Cliche -- Or Result?

In marketing, we strive to create differentiation, yet we operate in a world of clichés. I’m as guilty as everyone else in framing strategies and tactics with clichés, and of course have my favorites.

“Best practices” is one such cliché.   The concept of taking a set of ideas used by others and copying them, with hopes of doing them better than “best,” is a cliché.  Great ideas have merit.  Broadening your perspective is valuable.  But copying aggregated ideas and thinking that you’ll perform better than your competitors is just a lack of creativity.

Email marketing is littered with best practices that mean about as much to a business as industry statistical benchmarks. Your goal of best practices is to combine ideas used by your direct competitors and innovate off them, not copy them.  I read so much about best practices today -- and the term that comes to mind is “recycled.”



“Low-hanging fruit” is another cliché -- and in the email space, it usually means you’re not getting any more budget. I’d change this term to “wring the sponge.” When I hear a company say their goals are to focus on low-hanging fruit, I typically think, you must have little regard for the talent in your organization.    Clichés like this simply scale mediocrity.

One example of low-hanging fruit is the testing of subject lines.   It’s the most unsophisticated tactic in your arsenal and should be done, but you’d think insight would drive this practice, not a copywriter who thinks “sale” out performs “20% Off.”

“Real time” is a cliché that plays on the insecurity of being one second late.  I’m a technologist and product/strategy guy, so I’ve likely used this term more than all of you combined.  While I do believe content delivered at the point of consumption is going to shift our industry, and data in real time will be the future of marketing intelligence, the reality is, businesses don’t operate in real time unless they’re customer service  -- and in many cases, that’s not real time either. 

So why promote an unrealistic standard? Instead, let’s commit to thoughtful interactions when we apply excellence to strategy.  Real time is not your key to next-generational marketing. Real thought is.

The last cliché I hear more and more is  “mobile first.” I’ve used it in product marketing, since I truly believe that email and digital marketing have transitioned to be a pervasive mobile petri dish.  I’m not as down on this cliché as others, probably because it’s relatively new.   The problem I have with it is, most use it to oversimplify a very complex consumer and marketer shift.   It’s not just about mobile, it’s about a new generation of consumers who have no idea what a mouse is and have no attention span for interruptive marketing. 

Apply “real time” and “mobile first” and you have a business challenge that doesn’t seem scalable to the vast majority of the “optimize”- oriented brands.  Remember, “time is money” -- and to configure a business for real time on device-shifting consumers takes time, planning and agility. Now that’s a cliché! 

To be different, you have to take risks and not just rely on thinking differently -- you need to act differently day in and day out.  There are many companies that have succeeded in simply doing the same thing as their competitors, just doing it better and faster -- that’s called a scale advantage. Few have this enviable position.   Those that don’t and apply this strategy are what I call the “get it out the door” marketer.  My advice?  Keep clichés for the vendor pitches.  Challenge your day-to-day and those contributing to it to infuse your business with different thinking, even if uncomfortable at times.   Our business will only get faster and more diverse, and clichés won’t help with differentation, just create a different version of average.

“The future’s bright, wear your sunglasses”“Vampire Diaries” star Ian Somerhalder

6 comments about "Cliche -- Or Result?".
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  1. Al DiGuido from Optimus Publishing, August 19, 2013 at 10:24 a.m.

    David...Rather than focus on "cliches" you suggest..My sense having led several email service provider that the real focus and attention should be on "relevancy" in communication. I still see the majority of email marketers doing "vanilla" email. With all of the big talk about "big data"...MOST marketers aren't leveraging the profile information they already have in their databases to create relevant and engaging connections with existing customers. All of us need to keep pounding the relevancy theme into the heads of marketers...Without it...we are nothing more than digital blasters..There is SO much more opportunity available to us IF we start to do the hard work it takes to leverage data and build messaging that truly engages our audience.

  2. Jordan Cohen from Fluent, August 19, 2013 at 10:35 a.m.

    David... Per your comment - "Apply “real time” and “mobile first” and you have a business challenge that doesn’t seem scalable to the vast majority of the “optimize”- oriented brands." Well, the reality is that adoption of real-time email technology has skyrocketed over the past 12 months. Content "delivered at the point of consumption... and data in real time" are already here, and are already shifting the industry. Sometimes even the most basic point of consumption changes can yield substantial lifts in campaign performance by increasing relevancy (per Al's great note above)... I know of at least one platform out there that makes real-time email marketing easy. I wonder who that may be? ;-)

  3. David Baker from Cordial, August 19, 2013 at 11:12 a.m.

    Thanks for chiming in Al/Jordan. Al, I think you missed the point, I don't want to focus on Cliches.

