When people tell me they're doing something for marketing purposes, I often ask what that means; the funny thing is that they often can't answer that question clearly. This is through no fault of their own. During my time as a CMO for global companies and now as the founder and CEO of B2B marketing agency, The Ricciardi Group, I've discovered that marketing is more or less a generic term applied to a huge sector of business.
Generally speaking, marketing is about reaching a particular audience with a compelling message that will drive them to take some sort of action. The tactics vary from email marketing and social media engagement to large-scale events and publicity campaigns. In other words, there is no one way to go about it. However, what I can definitively say is that there are a few common mistakes that companies often make when it comes to marketing, particularly early stage companies that are looking for rapid growth.
1. Targeting the wrong audience
Finding your target audience is the most critical part of any marketing initiative. This can go sideways in many ways. For example, if your customer base is purely local, using a national pay-per-click campaign would waste countless dollars from your marketing budget. If your customer base is young adults from Generation Z, running a marketing campaign on a social media platform that skews older (such as Facebook) would miss them completely. The trick here is to drill down your target into specific demographic groups, then identify the best way to communicate with them.
-Whose need am I fulfilling with my product or service? Age, gender, education, location, income level, job, and other factors come into play.
-Who do I want to be using my product or service?
-Who is my competition targeting? And should I compete with them or go after an untapped market?
"If your customer base is young adults from Generation Z, running a marketing campaign on a social media platform that skews older (such as Facebook) would miss them completely"
Those answers should be able to get you rough groups of customers. Once you have those, you can begin to drill down even more specifically through customer data, which can be gathered in many ways: in-person observations of competitors, examining social media followers, use of website analytics, and more. All of this effort funnels into the goal of having every marketing message connect with a potential customer, so make sure you discover your right audience.
"Generally speaking, marketing is about reaching a particular audience with a compelling message that will drive them to take some sort of action."
2. Using the wrong tone
Identifying your target audience is a significant first step, but after that, the message you use will make or break your marketing campaign. While you’ll need to tweak things based on the specifics of the demographic, one thing that is consistent across nearly all channels and groups is the need for a tone to be “empathetic” and relevant. By that, I mean you want potential customers to feel like you understand their needs and concerns rather than you’re just trying to sell them a product.
In 2016, Adobe launched its Make a Masterpiece campaign in which four world-renowned digital artists recreated lost paintings by Frida Kahlo, Friedrich Schinkel, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Caravaggio using nothing but Adobe Stock photos. The campaign was a creative way to celebrate history and culture, as well as an attempt to change the negative perception of stock imagery in art. Adobe also made it interactive by providing online tutorials.
Marisa Ricciardi, Founder and CEO of the Ricciardi Group
By showcasing the power of its product with stunning recreations of iconic art, Adobe appealed to its audience, many of which are designers and creatives, on multiple levels. It drew them in with a story about paying homage to the world’s great artists while inviting them to make their own masterpieces. This is how marketing should be done—not just by promoting a product, but by being attuned to your customers.
"Finding your target audience is the most critical part of any marketing initiative...the trick here is to drill down your target into specific demographic groups, then identify the best way to communicate with them."
3. Being robotic instead of human
In today’s world of automated everything (thank you AI), what we gain in efficiency we often lose in effectiveness. The marketer who understands when to apply technology and when to engage creative ingenuity will always win—because in the end, we are marketing to humans not robots. People now want to feel connected and understood, not sold to based on one person’s opinion.
A good example of how to infuse “humanness” is what’s happening on the visual side of marketing and advertising. Businesses that have historically used original production or stock photography (through companies like Adobe), are mixing in images with high-quality authentic photos to provide a sense of realism. Catch&Release, a company that curates and licenses authentic images from across the entire Internet, works with some of the world’s largest brands to serve up real life visuals, from video to photos. Their recent Herbal Essences campaign for Mother’s Day featured pregnant women from around the world overcoming “challenges” often associated with pregnancy.
In essence, effective marketing in today’s environment will mean leading with human connection while technology enables the tasks to happen more efficiently behind the scenes.
4. Information bombing
We all suffer from information overload these days. Much of this is due to the proliferation of marketing channels as a result of the internet and mobile age. Furthermore, basically anyone with a smartphone can voice their opinion about everything from the best restaurant to the most worthy political candidate.
Marketing at its best is about precise messaging to specific audiences. However, some companies go with the kitchen-sink approach, throwing every possible bit of information out there. The result can create an overwhelmed customer that lacks focus. Instead, less is more. A clear, concise message and a clean presentation ensure that nothing is lost and the viewer isn't scared off.
The master of this is Apple, whose simple philosophy towards marketing has powered them since the early 1980s. By now, their campaigns are iconic—a perfect example of that is how the iPod silhouette campaign became synonymous with the early 2000s. Now, years later, they have done it again with their “Behind the Mac” campaign. The core message is simple and clean: using a Mac, people from all over the world are making wonderful things, and you can too. Not everyone can be Apple, but every company, whether B2B or B2C, can learn from the strategy of utilizing streamlined and striking imagery combined with simple value proposition-based messaging.
"People now want to feel connected and understood, not sold to based on one person’s opinion"
There's a common thread through the advice above, and it's something that I often say to clients: treat your customers as you’d want to be treated...like a human. Beyond that, keep it real. In a sense, the terms B2B and B2C may soon be a thing of the past. Instead we may be best served to think of it as Human to Human (H2H) marketing.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.