When one factors in the most bizarre presidential election in American history, major business scandals and the divisiveness that now characterizes our country, it was pretty difficult to select the top 12 marketing wins and losses of the year (as well as advise you how to duplicate or totally avoid the win or loss in question). Here goes:
1. Big data lies. There were multiple lessons learned in the most recent presidential election. One was the disastrously mistaken projections made by virtually every pollster. Most predicted Clinton would win by five or six percent, a few had her winning in a landslide but, only a few, such as Helmut Norpoth a Stonybrook University political science professor, actually got it right.
There's a real lesson to be learned here: Don't rely solely on Big Data. The man on the street is still the best source to tell you if your message is, or isn't, resonating. Trump instinctively knew that. So should you. You can knock yourself out spending lots of money on Big Data, but do yourself a favor first: put yourself in your customer's shoes and personally experience your organization from the outside in. That will, or won't, confirm what your data's telling you.
2. Mandates are ephemeral at best. While the Republicans swept the White House along with both houses of Congress, they clearly do NOT have a mandate.
The business cemetery is littered with companies that believed they had a mandate to do (or keep doing) what they thought the market wanted. Then, along came risky investment strategies (i.e. Lehman Brothers), a new and disruptive competitor (i.e. Google) or fraudulent management (i.e. Enron). Never assume you have a mandate or that your customer is happy. In fact, a just-released poll by Aspect said half of U.S. consumers moved from at least one company to another because of a poor customer experience.
3. Underestimating the enemy. Remember when The Donald first rode down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for president? No one took him seriously. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Entrepreneurs should never underestimate a competitor. We lost one new business pitch by assuming a seemingly ossified opponent wouldn't bring fresh thinking to the plate. We finished second in another dog-and-pony show to a start-up we'd dismissed as just a couple of kids with a few ideas and no relevant experience.
Prepare for every new business presentation as you would for D-Day.
4.Good people can do bad things. Top Wells Fargo executives knew about the company's cross-selling transgressions for years and made no attempt to correct them.
The scandal should be a wake-up call to every entrepreneur who trusts her direct reports to always do the right thing. Money is seductive. And, turning a blind eye to unethical or illegal practices seems to happen in every industry. Stress test each and every part of your supply chain process (even if that process happens to be consulting, accounting or providing legal advice).
5. Distribute your marketing dollars wisely. Advertising just doesn't produce like it used to. The DNC/Hillary plunked down more than $245 million and finished second.
Your audiences routinely delete digital ads to go directly to the content they want to view on SnapChat, YouTube, etc. So, while Madison Avenue struggles to figure out its relevance, take a long, hard look at all of the other platforms, channels and opportunities that will enable you to cost effectively engage with your audience.
6.Customer experience is king. We've all seen the dramatic reduction in trust between brand and customer. The Democrats thought they could once again ride the Obama coalition of blacks, Latinos and women to score an easy victory. But, that was not the case because past experiences don't guarantee future success.
Focus on every touchpoint between you and your client. That extends from the ease of navigation on your website and the greeting by your receptionist to the durability or your product and friendliness of your sales force. Each point of contact must be exceptional.
7. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. MetLife's decision to euthanize Snoopy as their corporate icon after three decades of faithful obedience was a Saint Bernard-sized marketing mistake. MetLife marketers said younger audiences wouldn't relate to Snoopy, so they put him down and replaced the pooch with a mishmash of a logo.
Talk about bad timing. Animals in general and canines in particular are more popular to marketing than ever.
So, as you continually listen to your prospect, employee and customer base, ask if your current branding and value proposition still resonates as strongly as it once did. If so, stick with it and double down on your marketing investment.
8.Timeliness matters. Anthony Weiner's decision to participate in a documentary at the exact time his estranged wife's boss was running for president may have been filmdom's biggest blunder since Ben Hur. The sordid tale further tarnished a candidate whose judgment was already in question.
Take care in timing the announcement of any new product or service. And, be doubly sure not to communicate on days of seismic or tragic events. We routinely warn our clients to lay low after yet another terrorist bombing or school shooting. We also make sure their product or service matches the spirit of a given holiday. Veteran's Day is a great example. We've pushed back on clients looking to capitalize on that solemn day to sell everything from fresh produce to no-cost entry fees for credit cards.
9.Blowing $5 million on a Super Bowl spot. Do you remember any of the no-name brands that decided to roll the dice and spend their entire year's marketing budget on one, forgettable 30-second TV spot during the 2016 Super Bowl? Me either.
Take a very deep breath on this particular expenditure and ask if your product really does appeal to a mass audience. If it isn't, go narrow, young man.
10. Words can cause unintended consequences. The executives of PepsiCo, GrubHub, and Lebenthal learned this lesson the hard way when, in the aftermath of the election, they publicly stated their commitment to inclusiveness and rejection of racism. Each word inadvertently ostracized half of their customer/employee/prospect base.
So, while your heart may be in the right place, measure every word before sharing it internally or externally. A good corporate communications adviser can help you tiptoe through this increasingly volatile minefield.
11. Retain your best talent. Period. The New York Mets made the single biggest mistake in sports this year by not re-signing Daniel Murphy. Instead, they allowed their arch-rival Washington Nationals to retain his services. Lest you forget, Murphy single-handedly carried the Amazins through the 2015 National League play-offs. This year, he posted insane offensive numbers and the Nationals cruised to the NL East title.
Top talent is well worth retaining. Never mind the costs of finding and hiring a replacement, top producers deserve to be paid top dollar. Shame on you for allowing a superstar to walk.
12. Ronald McDonald's continued presence. Despite taking a brief hiatus during those totally bizarre clown incidents last Summer, Ronald McDonald remains the anti-Snoopy. Sure, he seems like a bright and cheery fellow, but he's actually a ruse the fast food giant continues to use to lure unsuspecting kids into a lifetime of fast food, obesity and all of the related afflictions that go along with it.
Today's marketing is all about doing good by society. More and more entrepreneurial companies are succeeding because they've found their purpose for existing. Statistics show that purpose-driven organizations attract more Millennial employees and customers alike.
If you haven't done so already, sit down with your top executives and determine your purpose. Is it to feed the hungry, reinvigorate iconic American brands or feed the poor in your community? Nail it down and communicate it widely.