    I don't disagree with either of you on "relevancy" or "realtime", but I, like you Al have been in email a long time and I think "relevancy" is the biggest cliche of them all. Not that I discount that its true, but that the fact our industry has been trumpeting that since '99 or earlier and what you wrote above, I could pull exerts from over 20 references over the past 10 years, saying the same thing over and over.

    What's new about what you are saying?.. Type in a google search on "Email and relevancy" and you'll find about 100K references. I don't think "keeping pounding the relevancy theme" is enough.

    Jordan, I do believe in "realtime", and I know you are passionate about your company, but "skyrocket" is an interesting term. Skyrocketed from nothing to small is probably more accurate. I still question operationalizing realtime content when our industry has struggled to do dynamic content well (to Al's point, where data drives experiences, insight and optimization).. I wish email marketers could afford to allow AI and Machine learning to take over 75% of the "optimization decisions" and focus the 25% of directional and creative engagement strategies, but we aren't nearly close to that point yet. (well, in all fairness, some do it better than others).

    So, you both are right, yet I believe we need new messaging in our industry that isn't so "been there, done that" ...

    Net is, the industry isn't growing anywhere near the rate of other industries, so if we keep up this CAGR for email , we'll still be a dwarf in marketing spend. Important! But still not at the adult dinner table.

  4. Al DiGuido from Optimus Publishing, August 19, 2013 at 1:26 p.m.

    David....I guess my that this advice is timeless...kinda like the surgeon general's warning on cigarettes..and every other health related warning. Even though MOST people don't pay attention to them and/or are in denial about them...doesn't mean that we don't keep pointing out that they should do something about their "personalization and relevancy option" Meanwhile..Amazon continues to crush it and folks wonder why ? Those guys knew something about personalization and dynamic content assembly EARLY in the game and have ridden that horse for a very long time. Just because the advice has been repeated 100K times or more...doesn't mean that marketers have learned the lesson and are now ready to move on in their tactics and thinking.

  5. Jordan Cohen from Fluent, August 19, 2013 at 2:21 p.m.

    I disagree that there needs to be some sort of sequential approach to adopting email marketing technology and practices. (ie, that real-time email only should come into play after a marketer has graduated from their dynamic assembly class). I have seen many instances where real-time email technology freed up marketers' from the tediousness of pre-send segmentation and planning, and were able to do things that would simply be impossible without it. I guess I just don't really understand what you're trying to say in this post... "think different?" Like Al said, that advice is timeless. I just am trying to wrap my head around why you think real-time is a cliche - it is new and oftentimes downright cool -- and it allows marketers to think differently about the channel and what they can do with it, while at the same time adding new excitement to the conversation around email that can help us get to that coveted adult dinner table.

  6. Dave Hendricks from LiveIntent, August 19, 2013 at 5:41 p.m.

    Hey Dave - thanks for the awesome comment bait. You've now successfully drawn us in.

    You said: "Remember, “time is money” -- and to configure a business for real time on device-shifting consumers takes time, planning and agility."

    Yes partly true, but so does any campaign. But let's get one thing clear: you cannot plan on anyone opening on any specific device. No matter how much guessing you do on that one, you are going to alway be substantially. There is tech out in the market to do real-time device detection in combination with message/template optimization, and you know that. So I call BS on that one.

    Mobile Opens have increased every single month for the last 36 months since our company launched our product in 2010. I am sure that Jordan has seen the same thing even if they have a flawed measurement methodology leading them to claim that the percent of mobile opens were/are 71%. :)

    The fact is that if Email Marketers continue to consider dynamic personalization or triggered messages sufficient to call them 'real-time', they are only fooling themselves. No consumer wants to open a message announcing a sale that ended last night, or to get a message targeted for NYC in SF. And They don't want to get a message formatted for Outlook on their iPhone.

    Calling a triggered message 'real-time' is indeed best practice, for 2003. Segmenting your list based on 'probable mobile openers is also a best practice, for 2010. With the right partners, this can be done QUITE EASILY now.

    Relevance? Yeah. That's a cliche. But million$ of investment dollars and years of people's most productive times have been spent on solving these problems and peoples' golf games and family lives have suffered for it. The least you can do is help a brother out!

    It's high time that real-time got the attention it deserves!

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