From Y2K to Are We Okay

At the end of 1999, I worked for a large, global asset manager in the marketing and communications department. Our biggest fear at the time was Y2K, and would we get laid off. Now, in that same company, they are still, a decade later wondering if they will get laid off, but the Y2K fear seems quint and downright cute.

Our biggest marketing concern was our brochures and print ads. Of course we had a website, and we printed the URL on all printed material in hopes that people would actually go to the site to the see the wealth of info we had stored there, but, a familiar mantra around our department was, “They still don’t use the web,” referring to our end users.

I have not touched base with anyone in that department in a while, mainly because they have all moved on (the laid off fears came true for many), but I have to believe that more and more of their marketing presence is online. These days, brochures and print ads almost now seem as quant and cute as Y2K. Almost.

If I could get in a tele-transport Star Trekkie machine and send myself back to 1999, how would I advise the group I managed back then as they faced not only a new year, but a new decade. Knowing what I know now, if I could have helped form the strategy for a large financial institution, what would my advice have been?

Well, first off, look out for November 2008, and have a crisis plan in place. Not to mention curbing bonuses and CEO salaries. Jokes aside, here’s some thoughts about lessons we learned from the past ten years in marketing:

1. Watch technology and get in early on the ideas that seem like winners. Imagine if you started a Fan Page when Facebook first launched the concept. It takes time to grow a base and you would be all that much further along. The key is to not jump on the bandwagon of everything that comes to market, of course, but the ones that seem to really make sense and fit into your strategy.

2. Write more press releases. Too many companies miss the boat on this one and only put one out when there is huge news. They overlook the fact that magazines need content, and if your CEO or CMO is speaking at a conference on a particular topic, they might need that, or that might want to know that your once marketing assistant is now a manager. The caveat is to send the right information to the right magazine. Trades want to know about promotions and important events as much as they want to know about new products or mergers. A press release is an easy way to keep your brand visible and thriving.

3. Don’t sell, build a community. “Hug Your Client,” “Be a Brand Rock Star,” “Emotion Marketing,” these book titles and phrases were all developed in the last ten years and mean, more or less, the same thing: connect with your target market. Or maybe to think of it in writer’s terms: show don’t tell. Don’t you hate it when you walk into a store and you are given the hard sell? Isn’t it nicer to walk in, be greeted with a smile and maybe even learn some useful information about items on sale? It’s the same way on Twitter or on fan pages. Don’t always push your product. Educate us, inform us, entertain us and hey, ask us what we think. We will like your product all the more.

4. Take a hard look at your product and hit the reload button. Do you feel that on the back of your neck? That hot, sticky sensation? It’s your competition. They are breathing down your neck, nipping at your heels, clipping your wings as they try to edge their way by you. The mobile wars between Google and iPhone are a great example. Actually the iPhone and pretty much all the competition is a great example. You do something great and the competition scrambles to top you. It is ceaseless, never-ending, like your Aunt Martha’s marshmallow-topped desserts at holiday dinners, they just don’t stop. Be your own product’s harshest critic (privately, of course).

5. Make sure the CEO understand SEO and get going already. Don’t let Fred in IT be your search engine guy, unless he’s a true search engine genius with experience and training. Hire a qualified firm to do this for you, and watch your brand grow leaps and bounds. I can’t think of a faster way to grown brand recognition than by putting your efforts into search engine marketing. Educate yourself in this area. Lynda offers a course in it, or just do a google search.

6. Always do one more thing. In marketing, you are never done. Have you updated the website? Tweaked your marketing material? Scrubbed your data list? Reached out to tier three prospects? For that matter, have you been in touch with tier one? Are you reading the latest on trends? Do you know what the competition is doing?

It’s exhausting, I know. A marketer’s job is never done.

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