board_of_directors“What is the key to success in marketing these days?” No matter what company I work for, no matter the personality type of the executives in charge of the ship and my workload, no matter what the changes are in marketing technology – I am asked this pivotal and poignant question on an annual basis.

The answer quite simply is content: Engaging, thought provoking, and most importantly – ORIGINAL content. This isn’t a new concept; great messaging and original positioning always helped to accelerate brands in the marketplace. But back in marketing days of yore, even the most abysmal and unoriginal pabulum could find its way into prospects’ hands assuming your marketing coffers were deep enough and your lists were accurate.

You Can’t Buy Market Share Anymore

Sadly, my answer to executive scrutiny is always met with chagrinned faces and skepticism towards my marketing prowess. It’s a hard pill for executives to swallow, especially those of the baby-boomer generation. I don’t fault them (OK maybe I do a little), these executives were all weaned in the days before the democratization of information brought forth by the World Wide Web. And to be fair, even in the early days of the Web one could keyword stuff pages, rig metadata and essentially pay-per-click your way into consumers’ hearts, minds and pockets.

The Web today though is a social animal, one that is not easily tricked by dollars. Even if you pay through the nose for the top placement in Google’s yellow box of sponsorship, if your content sucks you just paid a lot of money for a click that will only show as page abandonment in Google analytics.

Once you’ve paid to be seen in search engines, the battle is only 5% complete. Your toughest challenge of getting that clicker to give their name rests squarely on the shoulders of amazing content.

Make Them Laugh…Make Them Cry…Make Them Empathize…Make Them Buy

happy-businessEven just fifteen years ago, someone looking for an escape from the doldrums of their daily activities just might have read your brochure laden with upsell and CorpSpeak. Today though, workers (including purchasers) have access to billions of pages of content to help whittle away the minutes they are not directly producing for the company. This means as marketers we must provide messaging they want to read long before they are ready to swipe their credit card or request a PO from finance.

But…marketing needs help. There’s only so many ways to skin a cat (I’m a dog lover, so I have no reservations in using this analogy). At a certain point, even the cleverest of spins will only do so much for you. You might get a modicum of interest in your material, but if it’s the same message as other companies and (God forbid) your competitors your content will only get shared so far. This type of sharing is usually done by consultants and the most fervent of brand advocates (i.e. employees). But they already know your business.  While this type of interest is helpful, if you are seeking exponential growth in lead numbers, you ultimately want the world outside the people following industry specific hashtags and LinkedIn Groups to read and then share your message.

The Forest through the Trees

I had a CEO once say at a kick-off meeting, “My job is to look five years ahead, to see the clearing past the forest and help you clear the straightest path.”

Marketing desperately needs a report on that clearing. We need to know what you saw and how that will impact customers once we all reach it. Even if the view is slightly fuzzy, this acumen will be original and beneficial to the market. It will help differentiate the organization as someone focused on their customers’ needs today and tomorrow. It will engender a trust that will help you transcend from a provider to an advisor. And it will help your marketing department say something so completely new and original the market can’t help but spread the word.

Panda & Penguin Ate My Marketing

unaccepting penguinNothing makes me angrier than the deluge of LinkedIn discussions bemoaning how social media has ruined marketing. This cacophony of whining became even more prevalent in 2012 when Google completely killed the keyword stuffing spigot in favor of empowering the masses one +1 at a time.

Social Media with all of its shares, retweets, likes and posts killed nothing. What it did do though was bring a level of honesty to marketing that would make cool as ice spinmeisters of yore like Don Draper from Mad Men sweat bullets.

Social media is still in its infancy, but one message is clear – the masses now control the dissemination of information, not the illustrious 1% of Scrooge McDucks with their tidal waves of gold coins.

Creativity + Originality = A Strong Brand with Leads

Not all executives are soothsayers. Not all businesses demand it. However, if you are battling in a commoditized market you are left with the challenge of dropping your pants egregiously on price or making your voice the most unique in the business.

If the C-suite can’t step up to bat, ensure there’s a think tank somewhere else in the company that can give marketing a view of tomorrow (even if its fuzzy) and you have marketers that can make that message as engaging as possible.

While one or the other will help, the combination of the two simply can’t be beat. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments either way.