Why some marketing is almost always better than no marketing

Marketing Week columnist Harry Lang shares an excerpt from his recently published book, Brands, Bandwagons & Bullshit, a guidebook for young professionals embarking on careers in marketing, advertising, PR and media.

“In the real world, consumers are massively not joining ‘conversations’ about your brand. Not committed to having a ‘relationship’ with it. They do not want to ‘engage with your content,’ and are not fascinated by your ‘brand stories.’ They do not consider themselves part of a ‘community’ or ‘tribe’ that has your brand at the centre.”

Wise words from the living legend that is Bob Hoffman, rubbishing much of the BS floated around the industry like a pervading cloud of holistic piffle. And largely true – nobody really cares.

So what the hell does ‘marketing’ do, anyway?

If you already work in the creative media industries (let’s umbrella those as design, advertising, marketing, digital, social, media, SEO, content, CRM and PR for the sake of neatness) then chances are, you’ve heard the spiel numerous times in various guises during your background research, interviews, workshops, TED Talks, on YouTube and at conferences. If you’re new to this world, well here it is.

Definitions of marketing

We’ll take the traditional route of plagiarism first as, in this instance, the definition from The Chartered Institute of Marketing in 2007 sounds credible, if a little matronly:

“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.”

So far so good, right? Kind of? Nearly?


To the uneducated eye, it’s still as clear as a post-party political conference press release. Lesson 1 – marketing is about selling and misdirection. Often very well executed, and always with an objective to achieve value for the product owner that exceeds the value to the consumer, whilst coming at a minimal cost to the product owner and the highest achievable cost to the consumer.

Still not clear? No, me neither. So here’s a mini breakdown of the steps involved in a generic marketing process:

  1. Creating products that are perceived as being (much) more valuable than the sum of their parts – this is where a strong brand earns its keep.
  2. Inducing people to want to buy said product for (much) more than it costs to make – this can be through marketing campaigns or direct sales and is often known as acquisition. Hell will freeze over before anyone agrees whether marketing is a function of sales or vice versa, but turning them from a curious lead into a paying customer is often called conversion.
  3. Keeping your customers engaged and happy through new and improved product quality, and heart-warming relationship-building communications and after-sales care. This is known as retention.
  4. Minimising the loss of returning customers. It’s cheaper to keep a customer than it is to find a new one, so a good marketing strategy always tends and nurtures its loyal base. Sometimes, these customers simply don’t come back. So you do everything in your power to change their minds – this is reactivation.

I always find these kinds of multi-faceted concepts are best delivered through an analogy, so here’s what integrated channel marketing looks like in its most naked form:

  1. Imagine you’re a farmer and one day you drop some corn in the fire and it pops. Congratulations – you’ve invented popcorn.
  2. You name your tasty invention ‘Fabulous Popping Corn’ (or ‘FPC’ hereafter) and sell it in bright red boxes with a corn stalk on the front being struck by lightning – this is branding.
  3. You build a website and a suite of digital assets and start selling FPC online – this is where design, UX and UI come in.
  4. You add a bunch of keywords to your website like ‘Best sugary snack’, so people find you more easily through Google and other search engines – this is search engine optimisation (SEO).
  5. You decide you want to sell more volume, so you bid on the term ‘Sweet snacks’ in Google AdWords – this is pay-per-click or PPC.
  6. A year in and you want to understand and communicate with your customer base more effectively, so you email customers who haven’t purchased in over three months with a ‘buy one, get one free’ offer – this is customer relationship management (CRM) pushing a sales promotion.
  7. To generate more brand awareness you put the FPC logo on the shirts of your local football team and write a press release about the deal. This is sponsorship promoted through PR and can also help SEO.
  8. With your new football fan base you push out stories and videos about the players enjoying your product on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube – you’ve kicked off your social media presence and activation.
  9. Year two sales are strong, and a big supermarket chain decides to stock FPC – you make a TV ad, a radio ad and buy print advertising and billboards in key cities. This is above-th-line advertising.
  10. You do a deal with Netflix – every time a person renews their subscription they get a free bag of FPC. This is a third-party partnership facilitating a new customer sampling campaign.
  11. You expand internationally – good for you! But Fabulous Popping Corn translates to ‘Rubbish Crumb Farts’ in simplified Chinese. Not cool. You naturally feel an urgent need to employ a localisation expert to trans-create your brand name, website, and marketing campaigns.

The thing is even bad marketing can have an impact. Try and remember the most annoying ads you’ve ever seen – the inane characters, teeth-grating soundtrack – probably the odd animated creature. A great proportion of those ads actually worked – they brought the brand to front of mind, generated noise and interest, and if the campaign ran for a while in several iterations, you could safely assume it sold some product, too.

Something is better than nothing

“You miss 100% of shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky, 1983.

This quote has been deployed in marketing meetings more often than a plate of stale biscuits, yet some marketing is (almost always) better than no marketing. Even the most abhorrent ad, email, branded video, or social post will have some kind of positive impact (‘Go Compare’ for yourself).

Of course, a well-researched brief and astute media strategy will do better (much better, in fact) but it’s a handy reminder that having something live is almost always better than being a silent wallflower.

Harry Lang is a 20 year marketing veteran, currently marketing director at Buzz Bingo. He published Brands, Bandwagons & Bullshit to help young marketers and flummoxed professionals alike to understand how marketing and related disciplines work. It’s available to buy as an ebook and paperback here: https://amazon.com/author/harrylang.

You can also find Harry at www.MarketingBook.co.uk, on LinkedIn, or @MrHarryLang.