Stop "One Size Fits All" Marketing

Can we stop prescribing “one size fits all” marketing solutions?

I remember being an undersized grade-school child when my family visited the Eighth Wonder of the World. Anyone who has lived in Texas in the last 50 years will confirm that I am not referring to the Grand Canyon or the Empire State Building, but to the first air conditioned professional sports dome — the Astrodome. At some point during the game, I recall receiving a T-shirt from my hometown team, the Houston Astros.

I was thrilled when I first saw the shirts being handed out. The only thing better would have been a Nolan Ryan jersey, but this was undoubtedly the next best thing. There was just one problem: whoever came up with the idea of “one size fits all” obviously didn’t have my vertically challenged youth body in mind.The baggy shirt fell past my ankles and almost caused me to trip all the way back to the car after the game.

Like that oversized shirt, some still insist that one size fits all in marketing, and it’s a dangerous trap. I recently came across a blog post that made my head spin. It seemed benign and led with a simple admonition: “Your brand should be on Instagram.” It went on to offer tips for Instagram marketing, but I couldn’t get past that lead without thinking what a shame it was.

Can we stop offering marketing advice like this? Can we stop telling everyone they need to be on certain social media channels? Regardless of how sexy it sounds at a keynote address or in our trade associations, not everyone needs to be on Instagram. Or Snapchat. Or yes, Google+ (R.I.P.). Not everyone needs to devote time and budget to any particular channel unless they know that their constituents are there. But yet, we keep coming across advice like this. No wonder brands are frustrated with marketers!

We do this a lot in our field, and we’re especially susceptible with social media channels because, well, they are often effective and fun. But pause for a quick history lesson and recall what the conventional wisdom has been over the years. First we told our bosses and clients that we had to be on Facebook. Pretty soon we had Pinterest. Now we prescribe Periscope, SnapChat, Vine, you name it. And don’t forget apps. Back in 2010 everyone had to have an iPhone app. Part of today’s consumer “app fatigue” is inevitably from the tidal wave of marketing apps that we demanded in order to keep up.

Would you want the same prescription as everyone else?

An example may help. Imagine if your doctor handed every one of her 1,200 patients a prescription for blood thinners, regardless of their health. Or a colonoscopy. Or a root canal. Undoubtedly some fraction of her patients would benefit from each of these treatments, but the majority wouldn’t need them; they may even cause irreparable harm. And you don’t have to go to medical school to know that this hypothetical health provider lacks the qualifications to prescribe oral surgery.

Imagine, instead, that she kept up with regular advancements in treatment and tracked each patient’s individual needs, thus being able to accurately prescribe treatment for everyone after proper diagnosis and measurement.

It may make sense for your brand to be on Instagram, but it isn’t for everyone. And just being on it is no automatic road to success. Social media experts are increasingly recommending that you should only be on the channels where you can provide a unique contribution and value for your constituents. Your target customers will not be on every social network, and neither should you.

But what’s the harm?

Here are some of the consequences of “one size fits all” marketing:

  1. It can harm your efforts to gain credibility with senior management. Because the landscape changes so often, constantly recommending the same course sets you up for failure. You can’t expect last year’s digital marketing strategy to win this year. And you’ll know when the boss launches into their “Not another blog!” diatribe.
  2. It doesn’t tell the right story. Your customers’ lives are evolving; so should your methods of reaching them. Marketers can easily fall into the trap of thinking that they know their customers without connecting with them on a regular basis. It becomes a question of how often you solicit feedback.
  3. It takes your eye off the prize. It’s hard to win the race when you start sprinting down the wrong lane. The focus should always be on true engagement. Sujan Patel described for Forbes how focusing on vanity metrics cuts our legs out from underneath us:

“You may have a lot of followers, high pageviews, or a great follower ratio, and still be ineffective when it comes to social media marketing. And unfortunately, you won’t be able to discover the underlying issues that need to be addressed if you’re focused your attention on the wrong information.”

What Marketers Should Be Doing Instead

We gain trust and credibility with clients and within our organizations by keeping our ears to the ground. We ought to be staying on top of emerging channels so we can properly recommend them when the time is right. That includes knowing when to push full steam ahead and when to let go. If we find ourselves making the same recommendations, it may be time to consider a new approach.

Gabriel Weinberg, author of Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, explained that we should navigate towards underutilized channels in our industries because those channels tend to have the most capacity. Those channels will eventually get saturated as more marketers jump in the water, and you will need to pivot your focus to new channels or stay in the same channels and try more cutting-edge engagement.

Even more significantly, we must have our fingers on the pulse of our target audiences. We ought to be able to map the consumer journey from A to Z and surgically explain how and where we fit in. We bring the greatest value by qualifying ourselves to recommend and implement solutions. If bandwidth or resources don’t allow for experimentation on company time, try learning something new on your own.

It’s a journey, not a destination, so keep trying and stay open to the possibilities. At the same time, remember in 2011 when everyone said that we should be on Google+. And look where that got us.

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