3 Contradictions In Marketing That Aren’t Contradictions At All


In a recent video I mentioned that I struggle with ambiguity and contradiction.

The trouble is that marketing’s riddled with these things. Something that makes perfect sense in one context can be a disaster in another.

So if you’re also in possession of a brain that insists on making sense of everything, understanding why these contradictions exist is essential, if only to protect your already fragile state of mind

So here are 3 such contradictions that once brought me out in a rash, but for which I now feel nothing but calm:

  • The first is brand vs sales – David Ogilvy once remarked that if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative. But does that mean that brand advertising is a waste of time? Or that you should give up on your content strategy after 6 months if it hasn’t led to an ROI?
    • Well it’s certainly true that those who adopt sales driven mentality tend to do well. They understand how to create compelling messaging, how to heave the customer through the sales journey, and how to isolate and test variables so they can double down on what works.
    • But it’s also true that those who take brand and content to the extreme tend to do well. They focus on solving a problem for an audience, developing that audience into a community and not even thinking about monetisation until the community is sufficiently engaged, by which point their cost per acquisition is likely to be a fraction of that achieved by their sales obsessed counterparts.
      • So the takeaway is this – just don’t fall in the middle. Be clear on why you’re doing what you’re dong. Then execute emphatically in that direction, over and over again.
  • The second apparent conflict is digital vs offline – everything now is digital first and for good reason. Yet it’s also true that offline marketing has gone through something of a renaissance. Billboard ads, tube ads, direct mail, radio – these supposedly outdated techniques are in many cases delivering a greater return than ever before.
    • How can both be true? Well it’s a simple fact that the majority of channels now are digital, and those channels offer certain benefits of insight, speed and scale that you don’t get with offline. However, for that very reason the offline has become the periphery, and that means less competition. It also means greater impact for the very reason that it is inefficient. We call this costly signalling – people trust ads more when they can see they’ve come at significant expense.
      • So your primary strategy will almost certainly be digital, but do leave room for testing 2 or 3 ideas offline. One of them will likely be your biggest win of all.
  • The third relates to pricing – you’ve no doubt heard people talk about avoiding the race to the bottom. And indeed discounting is the laziest form of marketing; it undermines your all other product messaging and often annihilates any scope for profitability. Yet, walk into any supermarket and you’ll find it’s as rampant as ever, for the simple reason that it works. Of course it does. Just like luxury goods, bargains give us a little hit of dopamine. It’s the reason every shopper, no matter how affluent, knows where the discounted food section is, even though all it does is encourage you to buy things that weren’t on your list and you definitely don’t need – 28 pence vegan toad in the hole – hmm, where have you been all my life?
    • Again, the key here is not to get caught in the middle. Be expensive or be cheap. And if you are cheap, ensure you have an operational edge to maintain it, because once you’re down there you’re not coming back up.

When you understand these rules you realise they aren’t contradictions at all, but rather perfectly logical principles for the context in question, and the reason why so often, as the brilliant Rory Sutherland puts it, “the opposite of a good idea, can be another good idea”.

See you next time.