How to Market Above the Noise

European man of thirty years in glasses closes her ears loud mus

Above the Noise


Does Your Marketing Matter?

What makes some messages stand out above the noise?


Marketers everywhere have been busy in the past several years keeping up with mobile, new technology, and the fundamental changes in a social media world. Though the pace is increasing, it is also important to review the basics of marketing to ensure that what you do matters. Linda J. Popky, in her new book, MARKETING ABOVE THE NOISE: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters goes back to basics and offers an approach that combines timeless principles with today’s technology. Linda is the president of Leverage2Market Associates, a firm that helps transform organizations through powerful marketing performance.


“Asking for input and not using it is wasteful and dangerous.” –Linda Popky


The Promise of Social Media

How has social media changed the way companies interact with individuals? What are companies doing well? What are they not doing well?

The good news is that social media opens the possibility for powerful real-time communications and conversations between companies and their audiences—including customers, prospects, employees, and the local community. The bad news is that social media also raises expectations amongst those audiences, while creating distraction and noise that often makes it harder to be heard.

The result is many organizations do not use these channels effectively. The key point about a conversation is that it’s two way. It’s not a monologue of marketing or sales messages from a company to customers. And it’s not an opportunity to bombard them with information that doesn’t fit the audience.


“Successful organizations analyze external forces.” –Linda Popky


More and more companies are using social media to engage with their customers, and they’re learning to listen effectively. However, they also need to bring back what they learn to the right groups in the organization to effect change. Too often this is still lip service.

For example, several months ago, I had a very negative experience with a major national retail chain. I tweeted about this and almost immediately received a response and apology from their Twitter customer care manager. The problem was they assured me I’d be hearing from headquarters soon to resolve the issue. Not only didn’t that happen, but the Twitter customer care manager moved on and left me hanging—a huge missed opportunity on their part, which is indicative of how much room there is for improvement.


Timeless Marketing Truths

With all of the changes that technology, mobile and social have brought to marketing, you emphasize in the book that some marketing truths are timeless. What has changed and what hasn’t?

Hundreds or even thousands of years ago, farmers started to come together in what became known as a market in order to trade excess goods—perhaps you had milk and cheese and I had eggs, while someone else had wool. To be successful in this endeavor, participants had to have a good quality product, they had to show up in the right place at the right time with the right package, they had to promote themselves appropriately, etc.Marketing Above the Noise - Book Jacket

Fast forward to 2015. All of those factors are still important and will remain so moving forward. What’s changed is we now have new ways to reach customers—through the Web, on mobile devices, soon with wearable technology and the Internet of Things (IoT), and then with whatever the next thing will be after that. We also have a bigger emphasis on content, community, and conversations in order to better engage with our customers.

What’s important is for marketers—and business leaders in general—to meld the old and the new in order to create the right music that gets above the noise in this crowded marketplace.


“Strategy is at the core of a solid marketing program.” –Linda Popky


What Gets Measured Gets Managed

Let’s talk about all-important metrics. What’s the best way to determine whether a metric is appropriate?

The key thing to remember about metrics is that what gets measured gets managed. Today we have an incredible amount of analytical tools available, so we can measure things we never even imagined a few years ago. The problem is most of these new metrics don’t really matter to the business.

A metric should be easy to understand and use, easily replicated (so it can be measured on an ongoing basis), and should provide useful, actionable information that can impact the business. Too many of today’s metrics fall short of the third criterion. As a result, organizations can quote you a boatload of metrics, but they can’t tell you how these will move the needle for the business.

I’m a lifelong baseball fan (Go, San Francisco Giants!). Much has been made of the recent adoption of stats and Sabremetrics by Major League Baseball teams. There are all kinds of interesting and unusual metrics being generated today, some of which are truly creative. They’re fun to think about, but when it comes right down to it, it still takes a seasoned manager to look at the stats and apply judgment and common sense to make the right decisions for the game at hand. No one has ever won a World Series on metrics and stats alone, and the same applies to the business world.


