The following is an excerpt from Marketing Built by Love, by Daniel Bussius, available now from Greenleaf Book Group.
Marketing Is Broken (but We Can Fix It)
I know the ugly marketing truth and the secret that billion-dollar brands have known all along.
I HAVE TALKED TO COUNTLESS BUSINESS owners over the years who are frustrated that they’re not getting the marketing results they’re after. These are owners who lose money rather than make money when they invest in marketing. They might have hired a consultant, enlisted a marketing agency, or even invested in an entire in-house marketing team. Yet, they report to me time and time again that despite having put substantial resources into their efforts, the promised results never panned out. And, even more frustratingly, they are often unable to pinpoint where things went wrong.
That’s because marketing is broken.
The problem isn’t your business, what you’re selling, or likely even your pricing. The problem is that traditional marketing no longer works in today’s internet age of unlimited options, digital fatigue, and decreasing attention spans. Business owners and even most professional marketers have been duped by an industry filled with an endless array of empty promises founded on fundamentals that worked decades ago but have long since become useless.
The problem, from a technical standpoint, is that marketing is all about getting people into the sales process. That’s it. How many qualified leads you are delivering to the business is typically the gauge for success or failure. It’s rare for a marketing department to consider customer experience. That’s not their job. Their concern is getting the highest conversion rates and sharpening the cost per conversion as much as possible. Basically, it becomes a matter of figuring out how they can get as many people as possible to buy a thing for maximum profit.
In the current ecosystem, it’s almost as if marketing has been rigged for businesses to fail, especially the small business sector made up of people just like you and me who started a company to create a positive change in the world. The reality is that big corporations continue to exponentially grow, consuming their competitors, while small businesses flounder. The resources available to small business owners that they hope will better their chances at success — the conferences, the popular gurus, the trendy strategies bouncing around — encourage these businesses to invest in short-term marketing solutions that big brands don’t bother with. Marketing professionals and agencies make money even when a small business’s marketing efforts fail. This causes far too many businesses to get stuck in a frenzied cycle of chasing fruitless measures.
It’s no wonder that so many small business owners have lost trust in marketing, feeling that anything and everything they’ve tried has failed to work. And they’re probably right. If you’re reading this book, you are likely an unfortunate participant in this marketing hell. So I must now ask you a question that I asked myself: Are you tired of failing at marketing?
I know I was.
I admit that I’ve had more marketing successes than failures over a decades-long career that included work with Fortune 500 brands, celebrities, New York Times best-selling authors, and small businesses from around the world. I’ve been part of some amazingly successful campaigns. The successes always feel great. I got it right, my clients made money, and everyone walked away happy.
I’ve also been part of some epic failures. Those rare times when a failure happened, the pain stung and never faded because I knew I’d not only let myself down but also let down the client who believed in me. That pain is what set me on a mission. I wanted to develop a marketing system that invariably generated sales and provided valuable insight for companies to make better business decisions.
TWO SIMPLE TRUTHS OF MARKETING
What I discovered in my decade of real-world research, having launched thousands of campaigns to millions of people across all continents of the world, is that the traditional marketing tactics businesses have been relying on for years are obsolete. Along the way, it became clear that most marketing efforts ignore two simple truths:
1. Businesses need to have foundational marketing. Billion-dollar brands already know the importance of having a comprehensive marketing plan that encompasses all the interactions between a business and its prospects and customers. They have an established marketing framework they don’t mess with. That’s what I think of as foundational marketing. From this core positioning, they are constantly creating content that engages their consumers and conveys variations of a consistent message tied to the business’s purpose and value promise. The content addresses their consumers’ internal objections, builds rapport, and inspires. Too many marketing professionals and agencies don’t realize that the lack of a foundational marketing plan is why the clients or companies who hire them fall victim to a quest for results that never come.
2. Marketing needs to be built around a love for the customer. Customers want top-tier products and services. They want to be treated and acknowledged as human beings, not just another nameless sale. These are entirely reasonable expectations but ones that can prove surprisingly hard for businesses to deliver on. This is especially true if they don’t act with intention and employ thoughtful strategies based on an understanding of customer needs and desires at every juncture of the buyer’s journey.
