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October 15, 2013
Simplicity and Execution vs. Surprise and Change
Marketing is cool. It’s one of those disciplines that requires equal parts objective analysis, predictive dexterity and creative talent. When those capabilities come together in support of a quality product, it is indeed a beautiful thing. Of course, on the other side of ‘cool’ there is the uncomfortable reality associated with those gifts being deployed in support of inferior products. We’ve all been there in one form or another (and probably more often than any of us would care to remember). How about this one, for example:
You are sitting in the comfort of your home peacefully watching television when a 30-second spot comes on for a soon-to-be-released movie. The actors are well established. The trailer clips make you laugh out loud. This is a movie you would be an absolute idiot not to see! So, soon thereafter you pay $18 (or more) to see the movie in question. Five minutes in, gleeful anticipation gives way to ‘cautious concern.’ Soon after that, you are anything but gleeful as you realize the absolute best part of this two-hour movie will be the trailer clips you saw in the clever 30-second promo you now wish you had never seen. You quietly vow to yourself to be far more discerning as it applies to future promotions for yet-to-be-made movies.
  And for what it’s worth, you wouldn’t be alone. According to Consumer Reports, 25% of consumers “never believe anything” they see or hear in an advertisement or a marketing campaign. Another 47% “rarely believe anything.” So while marketing may be cool, skepticism runs rampant. Now, with bias duly noted, we would hope that marketing practices in the training industry would somehow be different (in a good way) when compared to consumer research at large. After all, we are the people that preach about the foundational importance of things like credibility, trust, reliability and assurance. But the numbers on our industry fall right in line with the percentages identified above. Roughly 75% of the people making purchasing decisions in the training industry never or rarely buy into the hype that comes at them every day from a variety of training suppliers. Is that a bad thing … hardly! The way we see it is if you get sucked into seeing a bad movie, you’re out $18 and two hours of your life (if you stick it out until the credits run). If you purchase a bad training program, you’ve spent significantly more than $18 and have probably negatively impacted more people than even you can imagine. Here’s a typical example of how a training company would promote a soon-to-be-released program in a widely distributed marketing blitz:
“This program will engage learners using real-life situations and leverage technology to provide learning options (traditional, virtual and blended) for diverse learners from multiple generations who will respond well to a variety of different learning modalities, and as a result, will ‘stay surprised’ and ‘remain connected’ throughout the entire experience.”
 

Now, being an intelligent customer in our industry is really more of an art than a science. There is no handbook. But here are two suggestions to consider before “rushing off to the movies” on the basis of this kind of promotion:

  1. Read the fine print and check the references. You are really busy; that’s pretty much a given. But if you are too busy to engage in a reasonable background check on the claims made by a promotional campaign, the probability of experiencing buyer’s remorse expands exponentially. It is almost criminal what constitutes “research” these days in the behavioral sciences. By FDA mandate a Pharmaceutical or Biotech Company has to tell doctors and patients pretty much everything about their products before they are prescribed (i.e., what the product treats; how it goes about treating it; what can go wrong during treatment; etc.). We have no such governing body in our industry. As such, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish white papers that represent a “meaningful advance” from white papers designed to “put lipstick on a pig.” Bottom line, read the fine print! Check the references! If possible, find knowledgeable and objective third parties to weigh in on the merits of the marketing message under evaluation.
  2. Put the free market to work. This is another time-consuming strategy, we realize, but one that reliably produces increased supplier performance (cost as a function of quality and responsiveness). You owe it to yourself and your organization to ‘Google for a minute or two.’ Find another supplier ‘in the same space’ and get a competitive bid. Work the strengths of one supplier against the strengths of the other. Find out ‘what movie you really want to see’ before you buy the ticket and settle down in your seat.
So, with all of that, when is marketing really cool? It’s cool when it tells the truth! In that regard the true power of a good marketing campaign is a function of the consumer experience, and that can’t be accurately assessed until those consumers have the opportunity to read the fine print, put the free market to work and compare the results they realize to the results they were promised. And as it would appear from perusing “The Best Marketing Campaigns of All Time,” high-quality marketing campaigns are much more about Simplicity and Execution than they are about Surprise and Change. (i.e., campaigns that communicate straight forward universal truths that are easily verified through purchase or use of the product itself compared to campaigns that are defined by the production value of their sizzle and fanfare.)  
APPLICATION CHALLENGE:Between now and the end of the year, verify the claims of a promotional campaign in the training industry by critically reviewing the research cited, references given and results promised. At a minimum, share your findings with your colleagues.
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