a giant glacier lies ahead

Marketing Is Like Repeatedly Jumping Off A Cliff

(This piece was originally written for a client. I am including it here because the company was sold and I don't want the article to disappear.)

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What good marketing strategy doesn’t end with jumping off a cliff? For that matter, what bad strategy doesn’t end the same way?

Marketing is the art of carefully preparing campaign after campaign and watching them fail spectacularly. After each whistling plummet over the cliffside, the team regroups, promises never to do that again, then proceeds to do pretty much the same thing, only with a fresh new coat of paint.

What sounds like insanity (or an average day for a cartoon coyote) is actually the way marketing is supposed to work. It’s a cumulative effort, one that, when examined under a microscope, looks a lot like a series of embarrassing experiments. Check out the big picture, though, and suddenly those failures start to make sense.

The first leap, that’s the hard part. Staring over the edge is terrifying, especially when the team knows there’s no alternative. What, should they not launch another campaign? That’s a one-way ticket to Stagnationville. The coffee there is terrible. Might as well jump off the cliff, it’s less painful.

The unknown waiting at the bottom of the cliff is what causes all this trepidation. Will the campaign succeed, or will it fail? That lump in the owner’s throat when an initiative is green-lit arises because he or she knows it’s a gamble. It doesn’t matter if a business is courting six figure clients or dime store impulse shoppers, taking that risk is a tense moment, and failure can be costly.

This moment of utter fear has led to two distinct camps in the marketing world: risk takers vs consistency buffs. The former favor bold strategies that push all kinds of envelopes. They run off the edges of the tallest cliffs just to see what’s at the bottom. When they succeed, they do it in a big way. When they fail, well, they do that in a big way, too. It’s just so embarrassing they try to forget it ever happened.

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Apple is a great example of the risk-taking camp. One of the company’s early marketing efforts was the now-famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial. It introduced the Macintosh computer with dead-eyed dystopian drones punctuated by a hammer-tossing Olympian. It didn’t show the product, it simply gave viewers a distinct sense of “Uh… what?” Apple jumped off a big cliff with that ad, but in this case, it paid off.

Conversely, consistency buffs go for the small to medium sized cliffs, the kind that aren’t so scary to jump off of. Ordinary campaigns, no real innovation, just punching the time clock and reminding people the company exists. There’s still risk involved, but it’s mitigated.

IBM is a classic example of consistent marketing. Take a moment and try to think of an IBM commercial from the past decade. Nothing comes to mind, does it? Maybe some vague sense of engineers in suits and ties, but nothing of note. Despite the company’s blah attitude towards marketing, everyone knows about IBM. They’re not lining up to buy the latest IBM products, but the brand has a solid reputation thanks in part to calm, consistent marketing.

Unfortunately, marketing doesn’t work on a copy/paste basis, so no fair trying to steal Apple or IBM’s ideas. Each business has to find its own balance between these two extremes. Jump off of their own cliffs, research their own unknowns.

The only way to do this is to take the leap. Yes, it’s scary, but if done right, it can work. Pick a target, craft a campaign, jump. What happened? Was it ignored? Fine, that gives the team information for the next campaign. Was it met with cool interest? Excellent. Bump up the hype and try again.

Each new campaign goes through the same process as the last: form a strategy, jump off the cliff. But each jump is a little less risky than the last. The financial gamble is still there, but more experience means each jump is less of an undertaking.

Don’t be fooled into thinking marketing is all about luck. Cliff jumping is necessary, that can’t be avoided, but how those jumps are handled makes all the difference in the world.

The difference between a fruitful dive off a cliff and a wasted opportunity all comes down to effort. Throwing random, low-quality content or designs over the edge isn’t a shortcut to the vaunted status of Marketing Success Hero. Nothing is learned from these actions, except maybe “Seriously. Don’t do that again.” They are failures under the microscope, and failures in the big picture, as well.

Minimizing risk and capitalizing on success in the marketing world means making the jumps better, more targeted, and of the highest quality possible. The only way a jump is really a failure is if it was rushed over the edge, leaving a trail of fluttering papers as it falls to the canyon below.

Precise and reliable content goes a long way to beefing up these marketing leaps and really taking advantage of each campaign. Knowing the when, where, how, and why of jumping puts the effort on an optimal path, and having the content to back it up ensures maximum impact. The good kind of impact, not the splatting kind.

No one knows what’s waiting at the bottom of that cliff. The only way to find out is to jump. And jump again. And then a few more times. Learn from each mistake and carry that experience into the future. Above all, don’t let something as crucial as content be the weak link.

Jumping off a cliff is enough of a gamble. Let us take care of the content side of things while you strap on a parachute. Contact us today to learn more!