Linda J. Popky on “Marketing Above the Noise”: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

PopkyAward-winning marketing expert Linda J. Popky, the founder and president of Redwood Shores-based Leverage2Market Associates, transforms organizations through powerful marketing performance. Her clients range from small businesses and consultants to mid-sized companies and large Fortune 500 enterprises. She’s been involved with many of the Silicon Valley companies who developed and deployed the technologies that have changed the world over the last twenty-five years, including Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, NetApp, PayPal, Plantronics, Autodesk, Applied Materials, and others.

A consultant, speaker, and educator, Linda has been named one of the top women of influence in Silicon Valley and inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame. She is the past president of Women in Consulting and is a member of the Watermark Strategic Development Board. The first marketing expert worldwide certified to offer the Private Roster™ Mentoring Program for consultants and entrepreneurs, Linda has taught marketing at San Francisco State University’s College of Extended Learning, University of California Santa Cruz Extension in Silicon Valley, and West Virginia University’s Integrated Marketing Communications program.

Linda holds an MBA and a BS in Communications from Boston University. A classically trained pianist, Linda has also produced Night Songs, a CD of classical piano music. Her latest book, Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters, was published by Bibliomotion Books+Media (March 2015).

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Morris: When and why did you decide to write Marketing Above the Noise?

Popky: Over the last several years, I saw an increasing focus on technology and new marketing techniques. Yet many of these efforts weren’t successful because the basics of good marketing were being left by the wayside. Furthermore, the opportunities for reaching customers through marketing continued to multiply nearly exponentially. It was obvious something was out of control and that fascinated me.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Popky: I began to realize that many of the core concepts of marketing, what I now call the Dynamic Market Leverage factors, haven’t changed in thousands of years, and they aren’t likely to change in the future. Of course, there are some key areas that have changed. Success requires working within that dichotomy to come up with the best marketing campaigns and programs as possible.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Popky: I actually didn’t start out thinking about noise and the musical metaphors, but as I got in to writing the book this became more and more evident to me. Then I realized that noise was a factor inside the organization as well as externally, which leads to the Momentum Factors and the concept of static.

Morris: What did you learn about yourself while writing it that you did not know – or fully understand – before?

Popky: I’ve been a writer my whole life, but it’s a very different process to create a book of this sort vs all of the short pieces or marketing copy or white papers I’ve produced for years. It’s not just about having a great book concept, it’s applying the discipline to get those ideas out of your head and into a form that readers will be able to access and appreciate. You asked about storytellers previously. I also rediscovered my storytelling ability, and how important it is to tell effective stories to get key points across.

Morris: As I read this book, I was again reminded of the final scene in a film, The Pawnbroker, when Saul Naserman (played by Rod Steiger) “screams” in agony after a friend has been killed. Actually, it was a silent scream. I think some of the loudest “noise” is in our heads. What do you think?

Popky: We need to differentiate between the times when the noises in our head are distractions or obstacles and when they’re telling us something important. Too often we allow ourselves to get in our own way. However, there are times when that scream inside our head provides more important insight than anything anyone else could tell us. And I think that what’s probably even louder than the noise in our heads is the noise in our guts. Whenever I’ve listened to my head and not my gut, I’ve always regretted it.

Morris: Many people today seem to have the attention span of a Strobe light blink. How do you explain the fact that there are so many poor listeners?

Popky: We are now conditioned to receive very short messages. There was a time when advertisements were 60 or even 90 seconds. Today, it’s rare to find a 30 second commercial. Quite often we see only 10 or 15 second spots, and our attention to web advertising is even shorter—only a few seconds.

We are also now much more internally focused. How often do you walk down the street and see people about to walk off a curb into traffic because they’ve got their head in their mobile device? Furthermore, the ability to contribute and join conversations in online communities and social media is wonderful, but too often we focus on talking without considering how important it is to just sit back and listen once in awhile.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read the book, there are dozens of passages that evoke especially important questions. Please respond to these. First, The Dynamic Market Leverage Model (Pages 10-12): What differentiates it from other such models?

