@edkang99 Life (re)Startup Blog:

#HIITO: High Intensity Interval Time & Transformation Optimization

Why Your Marketing and Sales Do Not Work #BrandCulture

#BrandCulture is a continuing series on how MDNA applies to brand strategy and communications.

Have you ever launched a marketing or sales initiative only to have it fall flat? Maybe everything started strong out of the gate but then fizzled out over time. Or you might know half of your efforts work, you just don’t know which half and where to improve.

We’ve encountered all three above these scenarios and a few others. We’ve sat in literally hundreds of boardrooms and heard the stories. Because of this, many companies end up doing marketing and sales by default versus by design. These companies pretty much “fake it until they make it” and leave things to chance, reacting to market conditions.

Even dead fish float down-stream. This means that yes, if you are not actively managing your marketing and sales strategy, it is possible to see results. But do these results really measure up to your company’s potential? Long-term, this strategy will end up netting exactly that—nothing more than dead fish.

Based on experience, we have identified four major reasons why marketing and sales do not work. Companies don’t do any of these intentionally. The best of intentions are always there. But intentions alone won’t grow your company.

Tactics vs. Strategy

Chances are you don’t have deep pockets. You have a budget. You don’t have a war chest of millions to throw at activities like advertising, sales staff or reducing the cost of your product. This is why you need a strategy.

In an actual war, if you had an unlimited number of missiles, tanks, planes and soldiers, strategy is unecessary. You would simply continually deploy your assets until the war was won. But if your resources were limited, you would carefully plan every move, maximizing chances of success while mitigating casualties. That’s what strategy is for.

It’s the same with sales and marketing. There is a difference between tactics and strategy. Tactics are what you do. Strategy determines why and how you do it. Tactics are about spending money. Strategy is about managing that precious money—among other resources—for maximum ROI.

Just because a megabrand in your industry spends money on tactics, like advertising, doesn’t mean you should do it too. Sometimes what looks like marketing and sales is really just brand awareness and market retention. This costs big bucks and doesn’t reflect all the upfront costs to earn that brand equity and market share in the first place.

When companies want to skip strategy we run in the other direction. For some companies, strategy is a four-letter word. (Typically it is because they are in denial or have something to hide. Sorry. The truth can be brutal because we just want to help.)

Strategy doesn’t require months of consulting and analysis. Strategy isn’t a binder as thick as a phone book that just sits in your desk. Strategy is simply knowing why and how you will execute the tactics you choose. In fact, a one page strategy is usually enough because, in today’s hyper-networked competitive global market, your strategy might have to change every week.

One time a client approached a marketing colleague of ours and asked him to help spend ten thousand dollars on advertising. Our colleague understood the difference between tactics and strategy. He advised the client that their budget would be wasted and they would be better served just throwing the money off the roof of their building. They needed strategy. The client listened and that’s exactly what they did. Our colleague carefully planned an event where ten thousand one dollar bills would be tossed off the roof of their building. Every detail was thought through including the publicity campaign. In the end, without spending a penny on advertising, they gained more than triple their budget in free publicity, word of mouth and social media.

Social DNA

In 2006, Apple launched its “Get a Mac” advertising campaign. The series of commercials featured two characters that start by saying, “Hi, I’m a Mac and I’m a PC.” Mac’s character was young and hip. PC’s character, well, looked like Bill Gates of course. In 2010, Adweek declared “Get a Mac” to be the best advertising campaign of the first decade of the new century. This was a classic example of one company ingeniously highlight social DNA in their advertising.

Mac is renowned for their product design and intuitive experience. PC has always touted professional productivity. Each works for their respective company. When Apple advertises their iPad, their message is one of imagination, creative possibilities and everyday life. Not to mention a massive ecosystem of apps. Microsoft, on the other hand, has been able to successfully launch its Surface tablet line based upon productivity. They focus on their core productivity software and really don’t mention any apps. Even though both products can each do pretty much the same thing, their brand communication is different because the social DNA of each company is different.

Social DNA is why what works for one company may not necessarily work for another. This would be the equivalent of expecting an apple tree to produce oranges just because you want to compete in the juice market exactly like Tropicana or Minute Maid.

When I (Ed Kang) was growing up, I managed the family video store (before high-speed streaming and Netflix were even possible—which many of you reading this will never have even seen a VHS machine in operation). Two times, a major franchise moved in just up the hill and threatened our livelihood. They had recognized brands, major advertising budgets, coupons and a huge selection.

