say here, not all senior managers are like this, I’m sure; just most of the ones I’ve worked with during the course of my working life.)
Here are a few war stories I can share with you…
The one where it took 7 months to get a simple flyer to print
In my first real unadulterated, full-time marketing role, I worked at a local authority as a communications and promotions officer. My remit was all things marketing - including tasks related to what would later become properly known as digital marketing(!).
So this included sorting out copy, editing and proofing branded print for the council. I worked on a lot of this during my time there, and I remember one job in particular being a complete farce. What had started as a straight-forward piece of print quickly turned into something akin to the stand-off between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
It all boiled down to the council’s ‘house style’ - their guidelines on how to write - and one of the tenets of this house style was that fractions would be written as words when feasible.
This piece of print I was working on was all about child day care, so it contained lots of 1/2 day references running all the way through it.
To cut a long story short, it was my job to include ‘half day’ within the copy and not ‘1/2 day’. Perhaps this was not ‘best practice’ in the universal sense, but internally - yes, this was best practice. And this minor tweak did not sit well with the Childrens Services lady whom it was for.
And so began a rather lengthy stand-off (which would last more than several months) about how the word should be portrayed. She escalated it to my line manager, and eventually my head of service.
I’m afraid that I can be stubborn, but I also believed I was right.
If you work or have ever worked at a local authority, you’ll know that internal politics is king — and, because of that, I was told to put it back to the way the woman wanted it (even though that went against the department’s own style guidelines. Yes, total bollocks.).
The one where I had to spend an entire meeting convincing people to gate a white paper
This is a prime example of what I mentioned at the start of this blog - i.e. people not understanding how digital marketing works in practice.
Digital marketing is an eco system of sorts - and it contains many different components that all work together. It can be straightforward, or very, very detailed.
Having introduced the notion of a ‘mini paper’ at another place of work (when I say mini paper, I mean like a downloadable white paper or study, but much shorter!), we were seeing some brilliant results in attracting larger than average volumes of inbound leads for the company.
One day… a new mini paper was about to be released, and I received an email from a senior manager basically along the lines of “we have decided not to put a form in front of this paper, and x and y agree”.
Ah the classic “if it’s not broke, why don’t we break it?” strategy! I’m very familiar with that old adage.
Cue me objecting strongly straight away, and then being sent a meeting request soon after for a meeting where, almost in Dragon’s Den style, I had to ‘convince’ my esteemed colleagues why we should gate the new paper.
The main decision maker didn’t even turn up.
It really was a super ridiculous waste of my time. I was the digital marketing manager there. We’d already been doing the gated downloads thing for ages. It was working fine. Why weren’t they listening?
In the end, I went to the extreme of using this kind of analogy with them:
“Not putting a form in front of the paper would be like printing off a load of copies, going to the roof of this building and throwing them off the top. You wouldn’t have a clue who picked them up or where they ended up. This is why we need a form in front of it.”
At this point they all smirked at each other. “Yes, I really do have to be this simplistic about it with you” I think to myself.
“We have a good conversion rate already for downloadable paper landing pages (because, guess what? Marketing hold the data on this), so we know that our target audience are largely comfortable with filling in a short form - they already see our content (aherm, produced largely by Marketing) as holding value.”
The one where I tried to improve user experience for an important area of the website
In a previous role, I was helping to head up a website revamp project for my employer, and one of the first places I started was the commissioning of some independent consultancy to help us conduct analysis of the soon-to-be-old site’s past performance. This was because I wanted to take lessons learned from there and factor it into the new website - TO MAKE IT A BETTER WEBSITE.
Makes sense, right?
One of the things which stood out for me from the analysis was the fact that the vast majority of the traffic was coming from jobseekers, and sometimes they were browsing the non-’jobs’ part of the site in their quest to find the ‘jobs’ section. This was because the site was quite far away from being UX-friendly. It was not structured in the most optimum way, and I expect it was often ‘needle in a haystack’ territory for the user when it came to finding the content they were after.
I wanted to make sure we directed future job hunters straight to the jobs section. One of the simple devices our web agency mocked up to help make this happen was to invert the colour of the ‘JOBS’ part of the top level nav so it stuck out against the other areas more clearly.
The rationale made complete sense, but as usual, it came down to a committee decision. And that was to not go ahead with that idea and blend it in with the rest of the top level nav menu options. Who knows why.
I remember when I found out (because the minutia was often decided in a steering group that I was not ‘senior’ enough to go to, but yet had no-one else with any digital knowledge in it), I was absolutely fuming.
I was told that senior management “wouldn’t argue with the data / evidence” if you presented it to them. And we had. And they had. So it was all total bollocks.
So I was perversely self-satisfied a year or so onwards, when I saw that the problems from the old iteration of the website were still happening on the new site. We knew we were right in wanting to change that one thing, and it was now confirmed through the GA data a year on.
To be continued…
The above mostly serve to illustrate the fact that non-marketers shouldn’t necessarily have the right to get involved or direct anything marketing-related; especially when it comes to digital, where their minds can be blown when they start to half-realise that things like SEO can’t be made to happen by hitting some kind of big red button.
“Can we have some SEO with that please?” True story.
If you’ve read the above, and it makes you think of similar things that have happened to you, know that you’re not alone. These armchair marketers are everywhere, and we must keep fighting for what we know is right!