How can something as susceptible to change as marketing have any longstanding, golden rules? Modified social media algorithms come out every few weeks. Google keeps getting smarter, putting more pressure on advertisers and content creators. As soon as you’ve mastered one tool or technique, another one pops up to knock it out of first place.
Before we get into the golden rules of marketing, it’s important to understand how marketing has changed. Yes, plenty has stayed the same – people are still people, after all – but the way that customers interact with one another and the closeness brands can have with their customers is truly modern.
Note that when I refer to “brands,” I’m speaking about anyone who may be using marketing, whether that’s a solopreneur brand-of-one or a large company.
There’s more customer-to-customer interaction.
Customer interaction has greatly impacted the rules of marketing. In the past, customers couldn’t talk to each other, at least not easily. For example, let’s pretend it’s the 90 and you want to hire a painter. You want to know if past customers liked the painter. You ask the painter for references, but the only references he provides are for customers who he knows have glowing things to say.
Today, customers can talk to one another whether or not the brand coordinates or even knows about it. That’s great for consumers but scary for brands. Many rules of marketing have to do with keeping the customer happy, and that’s even more important now than in the past.
Announcements go straight to your audience.
In the past, press releases were for journalists and news outlets. Brands would write (or hire someone to write) a press release and get it into the hands of a journalist who might turn it into a story. Today, brands can craft their press releases (or “news releases”) and publish them on their own blog or social media. It’s possible the release will get picked up by other outlets or shared by the brand’s audience, increasing reach without any advertising costs (i.e., earned media).
The trick is this: standard press releases are pretty straightforward, but if you’re going to publish one yourself, it has to be creative and compelling, not dry. You’re not going to have a professional journalist or writer turn it into a story; it is the story, and it has to read like one.
7 Golden Rules of Marketing
The rules of marketing aren’t the same as the strategies of marketing. They’re not going to become obsolete the next time Facebook changes how it organizes your feed. It’s no mistake that the golden rules of marketing are the ones that have been around forever. The way you apply the rules may be different, but they’re proven for a reason – they work.
1. Don’t be mean.
As far as marketing rules go, “don’t be mean” may be the simplest and easiest to apply.
Did you ever make a point to smile at a cashier? Do it – the reaction is always a smile back, plus a hint of surprise. Cashiers are so used to dealing with run-of-the-mill customers – the ones who are rushing, rude or angry – that the tiniest drop of kindness gets noticed and reciprocated; it’s contagious.
The same is true for kindness in marketing. Kinder marketing will encourage more responses, and those responses will be kinder, too. Change your wording in live chat and customer service emails to be softer and nicer, connect with VIP customers more often to say “thank you,” offer freebie or pro bono services – do whatever your brand can handle that your customers will appreciate.
Bonus: it doesn’t cost anything to create a kinder brand. It’s in your messaging and your customer service. Just like you would create a new marketing campaign to launch a product, you can create a new kindness strategy to handle customers with more care. This is a great opportunity to create a culture of kindness within your organization, too.
2. Know your audience.
Knowing your audience isn’t as simple as, “female, ages 20-35, metropolitan area.” You have to know so much more about their demographics (for example, which metropolitan areas?), as well as what they want, strive for and struggle with. Knowing your audience is twofold: you have to know who they are data-wise and who they are in terms of their hopes, dreams and aspirations.
To learn more about your audience, check out Personas: What They Are, How to Make Them, and How to Use Them in Marketing.
3. Show “what,” not “how.”
Customers care about results much more than they care about the process you take to deliver those results. Yes, some customers will want to know the nitty-gritty, especially if they’re in the same industry. For example, when I talk to a branding expert, I care about all of the back-of-the-house goings-on that other professionals may not. Most people want to get in and out fast, problem solved. That’s why they’ve hired a pro – so they don’t have to figure any of it out themselves.
Let’s say you have a colicky newborn. You haven’t slept, you can’t think, you’re starving, you haven’t showered… and you have no clue how to soothe your little one. There’s a device on the market that’s designed just for this, and it has a stellar track record – parents everywhere would sell their soul for it. Do you care how it works, short of ensuring your child is safe? Not really. You care that it works, and maybe in the future you’ll sit down to read about the science and psychology behind it, but in the moment when you’re going to buy out of necessity, you care about two things: that it will work and that it’s safe.
Tell your customers what they want to know, and make the rest accessible without putting the focus on it.
You can absolutely put a laundry list of lower-priority benefits, features and specs on your website, but this information shouldn’t be front-and-center. Customers shouldn’t feel like they have to read pages of documentation and jargon to make an informed buying decision. Also, your customers have different levels of expertise and comprehension. Cater to all of them by speaking in an easy-to-understand way. It’s not about dumbing down your brand, but about relating to your customers and being approachable.
4. Pay closer attention to your customers’ actions than their words.
This isn’t permission to ignore irate or disappointed customers who express themselves through words. Instead, it means being responsible for taking all customer behaviors into account instead of assuming everything is fine because you ended a phone call in a satisfactory way. A customer may say she’s happy with the service but never buy from your company again. Or, a frustrated customer may yell at customer support but still continue to buy.
Why are they doing what they’re doing? What would make a customer say or write that they like your brand but never purchase another product again? Should you be offering up- and cross-sell products so that customers know what else you have that may benefit them? Are your products awesome and everyone wants them, but the price is just too high?
And why would a customer who is thoroughly annoyed with your brand still buy from you? What are they getting out the experience that’s still worthwhile? How can you capitalize on that and improve the full scope of the experience so that your loyal customers are also happy ones?
5. Your own actions have to be trustworthy, too.
Saying your brand is one way while performing another way is death to a business – or at least to your business’ reputation. Consumers aren’t new to the game – they buy, buy, buy. Company X talking about how fantastic they are doesn’t matter a bit if they can’t deliver. And if you talk your company up and then don’t rise to the occasion, the experience feels worse than it was.
Case in point: I just moved, and the moving company I hired spent weeks telling me how wonderful they are and how impressed I’d be – this message was all over their website and emails, and reiterated during my preparatory phone conversations with them. The truth of the experience was a letdown, though. Their mistakes might have felt less meaningful if they hadn’t prepared me for five-star service.
Brands should exceed expectations, even if that means setting the bar a little lower to begin with so you impress instead of disappoint.
6. Be an ethical competitor.
Even if you’re great at what you do and your brand is among the best of the best, there are competitors out there who your customers are free to choose. You have to let your customers exercise this freedom of choice. Avoid sneaky, unethical practices like trying to make your brand look better by making a competitor look worse. Instead of attacking or undermining your competitors, learn from them respectfully (as in, don’t steal their ideas). Nothing cheapens a brand like putting down another brand to try to stand out.
7. Do you.
By trying to make everyone happy, you end up making nobody excessively happy – how can you when you’re playing it safe? There’s a way to stick with what you know works while still taking risks to try new things. I’m not sure what that way is for you – it depends on your business – but I know it exists. Define who you are, figure out your values and voice, determine where you can try something new, and then don’t be afraid to put it all out there.
Sometimes old school is better. The golden rules of marketing can help you take a more holistic, humanistic approach when promoting your brand and connecting with companies. There’s nothing wrong with embracing technology and modern techniques – we encourage it, obviously – but sprinkle in the old standards that are worthy of relying on.
Do you think that emojis may be a good addition to your marketing? We have An Emoji Guide for Marketers to help you figure out if that sunglasses-wearing smiley face is right for your brand.