Yet, despite these being relatively simple truths, most marketers haven’t been taught these ideas. They don’t realize that their chances of real success without having foundational marketing built around a love of customers are about as good as winning the lottery.
THE MARKETING RAMP: LESS CHAOS AND MORE PREDICTABILITY IN MARKETING
Have you noticed that all other business departments have proven systems they run on? They don’t reinvent the wheel every month. Yet, marketing does just this. It’s insanity! Can you imagine if every month your controller, accountant, or bookkeeper had an entirely new “strategy” to manage your money? You’d run for the hills. Yet, that’s what’s happening every day in every marketing agency meeting with their clients and inside marketing departments.
That’s the challenge I set out to solve. I wanted to see if it was possible to have a marketing system that was reliable, measurable, and repeatable — terms not often associated with marketing. It took ten years of my life and cost more than a million dollars, but in the end, I built a system based on a foundational marketing approach and incorporating a love of customers that I call the Marketing RAMP (responsive, aligned master plan).
Think of a Marketing RAMP as the operating system you will use to shape the customer experiences you offer. These experiences will turn the prospects who can benefit most from your offerings into loyal customers. To build this operating system, you need to do a thorough analysis of factors such as the following:
- Characteristics (demographics, interests, etc.) of your best-fit customers
- What you are offering that will set you apart from competitors
- The language and stories that will create an emotional connection between them and you
- The steps your prospects go through from the moment they first encounter your brand to the decision to make a purchase
The system you create through your Marketing RAMP defines the system you will use to convert prospects into loyal customers. You’ll learn specifics such as the following:
- The steps to follow, especially what gets programmed into your CRM (customer relationship management) system
- The decision points where different customer actions (or inactions) trigger different pathways through those steps
- The specific communications used to connect with your prospects at each step, including the language and tone needed to create ads, emails, and success stories that will resonate with the customers you want to attract
- Because of this level of detail and specificity, the Marketing RAMP eliminates the chaos of traditional marketing funnels. It fills the gaps where you’re losing money and customers, and it creates a centralized hub that produces predictable results. It will require determination and effort to get it going, but once a RAMP is in place, it is a powerful and lasting force.
THE HUMAN TOUCH
Unlike most traditional marketing efforts, the Marketing RAMP process spelled out in this book is imbued with an appreciation of how humans behave — specifically, how the human brain processes information, how humans develop relationships, and which experiences or touch points along the buyer’s journey are key in guiding them to a successful outcome.
Your time and money invested in marketing will no longer be spent building funnels and generating new offers every month. Instead, your time in marketing will be focused on science, data, optimization, and engagement.
Once you get your foundation in place, you can trust that you have the marketing operating system you need to support leveling up. Rather than frantically spinning out marketing campaign after campaign intended to drum up leads, you can focus instead on cultivating genuine human connection and engagement that will lead to sustainable, organic growth. This will be better for you and better for your customers.
I know that the Marketing RAMP works because my business uses it. Using the Marketing RAMP system propelled my own award-winning digital marketing agency, Built by Love, to new heights of success. It has enabled us to help other business owners achieve the same in turn. Whether you’re trying to break a million or a billion in revenue, this is the solution for you.
WHAT’S IN THIS BOOK
In this book, I walk you through how to build your own Marketing RAMP, so it can function as your marketing operating system today, tomorrow, and beyond. For that reason, I have also included exercises to craft your own marketing system, as well as blueprints to follow when you embark on building it. My intention for you is that you are empowered to do whatever your goals are with your business and that marketing is the last thing holding you back from achieving them. These pages contain my proven marketing operating system, which can be used to prosper enterprises of all sizes, anywhere in the world.
Part I, “Bringing Marketing into the Twenty-First Century,” explores in more depth what is wrong with marketing today and introduces the four core principles — what I call pillars — of the responsive, aligned master plan (RAMP).
