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5 lies you hear in marketing


You don't have to be Mulder and Scully to know that the truth is out there. The trouble is all marketers are liars. But as Seth Godin pointed out in that fantastic book, "the truth is elusive [and] no one knows the whole truth about anything."

So what's a marketer to do? You can't uncover every lie, but then again, that isn't your job. What works is a healthy dose of skepticism. In fact, it's the best inoculation against the bright shiny object virus that the intersection of marketing and technology. So here are five skeptical doses for you to consider.

Our visitors can't stop watching videos

Can't stop? Won't stop? Or never started watching the videos in the first place?

OK, everyone knows that video is a big deal. People love video -- because why read when you can watch? So advertisers are following consumers and dedicating more ad dollars to video, especially mobile video. That's great!

But let's hit the pause button for a second. Tucked inside the larger truth that says video is the future is a smaller lie called autoplay. You know those videos that just play when you load a page, accidently mouse over content, or just scroll down? They aren't videos you intended to play, they just played automatically because the publisher and the advertiser know that they only thing consumers love more than video are videos that are force fed to them. And no, it's not just content farms that use autoplay -- it's publishers like CNN.

That's a problem because autoplay pads the stats. (It's also annoying, but that's a separate issue.) Remember, we're in the middle of a video revolution, where content is shifting from linear distribution to on-demand. Autoplay represents a step backward because a video set to autoplay isn't on-demand. Nobody expressed an interest in that content; it just played, like an old-fashioned linear television show!

Video is a big deal. But let's not spoil it with dishonest tactics like autoplay. Consumers didn't ask for it, advertisers don't want to be associated with linear noise, and publishers should know better.

Great content will rise to the top

No, it won't. Not without help, anyway. That's not to say that you necessarily need paid media all the time, but you do need to promote your content. And by promote, I don't just mean tweeting out a link and waiting for the traffic gods to shower you with viral internet glory.

Consider the entertainment business, where content is king. Hollywood marketing budgets are soaring, especially when compared to production budgets. Yes, a lot of that cost is associated with media buying in an ever-fragmenting world. But put the cost aside for a second, and ask yourself this: would Hollywood ever release a film without any marketing at all? A studio might do that, but they certainly wouldn't expect audiences to go see it; they'd just be dumping the product and cutting their losses on the marketing. The point is, even if you're making great content that people want to see, you need to tell them about it, and given the challenge of grabbing someone's attention for more than a second, you need to put as much effort into telling them about your content as you do making it. 

We make viral videos

No, you don't. You have a track record of making videos that (sometimes) go viral. In other words, you are a good bet. But you are not a sure thing to go viral. Nothing is. Even BuzzFeed, a publisher built entirely on the idea of viral content, misses more than it hits. That's why they publish so many damn listicles -- because they don't know what will go viral, because they can't predict the future, because nobody can.

People love our brand

Supposedly, people love Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube. But love is a strong word. Don't we really mean like? Or maybe we really mean affinity. Perhaps we just mean preference, or if you're really good, strong preference. Honestly, sometimes we probably say consumers love [insert your brand here] when what we're really trying to say it that consumers choose our brand.

The problem with perpetuating the idea of loving a brand is that it's just not true; but more than that, believing this lie causes us to buy into a false narrative about our brand. We overlook our flaws and areas where we can improve because we think love conquers all. And if our brand isn't loved, we misplace our energy and effort into achieving a goal that probably doesn't exists and may not do you much good anyway. 

Consider the following things that I've probably said, but certainly didn't mean:

I love Thrifty's ice cream.

I love my Toyota Corolla.

I love Target.

I've said I love all of those brands, but I wouldn't shed a single tear if any of those brand vanished. That's brand love for you, I guess.

But what about brands that are impossible to love? Does anyone really love a bank? What about your car insurance company? How about your laundry detergent? Consumers don't really love these things, and marketers really don't need them to.

Love is an overrated concept in marketing, and marketers who spend seriously time worrying if their brand is getting that consumer love are lying to themselves about their job. Ultimately, you don't need people to love your brand, you need people to buy it; that's the only key performance indicator that matters.

It was bad marketing

It's easy to blame the marketing. If only our campaign creative had been better. If only our media buy had been smarter. If only we had done something on Snapchat. There are dozens of ways for the marketing to fail, but even when marketing knocks it out of the park, it can't save a bad product.

Not that marketers should look upon that fact with glee and say, see it wasn't our fault! The fact is, that in a time of Big Data, when marketers have dozens of listening tools at their disposal, and unprecedented insights into the consumer, marketers have a duty to sound the alarm about a bad product. More importantly, they have a duty to roll up their sleeves and offer some ideas about how to make it better.

That's not to say that every company will listen to its marketing department on this point -- the smart ones will, and the rest will suffer the consequences. But the larger point, the lie that needs to die, is that one department in a company can make progress at the expense of another. Today, the competition is just too fierce. It's all hands on deck, and if the ship sinks because the product was bad, or the marketing sucked, it really doesn't matter. In the long-run, a crew that can't, or won't, work together without playing the blame game, will end up at the bottom of the ocean, where business school students will pick over the wreck in a post-mortem. 

Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

"Business decisions" image via iStock.

Michael Estrin is freelance writer. He contributes regularly to iMedia, Bankrate.com, and California Lawyer Magazine. But you can also find his byline across the Web (and sometimes in print) at Digiday, Fast...

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