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What if it’s Not Advertising?

Johnny Molson


“Before you blame (or praise) your advertising – consider these other, very-much-marketing-related, items”

The disproportionate weight given to ads has led many businesses astray. Advertising, the outward communication coming from your company, is just one part of Marketing. But advertising gets the most attention. It’s the sexy part. The part you get to see, touch, and share with friends. Nobody ever comes to your business and says they “heard all about your well-oiled distribution system” or “your very impressive pricing strategy.”

Advertising gets much of the credit, and much of the blame, for the success or failure of a business.

But what if it’s not advertising?

Books overflow with case-studies of super-serving the customer, ala Zappos, Nordstrom, and Virgin Atlantic. Entire marketing lessons are devoted to the customer experience of companies like Disney and Amazon. Did advertising play a role in the success of those companies? A bit. But…just a bit. They could probably figure out how to get by without it, though unwise.

Conversely, inefficient profit strategies have crushed companies. Toys R Us was not toppled by Amazon, it was toppled by debt. No profits, no company. Could a sharp, well-researched, award-winning ad campaign have saved Sears? I don’t believe so.

Before you blame (or praise) your advertising – consider these other, very-much-marketing-related, items:

Pricing Strategy. What kind of message does your price send? If you believe all a customer wants is a “low price,” you are mistaken. For example: Wine-pros know a $12 bottle of wine can often be better than a $58 bottle. But which one are you taking to your boss’s house for dinner?

Customer Experience. There’s nothing more delicate than the experience your customer has. Ya know what’s worse than a few customers having a bad experience? A thousand having a merely average experience. Chick-fil-A has turned God’s most boring protein into a magical event. Go fig. But it works.

Product Experience. The product design experts at the ketchup plant made ketchup bottles the same way since 1876. Larger at the bottom, and comically narrow at the top. It took a marketer to finally make it so you could store it “upside-down.” And squeeze it. Who has free time to wait for ketchup to pour? The same is true for service businesses. Look for points where your customers are getting stuck in the ketchup bottle. Hurdles and hoops to navigate. Can you remove them? Streamline them? Turn them upside-down?

Customer Orientation. It’s easy (and somewhat expected) for a business to say, “the customer always comes first.” But do they? Really? Really really? If your company is run like a scene from Glengary Glen Ross where employees are clawing for every penny, incentivized for upselling, and customers are manipulated to pick the higher priced service over the perfectly appropriate lower priced one…you are not putting the customer first. Big Ketchup (I think that’s a thing) didn’t put customers first with impossible-to-pour bottles. The Harvard Business School has been teaching and preaching Customer Orientation, sometimes called “Market Orientation”, since the 1980s. It’s time it caught on.

Distribution and Profits. “Sellin’ stuff” isn’t the goal of your business. Toys R Us was plenty capable of “sellin’ stuff.” A business’s job is to make a profit. Profit is the only thing that makes it work. General Motors lost revenue, but greatly improved profits by winnowing out dud lines like Oldsmobile and Pontiac. Investors didn’t mind that revenue went down. They celebrated the profits.


I could give you 34 other marketing parts of your business that could highly impact your success or failure…but I think you get the idea. Advertising is part of the story, to be sure…

But what if it’s not advertising?

Johnny Molson


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