Part II, “Getting a Commitment from the Customer,” discusses the first half (Stages 1 through 5) of the relationship journey that is embodied by the fourth pillar. The chapters talk about what you need to do to take a customer from a first date (where they get a first impression of you) to a commitment (where they make a first or repeat purchase).
Part III, “Cultivating Long-Term Love,” covers the last half (Stages 6 through 10) of the relationship journey. The chapters explain what it takes to get a renewed or continuous commitment from your first-time buyers and how to convert those who have not yet purchased to take that step (or self-eliminate from your marketing system).
Part IV, “Running on the RAMP,” provides an in-depth case study that shows how all the pieces of a Marketing RAMP come together and the steps you can take to start developing and implementing your own RAMP.
The formula laid out in these pages has universal applicability, no matter the size of your business, the industry you’re in, your marketing budget, or where in the world you’re based. It moves away from marketing centered around the product and instead taps into something timeless — almost primal — taking full consideration of what it is that makes us human. Rest assured, this isn’t a quick fix or a trendy solution. Because it is an agile and living thing, the RAMP will work for you today, tomorrow, and decades from now.
BAD MARKETING VERSUS NO MARKETING
While it was the failure of marketing efforts that started me on this book- writing journey, I came to realize that some of the problems associated with bad marketing were also common to businesses that essentially have no marketing. True, bad marketing is in some ways worse because it involves misleading prospective customers about what your business is and what you provide. Ultimately, it leads to poor customer experiences. No marketing is marginally better because you’re not communicating the wrong messages. But it, too, is ineffective because you aren’t deliberately communicating anything to your prospects. In both situations, you are failing to connect with potential customers in ways that would lead to an increased revenue stream. The solution in both cases is to build a marketing system.
In many ways, the world of marketing has functioned like the Wild West, where anything goes and there’s no one to enforce order. Well, it’s time a new sheriff came to town, kicked out the hucksters, and paved a way that is safe for all businesses to follow. Hire a guide or don’t; no longer will you be traveling in a wooden-wheeled wagon out West. You’ll have a paved, efficient, and well-guided highway that gets you to the land of results no matter the size or speed that you travel to get there. This is the Marketing RAMP, and this will be your silver bullet to kill the marketing monster once and for all.
Bringing Marketing into the Twenty-First Century
Shortly after moving to San Diego, I decided to take up surfing. The first time I attempted to paddle out was a disaster. It didn’t get much easier until I finally befriended some locals who taught me the ropes. They helped me understand the different and unique components of surfing I needed to understand before I experienced success in the water.
Before long, I knew to study the ocean before I jumped in. I knew to count the timing between each wave, to watch how they break, to take note of the lay of the land below the surface of the ocean, to be aware of the speed of the currents, and to see how far out the waves are beginning to curl. Only after gathering all this information was I able to paddle out successfully.
Like me, many beginners beeline straight for the water with their board only to get pummeled again and again, never getting past the wave break. Too many give up without ever experiencing the magic of surfing.
What they and you need to understand is what I learned many years ago. The work you do before you dip one toe into the ocean is what translates into success. It’s important to identify and understand the moving parts, visualize the lay of the land, and see the method to the madness before you paddle out into the unknown. My job is to make sure that no matter what kind of wave comes your way, you’ll be ready for it — and you’ll enjoy the ride.
To get you started, this part of the book describes the underlying currents as well as the philosophy and principles that will shape your marketing efforts. Chapter 1 describes several fatal flaws in marketing systems today. Chapter 2 describes how establishing a Marketing RAMP can overcome the flaws. Chapters 3 through 7 describe the four parts of a Marketing RAMP and explore how each feeds into creating an effective marketing plan.
Starting in Chapter 3, most of the chapters are accompanied by exercises that will help you develop your own Marketing RAMP information.
Five Fatal Flaws in Marketing Today
Traditional marketing has too many fatal flaws and must be replaced with an integrated operating system.
Like me, you think marketing is broken. You agree that, too often, marketing efforts do not deliver on their promise to attract new customers and build business. Understanding more about the ways in which it is broken will help establish the criteria for a better alternative. In this chapter, I talk about five fatal flaws in marketing today. In the next chapter, I talk about the solution I’m offering that avoids or fixes these flaws.
