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13 ways to kill great marketing: while you may understand marketing, there are others who don't. And these well-intentioned amateurs can create havoc with your best-laid plans.

Bad things happen to good marketing, to paraphrase the title of a popular book of several years ago. It makes a salient point, one that often flies over the heads of everyone from president to teller. It's this: unlike other bank functions--from accounting to human resources--every bank manager sees himself as a self-anointed marketing expert.

This doesn't deny the value of input. Carefully measured and analyzed, such information can provide valuable insights for refining and shaping a marketing program.

At the same time, too many "cooks" can--and do--spoil the marketing "soup." Or, more to the point, distort, alter, subvert and even kill what could be productive marketing programs. Unfortunately, it's not always evident what's happening until the damage is done.

Here are 13 common ways self-appointed marketing experts damage and even destroy beneficial marketing efforts.

1. Basing decisions on personal opinion. This is the number one killer. Listen carefully. If you hear such words as "I think," "I feel," "in my opinion," "I never listen to," "direct mail is too expensive," "we tried all of that" or "advertising never works," when a marketing program or project is discussed, you are talking to a killer.

Marketing isn't for amateurs any more than is accounting. Personal opinion is no substitute for experience and research.

2. Lack of follow-through. Experience suggests that those who talk the most about marketing tend to know the least, do the least, or both. The more they talk, the less they do. They come to meetings ready to battle, but when you ask them for specific information, the best they can do is send you a pdf file. These are the people who espouse high expectations, but when it comes down to translating ideas into action, they come up empty.

3. Failing to do enough. The talk is bigger than the budget--or the commitment. The meetings are always about developing a comprehensive, proactive, consistent marketing program. Then when it gets close to implementation day, there is a scaling back and eliminating of components.

Successful marketing demands a carefully crafted and expertly executed plan that meets its objectives because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When elements are cut out, pared back and otherwise altered, there is a diminishing of the overall impact and the program falls short.

Every element of a marketing program will not be highly successful. Failures occur. If the program is sufficiently robust, the failures will not "crash" the overall effort.

4. Procrastinating. Some financial institutions are filled with decision makers who can't bring themselves to make decisions. These are the people who have learned to avoid trouble by endlessly delaying what should be done. They are "rational obstructionists" in that they always have what sound like good reasons for not moving forward. In this way, projects and issues either go away on their own or someone else picks them up.

These are the people who see themselves as protectors, not procrastinators. Invariably, they defend their inaction under a shroud of "I am only thinking about what's good for the bank." You're in trouble when you hear those words.

5. Refining it forever. One of the most effective ways to kill a marketing initiative is for a manager to discuss it and evaluate it endlessly. This is the manager who always makes a few copy changes--that slows things down. Or asks for a couple of days to review it--the seventh time. He always asks to see an alternative graphic. And changes one color or another--and then back again. After a photo shoot, he says, "You know, somehow or other it doesn't quite hit the mark." And when all else fails, he says, "I'm not sure the time is right for this."

Every marketing project deserves the best possible execution, but "picking at projects" is a very effective way to make sure nothing happens.

6. Getting everyone's opinion before doing anything. This is commonly called "buy in." While there are times when it's valuable to have everyone on board before launching a marketing or sales effort, there are those who use it as a well-honed technique for avoiding action. Keeping everyone involved and informed is essential, of course. But "buy in" can be code words for "What might happen if I make a mistake?"

The issue is leadership. "Decisiveness is the ability to make difficult decisions swiftly an well, and act on them. "Organizations are filled with people who dance around decisions without ever making them" writes Larry Bossidy, Honeywell International chairman and co-author of "Execution."

7. Jumping from one idea to another. Far too many banks are expert in the practice of "Mexican Jumping Bean Marketing." They try an ad or two, jump to direct mail, they do nothing, and then get out a newsletter (only one, of course).

On and on it goes, no plan. no strategy, just what they have heard at the last bankers association meeting or saw a competitor do. These are, of course, the first to stand up and make it clear that marketing is a waste of money.

8. Lack of vision. Maurice the Pants Man was a well-established and highly successful single-unit retail store in central Massachusetts. The owner wanted to retire and sold the company to several self-assured "businessmen" who quickly opened a dozen or so more locations as part of a growth plan. The panache of the original store was missing, however, and only the name remained. All they did was create another blah retail operation that lacked character and identity to set it apart from thousands of similar operations. They went out of business in record time.

There was no vision, no life, no feeling. There was nothing to grab the customer.

9. Short-term results. While the worst business debacle of the last 80 years remains fresh in everyone's mind, the lesson of focusing on short-term results is yet to sink in (if it ever will). There appears to be an unavoidable relationship between the effort devoted to driving stock prices up to the speed of the demise of so many companies.

In banking, the role of marketing is to create customers who believe that doing business with a particular bank is prudent; it is not just to get business on the books. Marketing is designed to align the bank with customer requirements so that both bank and customer walk in step with each other. But it happens over the long-term. This suggests that banks starving for new customers or suffering from high customer turnover may have been getting marketing wrong for a long time.

10 Risk-averse. Some bank managers turn to mush when confronted with a comprehensive marketing program. "Yes, I know where you are coming from, but why don't we try sending out a postal card first and see what response we get. If it draws some people, then we'll invest more in the program."

There are many reasons for Dell Computers' success, of course. But at the top of the list has always been courage-taking chances. While competitors pulled in their advertising, Dell was seen everywhere. When others were downsizing because of dwindling sales, Dell decided to go into printers and printer supplies, taking on Hewlett-Packard.

11. Waiting to see. This is a favorite, especially when there are business problems. Instead of acting quickly and decisively to gain the advantage, many banks take a wait-and-see attitude, hoping that things will turn around by themselves.

Wait-and-see does have a basis in fact. More often than not, they wait and see what the competition decides to do. Wait-and-see generally results in a competitor taking the lead by grabbing market share.

12. Turning to marketing only when the bottom falls out. Marketing is often implemented as a desperation move. When it fails to produce emergency results, the fault rests with marketing.

If a company is strangling from a lack of sales, it needs to lake drastic action. The U.S. auto manufacturers have learned this lesson. Based on market projections, they have taken drastic action to stimulate sales. But this is a marketing strategy, based on a careful understanding of what the customer values. Currently, it is "zero interest" for longer periods and extended warranties.

13. Waiting until the last minute. Far too many marketing people (and often salespeople, as well) suffer from the deadly Last Minute Syndrome. As one marketing director said with glee, "It just goes with the territory, doesn't it?" Not my territory, it doesn't. Others swear they are more creative at the eleventh hour. Nonsense.

While an adrenaline rash may come from racing around and upsetting everyone involved, it does not go with good marketing. The last minute tornado technique goes with poor planning, sloppy execution, unnecessary mistakes and cutting corners to get the job or program out the door. Furthermore, it shouldn't be tolerated and neither should those who practice this approach.

Killing marketing is well practiced in many banks, while few would think of walking into a president's office and telling the individual how to do his or her job, marketing seems to be an area where everyone is an expert--or one where personal opinion is sufficient for getting the job done. To allow this to happen is to miss hitting the mark.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm located in Quincy, Mass. The company's website is
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Title Annotation:Feature
Author:Graham, John R.
Publication:ABA Bank Marketing
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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