Get Above the Noise

How do you get above the noise? Would you share the Dynamic Market Leverage Model? 

Copyright Linda Popky. Used by Permission. Copyright Linda Popky. Used by Permission.

There are actually two types of noise. External noise in the marketplace comes from so many brands and companies trying to reach the same audiences simultaneously through every medium possible. Internal noise, or static, is the interference that occurs when a marketing team competes for resources and attention with other functions in a business. It’s what happens when projects are held up by disagreements between marketing and product development or customer support, or finance, or sales or IT.

You get above external noise by focusing on the eight Dynamic Market Leverage Factors. Go back to basics and start with a strong strategy, based on knowing your markets and customers. Focus on developing a strong brand and communicating it effectively. Ensure your sales teams have what’s needed to be successful. And put the infrastructure in place to provide the support needed.

You get above static or internal noise by being closely aligned with the executive team, as well as with the other core functions of the company. Marketers can no longer succeed as lone wolves. That means you need the right people on the team and the right resources who will work effectively with others. And you need to understand the market environment in which you compete.


Encourage Alignment

When sales and marketing are not aligned, what happens? How do you encourage alignment?

Think of sales and marketing like siblings. Because we come from the same stock, we’re very similar in many ways, and we know enough about the other to push their hot buttons and make them angry. And, as any bystander knows, it’s no fun to watch siblings duke it out with each other.

Copyright Linda Popky; Used by Permission. Copyright Linda Popky; Used by Permission.

There’s been talk about sales and marketing alignment for years. Alignment implies two entities that are looking for a common place to come together. Why not start with the premise instead that we’re family and in this together? Marketing needs to understand and enable sales to close business—the proof that marketing is providing value. Sales needs to understand and enable marketing to provide the air cover sales needs to be successful. Let’s use the family dynamics to our mutual advantage.


Learn the Power of a Higher Purpose 

Is there a story you can share about a company or person who manages to hit the right notes and market above the noise?

Linda J. PopkyHere’s a great example. Commune Hotels was formed by the merger of two smaller regional hotel companies, one in San Francisco and the other in New York. They brought in Niki Leondakis, formerly the president of Kimpton Hotels, to be CEO.

She realized the best way to launch the new brand in the crowded hospitality field was to build strong employee engagement, and to do that it was important to have a shared sense of higher purpose for the organization. Leondakis conducted company-wide meetings, gathered feedback, and asked employees what they wanted the Commune brand to represent. The result was a list of 77 values that were narrowed down to a list of ten core values that represent the “Spirit of Commune” and a single statement of higher purpose.

That purpose, creating transformational experiences that inspire the human spirit, carries through to everything Commune does with everyone who engages with the company. And it is the core of their marketing and communications efforts as well.


Innovation Requires Failure

Near the end of the book, you talk about failure. I’ve long taught that failure is encouraged, but just please fail quickly! How is this important to marketing?

Innovation by definition implies some degree of failure. If you’re not failing at least part of the time, you’re not reaching beyond your comfort zone and truly innovating.


“Innovation by definition implies some degree of failure.” –Linda Popky

For failure to be valuable to an organization, two things have to happen. First, as you’ve mentioned, it’s important to fail quickly. Find out what works and what doesn’t and make mid-course corrections quickly. This is where technology really has made a difference. We can do AB testing, get the results, and tweak many different elements of a campaign to be more effective much more quickly and effectively now than ever before. And if the tweaks don’t work, we have to have the strength to pull the plug and move on.

Second, use failure as an opportunity to learn what didn’t work and why. Don’t look for scapegoats. Don’t punish those who went out on a limb and tried something that didn’t work out.

The Skittles brand team at Wrigley is a great example of this. The results of various marketing campaigns around the world are shared with country marketing and branding teams. What hasn’t worked is discussed as candidly as what has. It’s all part of the learning experience and adds to the common understanding. That’s putting failure to work for a good cause.



MARKETING ABOVE THE NOISE: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters
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