FLAW 1: MARKETING IS TOO TRANSACTIONAL
With the way marketing operates today, the process is very transactional. The ordinary executive in charge of your marketing is interested in numbers such as the following:
1. How much traffic are you generating each month to your offer pages? (These are the eyeballs of potential customers.)
2. What portion of this traffic becomes prospects? (Opting in for additional communication but no purchase yet.)
3. How many of the prospects who’ve opted in are purchasing, and what is the average time to buy? (Time to buy could be hours, days, or even months. The goal is to obtain new customers as fast as possible. Therefore, the cost of new customer acquisition in almost every case decreases.)
4. What is the cost of traffic versus the cost to convert those prospects into customers? (Cost of traffic is typically advertising costs but can be any activities designed to drive people to your business.)
5. Are you making a net profit, breaking even, or losing money on the acquisition of these new customers? (Understanding your true cost of acquisition plays into what your lifetime customer value is. You can usually afford to lose money acquiring customers if you have a high customer lifetime value with strong net profit margins.)
While data points like these are essential to make good business decisions, these questions are missing a critical factor. That omission is creating absolute chaos in every organization, and it is likely the key reason hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars are wasted on fruitless marketing activities every single year. I guarantee that if you do marketing or run advertising campaigns, you have a black hole sucking money from your bottom line right now. Fixing this one thing should save you at least 20 percent in your annual marketing spend, if not more.
What’s missing in every marketing campaign and subsequent data that marketers and advertisers are missing and blindly making wild guesses on is: What do these leads and prospects actually want? Marketers don’t know, so they guess. And that guess comes in the form of “this person opted in for XYZ, so XYZ is their main interest.” All communications and offers then force-feed XYZ to the new prospect, who has already cost you money to get to this point. Traditional marketing just keeps talking about and offering that one thing without ever asking them anything.
It’s the twenty-first century, and marketing has to find a better balance between focusing on transactional numbers that feed into business decisions and developing a deeper knowledge of who your customers are and what they want, so you can grow revenues.
FLAW 2: IGNORING OUR REPTILIAN BRAINS
According to recent research, purchasing decisions are based more on emotion than on logic, no matter how structured we are in evaluating our options. In fact, advertising campaigns that do the best have twice as much emotional content as rational content
Though we humans pride ourselves on using reason and logic in making decisions, the truth is much more complicated because our brains have three distinct components that evolved over the millennia. The oldest section is often called our reptilian brain. Then came structures associated with our mammalian brain. And finally, the most recent structures, labeled the logical human brain, are linked to our reasoning abilities (see Figure 1.1).
All information must pass in order through each evolution of the brain, with the first one being the reptilian brain. This structure determines whether we need to pay attention to certain information. All it is concerned with are the basics of survival, which makes it lazy by design in order to preserve energy for matters of life and death.
I call the reptilian brain the gatekeeper. And too often, marketing and sales information doesn’t get past that gate. We approach a prospect with complex information at the start or give too much too quickly and overwhelm them. Their reptilian brains will likely decide that too much energy is required to process it, and your message will evaporate into the air. In other words, it doesn’t matter how beautifully crafted or logical your messages are. You need to connect emotionally with a customer or prospect.
The existence of the reptilian brain helps bring context to just how wrong a traditional marketing approach gets it, entirely ignoring how humans engage and process information. Suppose I send you correspondence that says, “Hey. How’s it going? I’m Daniel, and I can help you with marketing. You and I should work together. Commit here because time is running out!” Your reptilian brain will immediately sound the alarm and filter the risk away.
PREVIEW: THE RIGHT INFORMATION IN THE RIGHT SEQUENCE
As I talk about later in the book, the existence of these different parts of the brain is also a factor in how humans move from noncommitted to committed relationships. For our purposes as marketers, not only do we need to say the right thing to get a prospective ideal customer to pay attention, but we also must do the right things in the right order to move them from a stranger to someone who is interested in us and eventually falls in love with us. This is science, and if we fail to follow those processes that humans do when forming bonds, we’ll never form a bond with those ideal customers we want to have committed relationships with. You can find more details on this relationship journey in Chapter 7 and throughout Parts II and III.
