How to combat addiction (the marketing kind)

Craving the next hit of easy, short-term wins is only human. Here's how to resist temptation and kick unhealthy marketing habits for good

How to combat addiction (the marketing kind)

Hi. I’m James. Up until recently, I played Pokémon Go. A lot. Three and a half years later and I could still be found hunched up in the rain battling in a raid, walking unnecessarily (but healthily) to hatch eggs, scanning Pokéstops for Team Rocket and generally making my sons ashamed of me for my persistent enthusiasm. Lockdown has brought enforced near complete withdrawal. From my perspective, it was a harmless habit, something to bide time on a train. I didn’t consider it an addiction.

For me, addictions are harmful; damaging to body, mind or likely both. I culled various social apps a while ago when I realised that initially harmless activity was damaging my wellbeing. It was cluttering everything up, taking focus from the important and not helping me achieve what I value.

Marketers and their agencies are often guilty of letting well intentioned habits turn into addictions. Various strategies and tactics can appear healthy for a while, but they can become entrenched and start to damage the brand and business. And then you find they’re hard to shake.

When addicted, the world is a drug-addled haze. Confusion kicks in and it is harder to make correct choices about marketing activities and behaviours. The first step to recovery is remembering who you are and being proud of it. Revisit your brand definitions. Have you strayed from them? Why? Perhaps they need to be adjusted to a contemporary context or maybe the answer lies in adjusting aberrant behaviour back in line. It is easy to stray from the true path, especially where brand experience is delivered by those notoriously hard to control humans!

Focus on what makes the difference
The second step lies in the ability to focus ruthlessly on what is important rather than take the drug of what is easy or urgent. I greatly admire two leaders I’ve met recently, a headmaster and a CMO. They both have the ability to focus their attention (and that of their teams) on the big stuff . Yes, they sweat the smaller detail in the background, but the majority of their attention beams down like the Eye of Sauron onto the juicy nuggets that will ultimately make the difference. Once a project has momentum towards a solution, the eye shifts on to the next thing with its gaze obliterating impediments.

The tyranny of measurement has a part to play in addiction. The third step lies in making sure you have the right balance in your marketing mix, weaning yourself off ineffective spend. Binary opinions are woefully inadequate, it’s got to be about finding the cocktail that suits your needs. Having said that, it’s likely that the answer is a bit more spend on the ‘brand’ side of things in whatever form that takes (i.e. social, web, not just TV et al).

Finding the right balance of marketing investment of course relies on chasing the right metric in the first place – proper measurement rather than falling for the trap of counting what’s available. The fourth step is to be suspicious of KPIs that are too far removed from profit drivers. One of our clients is seeing considerable improvements in sales revenue by removing focus from cost per lead and shifting the whole approach to cost per order. It’s now much more about quality of web traffic and conversion than it is about volume. Sounds obvious right? However, especially in a siloed business, it can be hard. Marketing does that. Sales does that. Well, no, not really.

Form the right habits
The fifth step is, perhaps, the hardest one to overcome. The crack cocaine of the marketing narcotics menu. Discounting. So easy to start when you need that little boost in traffic or sales. So hard to stop. And when the whole marketplace is addicted, you’re into a festering den of iniquity! One solution is to take the bold decision to find a different customer, find a different game to play. Remove yourself from the world of temptation.

Habits are useful. They stop unnecessary decision making, freeing up energy to be spent on more meaningful pursuits. But beware the habit that becomes an addiction. Seemingly harmless activities can be stultifying. Make sure those sacred cows are still sacred once in a while. If you’re concerned about being addicted, help is available.

An inspiration... People who are powerfully decisive, making the bold choices where others fear to tread.

Your thinking sanctuary... Noise-cancelling headphones with surprisingly aggressive music for someone of my gentle demeanour.

Your best tip for creative thinking... If ideas aren’t coming easily, you need different input.

The best time to think... I channel David Wethey’s advice of waking up slowly. I combine that with making sure I write things down before my mind wanders off.

Thought for the year... The long-term changes we see from the short-term big change will be surprisingly small.

A guiding principle... Fast hypotheses, slow opinions.

James Devon is strategy director at MBA