Competing With The Big Players In Your Space

As promised, here’s a list of perspectives and activities you probably engage in and should stop if you ever want to truly compete with the big players in your space:

  • Stop thinking you’ll make the same marketing impact they do with a couple of Twitter posts and an email campaign.
  • Stop thinking that anybody but professional marketers (agencies or employees) will get you there.
  • Stop thinking marketing and advertising is a stop/start, stop/start, stop/start endeavor. Have the big players ever stopped advertising?
  • Stop thinking ROI-driven direct marketing is the Holy Grail and awareness advertising is the turd in the punch bowl. Ninety percent of what you consume and think about in a given day is advertising, not marketing.
  • Stop thinking that traditional advertising (read: outdoor, TV and radio) is so 1990 and no longer has any effect on your target market.
  • Without brand awareness (achieved through advertising), demand generation (achieved through direct marketing) is impotent. Yeah, I said it. Impotent. I don’t care which vowel you emphasize — you get my meaning.

Don’t misunderstand me — you can’t increase positive awareness and perception without a quality or competitive product. I’ve just never been in a meeting where the CEO says, “We have a ton of interest and demand for our product, the only problem is that our product isn’t as good as the other guys’.” Never. Once. Heard. That.

No, I usually hear, “What we need is a viral campaign that generates a lot of grassroots interest in our product, ‘cause man, it’s just so much better than the other guys’ [who are kicking our ass up and down the field].” All that “viral” and “grassroots” talk is just code for cheap and inexpensive with big expectations. Gaining market share is expensive. Did you think it wouldn’t be? We conducted a study of leading B2B brands and found that you could expect about a 1 percent awareness increase for every million dollars you spent in marketing/advertising in a given year. So yeah, that’s expensive.

Don’t believe me? In an interview you can watch here, Warren Buffett explains that when he took control of GEICO in 1995 they were spending about $20 million on advertising. Now it’s $900 million. Three-quarters of their business now comes through their website, but not for a second does Buffett think that it’s due to the amount of Internet advertising they do. “If I thought spending another billion dollars this year would work in an appreciable way ... I’d write a check so fast. I mean, I, I love advertising.” By the way, GEICO’s market share is now 40 percent.

What most HCM companies fail to recognize is their amazing opportunity to increase awareness — frankly, without thinking too hard. When was the last time you were at an airport and saw an ad for a talent management solution or succession planning tool or compensation analysis services? When was the last time you saw a commercial during Modern Family for a new ATS? Hellfire man, are we saying SHRM is the only one that gets it because they advertise on NPR?!?! You’re not one car company out of a dozen advertising at the Super Bowl. You’re one HCM company out of zero advertising in the same place major consumer brands and giant B2B brands advertise!

It’s just not happening. Nobody’s doing it. And yet, with the exception of a few big players who, by the way, have been advertising their respective asses off since before, during and after their ascension, people still have a hard time realizing the opportunity. Or maybe they realize it and just can’t part with the cash. I get it — it’s hard to see a budget increase by a factor of 10 in a single year. Especially when that budget is the marketing budget. A budget you feel more than a little insecure about investing any money in. Kinda like you need to see a priest after you sign off on it. But you know it’s the right thing to do. You know it. And yet you still don’t do it.

So here’s what’s gonna happen. Somebody, someday, is going to do it. And it’ll probably be one of the big players. But maybe not — maybe it’ll be that ballsy midsize, second-tier player. But regardless, they’re going to do it, and they’re going to own their category in a big way. And then everyone else is going to do it. And it’ll be more expensive and less effective because, at that point, they’re doing it just to stay relevant — just to protect market share. But it’ll be too late. The HCM market will mature, consolidate and move on to the next big thing and the window will close. It will be more about position defense than opportunity gains.

2012 is the year of comebacks. The economy, the job market, innovation and smart people/companies. If you think your comeback will come via a really cool booth at HR Tech, it won’t. It’s time for a fundamental shift toward reality, toward what all the other market segments that have been around for longer than 15 years already know. Advertising works. Companies that advertise well, grow. If you don’t advertise well, you will be beaten.