To get through the gatekeeper in people’s brains, we must earn customers’ trust and address their fears. We need to be able to connect with our customers and prospects in ways that engage the gatekeeper in their brains. Putting your customers at ease in this way matters. People make decisions based on emotion. We’re talking about all decisions here, not just buying decisions. We probably all know a steady, rational person who insists they make their choices based entirely on logic. I don’t dispute that reasoning certainly plays a part. But I maintain that everything humans do is based primarily on emotion that may or may not be backed up by logic.
Put simply, the fix to this flaw is that before diving into the details of what’s on offer, marketers need to make sure that the reptilian brain has concluded that our message is worth investing in.
FLAW 3: FUNNELS ARE DEAD
The marketing funnel is dead. The sales funnel is dead, too. Well, at least the traditional funnels you’re using now are long-outdated strategies. A simple example illustrates why.
Consider what goes through your mind when you make plans to eat out. You might think, “We should eat at that Mexican restaurant we like. But no, wait. I really like that quaint French restaurant across town. Then again, since the weather is so nice, let’s just go to that bistro that has the great outdoor patio. . . .” For most of us, our thoughts dart all over the place before we’re able to commit to where we’ll dine. We change our minds as we learn more. Perhaps your dinner companion says they heard the French restaurant has doubled its prices. Or maybe the weather turns colder and windy. So, after initially choosing the bistro, you circle back to the Mexican restaurant as your dining choice.
Imagine, then, what this process looks like when the decision has to do with something much more expensive, or with otherwise larger stakes. How people perceive their choices and ultimately reach a decision is seldom a simple process.
Yet, traditional funnels are robotic. They don’t consider how humans behave and interact. A funnel will talk at you, shouting the same message on loop with unrelentless, automated energy. Not only does it not care about your response, but it also doesn’t even register that you could have a response. All it cares about is the sale. Funnels are a hammer that perceives everyone they interact with as a nail. There is no back and forth, no two-way communication, and no exploration of what the customer is really after. They are linear and focused on transactions. This does not comfortably coexist with humans, who are complex and motivated by myriad thoughts and feelings.
People tend to bounce around in unpredictable patterns before they make commitments. Traditional funnels don’t allow for this, and that quickly becomes irritating and unproductive for both the business and the consumer. The funnel sets forth a linear path that rests on the incorrect assumption that a prospect’s purchase behavior will never deviate from seeing your product as the only option and as the single highest priority in their life. You and I both know that makes absolutely no sense.
Because of their unyielding and unrealistic nature, funnels create opportunity gaps, and opportunity gaps are where you hemorrhage cash and drive prospects away. Even the customers who somehow make it to the end of the funnel reach the end of the line and drop off a cliff, unlikely to ever return. That is obviously not what we want or what our businesses need.
DO YOU HAVE A HEALTHY FLOW OF LEADS?
My guidance around the customer journey strategies assumes that your business has an ongoing flow of prospects waiting to hear from you. The healthy flow of leads into your business is the only fuel that can power your sales machine. That sales machine is what provides sustenance to your business’s survival. Without sales, your business will starve. Without marketing, you won’t have sales. It’s an intricately intertwined balance of your business life, and every part is equally important. One must have the other. Eliminate one, and the other begins to die. In the end, your business succumbs to entropy.
If your business’s inability to generate a large number of quality leads is one of your top concerns, you need to fix that problem. Consider working with a professional agency if your company does not have the internal expertise to make it happen. Engaging with a team of seasoned experts in their respective crafts — copywriting, advertising, web design, and marketing systems — provides invaluable insight into where you are with your current lead-generation efforts and what might change to produce better results.
FLAW 4: A DECADE (OR MORE) BEHIND TECHNOLOGY
The traditional marketing and sales funnel models just discussed were designed when the internet was early in its development — not for the widely diverse digital world we have now filled with unlimited information, resources, and options.