If we had tried to copy any of their marketing and sales strategies, they would have put us out of business. We didn’t. Instead, we stayed true to our social DNA. We trained our staff in guerilla marketing tactics in alignment to this social DNA. Instead of advertising, we created a program where if a customer didn’t like a movie we recommended, their next rental would be free. Everybody who worked there became a movie geek and specialized in Hollywood trivia, gossip and reviews. Remember, this was before you could open your smartphone and instantly read everything you wanted to know. We were Rotten Tomatoes and guaranteed our fresh ratings. We also positioned ourselves as the underdog family business. It worked. The two franchise competitors eventually shut down and my parents sold the business for a healthy profit.


Have you ever been so disappointed with a company’s customer service to the point you pick a competitor from then on? Now imagine if that company was known for advertising its customer service. How successful would that company be? This happens every day when brands promote their guarantees, selection or quality, only to be let down by the employees of the company.

Marketing and selling your brand is one thing. Having your employees actually deliver that brand is another.

Zappos sells over a billion dollars of shoes online. Nobody thought selling shoes online was possible. They defied the odds and were eventually bought by Amazon for approximately a billion dollars. Zappos advertises that to them, customer service is more than just a department. It makes up the essence of their brand. To ensure they never disappoint a customer, every employee goes through service training no matter what position they’re hired for. Every employee from accounting to IT spends time answering calls and taking orders.

Your employees, no matter which department, can make an impact on your marketing and sales. This may seem obvious for staff that interface with your customers directly. But think about how your employees talk about the organization on personal time—especially using social media. How many times have you done business with a company because you know an employee who works there? Regardless of whether they work directly in marketing and sales, think about how much they influence your buying decision.

This also includes recruitment. When attracting talent, your employer brand is as important as the consumer brand. Having your employees live the brand culture will give you a competitive advantage in HR. Ignore this at your own risk. Websites like Glassdoor.com are making employer brands more transparent and critical than ever.

Culture starts right at the top. Have you ever experienced an owner of a business come out and work the front counter or respond to a customer service request? Or have you ever watched how managers change their companies after disguising themselves as employees on the show Undercover Boss? These are examples of how upper management can get involved and lead by culture.


Every day, new startups are emerging that want to disrupt established industries. We saw Amazon do this to Barnes and Noble and Netflix to Blockbuster. What about Uber and Airbnb? Think about what 3D printing and banking apps mean to manufacturing and financial industries.

A little competition is definitely healthy. But disruptive competition will kill you.

If you have upstarts trying to disrupt your industry, you can either compete directly or differentiate. In other words, you can tell your customers how much more superior your product is, or you can communicate how you are completely different. Both require strategy.

The best defense is a good offense. At some point, if you are established, your brand needs to defend your company. Your marketing and sales strategy needs to be proactive. Go on offense.

Think of this like brand judo. The goal of judo is to use your opponent’s strength and momentum against them. You can do the same with your brand and the competition.

We once had a client that was in the house painting industry and was being disrupted by companies started by students during the summer. As soon as school let out for summer, the market would be flooded by student painting advertising asking customers to support these young entrepreneurs. Our brand judo move was to flyer neighborhoods a couple weeks before students did the same. Our message differentiated us from student painters in terms of professionalism, quality, warranties and experience. It worked because as soon as student painters began advertising, our client was already positioned as an alternative. This differentiation was able to protect market share.

Working In the Business vs. On It

This may be the biggest root of all the above reasons why marketing and sales do not work. It also happens to be something we encounter the most.

Most companies are simply too busy to be strategic. Not that we blame them. On any given day in any business there are a million things to get done. Well maybe not millions, but it certainly feels this way. In other words, everybody is too busy working in the business to work on it.

Have you heard of the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80-20 rule? Basically, the principle is 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.  For example, in most small businesses, 80% of the revenue comes from 20% of the customer base. This also applies to productivity. 80% of your productivity is generated by 20% of your activities.

As with all principles, the inverse is then true. When it comes to productivity, one can get caught up in the 80% that only yield 20%.

The 80% is working in your business. 20% is working on it.

Nothing is more frustrating we collaborate with a client for an excellent strategy but the potential stalls because the client cannot execute. It’s not that clients don’t want to, they just can’t. It’s the difference between being proactive and reactive. Nor do clients want to be reminded of this (we don’t either), because it only makes everybody feel worse. Fundamentally we know we should be doing something different if we want different results. Again, for multiple really justifiable (reactionary) reasons, we can’t.

The solution to all of this?

A systematic framework.

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