Then, the online behavior of consumers looked entirely different than it does today. If someone ended up on a website and opted in to something, it was likely because they had specifically searched it out, and it held a high priority for them. It was an effective strategy for the business to then hammer the consumer with emails saying, “Buy this thing! And this thing! And this thing!”
However, the world and its technologies have become far more complex since the concept of the funnel was originally introduced. There are overwhelming options now. But even beyond being inundated with choice, there have been other wild developments. For example, algorithms are so advanced that they can pick up when the person you live with checked out sneakers online and then target you with ads for shoes, assuming you’re going shopping together because of your phones’ GPS data showing your proximity. The point is we’re not playing in the same arena as ten years ago. We’re hardly even playing the same sport. Why, then, would we think that the digital marketing approach created in the internet’s infancy would still be relevant today?
Using the marketing funnel as your guiding modus operandi not only is outdated and out of touch but also can and will do active harm. To put the marketing funnel’s methodology into a real-world scenario: Imagine a consumer is walking down the street, and I ask, “Can you give me some money?” When no answer comes, I try again. “Sir, can you give me some money?” Silence. “Please, can you give me some money?” If they keep walking and continue to ignore me, it’s obvious my tactic isn’t working. And why should they stop and give me their time, attention, or money when I haven’t proven I can offer them something of value?
If we want to be effective, we need to change this dynamic. Although it sounds ironic, we need to use technology better so we can humanize our interactions with our customers.
FLAW 5: UNSTRUCTURED CHAOS
As I mention in the introduction, the marketing process in any business seems to be the most unorganized and chaotic. Allow me to elaborate.
When you look at other departments within a successful business, you’ll see that each has a well-defined operating system dictating exactly how each process needs to happen. The operating system also identifies key performance indicators (KPIs) as well as budgets, labor, and resource allocations.
Think of the finance department. There is an operating system in place for all expenses and payments. Your business lunch last week with a prospective customer? That is categorized under meals and entertainment. Your new mouse pad and keyboard you purchased? Office supplies. Your paycheck? Wages and compensation.
It makes sense that every part of a healthy business has an operating system, yet there’s one major gaping hole sucking the wind out of all the other departments. This black hole is your marketing department that has no operating system. Every month, it’s a new tactic, tool, or channel being implemented with no foundational system guiding the choices. A marketing department too often feels like a hamster wheel where insanity not only lives but thrives.
The goal must be to tame this beast and install an operating system that empowers the creatives within the department to focus on what they should be doing — generating content that engages your customers and optimizes the operating system to extract better results, conversions, customers, and profits.
The benefit of having an operating system is that it produces predictable results for those running the system and those on the other end experiencing the system. You better believe that a production line at a manufacturing plant has an operating system that all must follow to ensure production output meets or exceeds quality, profitability, and forecasted standards. Even sales departments have an operating system on how they sell, what they say, what can be offered, who has authorization to discount, and types of accounts that specific reps can engage with. Shouldn’t marketing do the same?
THE FIX TO THESE FLAWS
The discussion of these flaws should make it clear what attributes I looked for when developing a new marketing approach:
- Adding a human element that will form a balance to the transactional side of marketing
- Taking the human brain into consideration when shaping the marketing process and communications with customers
- Replacing a mindless funnel with a more deliberate process for shepherding customers through the buying process
- Improving the use of technology to make the process more individualized but still automatic
- Developing a repeatable process that would replace chaos with order and predictability
In the next chapter, I give an overview of how the Marketing RAMP system achieves these goals.
- Traditional marketing approaches suffer from fatal flaws that limit their effectiveness, and they are the cause of widespread disappointment with marketing efforts as well as poor customer experiences.
- It is time to leave the traditional (read: outdated) marketing funnel model in the past where it belongs.
- Marketing too often ignores how the human brain operates and how that influences human behavior.
- Marketing need not be a mysterious black hole with unreliable results. There is a strategy out there that leads to consistent, reliable results that will leave both you and your customers feeling good.
- All businesses need a marketing operating system — otherwise, you will continue to fail while you are spending even more money.