Popky: The Dynamic Market Leverage Model looks at those key marketing factors that are timeless—they don’t change from year to year or with the introduction of new technologies or marketing methods. It gives marketers a way to look at the key aspects of their marketing efforts and ensure that they are covering these key areas.

Morris: Change Is the New Constant (15-18): Where and when is this most significant in a competitive marketplace?

Popky: If you wait a moment in this marketplace, something will change—products or services, customer needs, technology, etc. As marketers, we can’t reach to every new stimuli, but we also can’t sit back and wait for everything to be in perfect alignment either. That’s why it’s so important to have a core foundation. If you know where you are and where you want to go, you can find the right vehicle to get you there—and that vehicle today may be very different than it would have been a couple of years ago or it will be in the near future.

Morris: The Five Stages of the Purchase Process (27-30): Which seems to be the most difficult to complete? Why?

Popky: That’s a great question. Without Awareness, nothing else happens. Your prospects and customers need to know you’re out there before the can even consider you. However, I think the most difficult stage to achieve is Loyalty. So many organizations get you to Purchase and maybe even to Preference (where all else being equal, you prefer to buy one brand over another). But very few brands acheive that strong Loyalty where customers will turn down other alternatives that may be less expensive or have additional features and benefits because they are loyal to that brand. The reason we hear about Apple so often is because they are one of the few that does this so well. Yet there’s no reason why others can’t achieve this status if they’re willing to invest the time and resources to make this happen.

Morris: Conversations, Content, and Communities (43-48): To what extent are they interdependent? How so?

Popky: These are interrelated because ideally you will have a conversation that involves relevant and valuable content within communities that represent your key target audiences. However, it’s important to look at them individually. The word conversation implies two-way, not a monologue, the way we used to talk “at” customers in previous eras. Content includes information that is of value to your audience—it’s about what they are interested in, not a marketing spiel you are trying to feed them. As long as we’ve had people, we’ve developed communities of interest, but now we can do this on a much broader, more global scale, and we see communities that are much more focused on a specific interest or need. By the way, this doesn’t mean we as marketers need to always be creating new communities. Often, we need to just search out the existing community and start engaging in conversation with appropriate content.

Morris: Go to Market Means Go to Consumers (65-66): Please explain.

Popky: Alliance Boots, the largest drugstore chain in the UK, is a customer-led organization. They look for insights from customers to help them determine what products to feature, what promotions to run, even how to outfit their stores. They have multiple ways of getting this feedback, but what’s key is that this is fundamental to how they run their business. They really do listen to their customers, and they make key business decisions based on what they learn.

Morris: Five Ways to Generate Demand (86-98): Which seems to be most cost-effective? Why?

Popky: There’s no one size fits all, cookie-cutter answer here. Various organizations may use some or all of these methods effectively at different stages in their growth. It also depends where you are in the purchase process. If you are looking at building awareness, you may want to focus on content marketing like Zillow did in its early days. If you are focused on getting people to make that first purchase, then try-and-buy may be appropriate (think of those taste testing booths at Costco).

Morris: Are We Harmonizing or Shouting at Each Other? (104-107): Why is answering this question so important?

Popky: Sales and marketing organizations are siblings. We should really be supporting each other, harmonizing so well that it’s hard to tell where marketing stops and sales begins. Too often, however, we find ourselves at odds—that traditional sibling rivalry comes through. We hear a lot about sales-marketing alignment. That implies there are two separate entities that both need to be pointed in the same direcition. I’d prefer to see this as more of a joint effort where we seamlessly hand the baton from one to the other to win the race as a team.

Morris: Channeling a New Force (110-112): Which “new force”? Why “channel” it?

Popky: Channel marketing isn’t new, but we have the opportunity today to create new types of alliances—sometimes among organizations that may otherwise be competitors. This is a powerful way to reach additional audiences and add incremental value to our customers. Technology gives us tools that allow us to share information and collaborate much more effectively than ever before. The question is how best to leverage this for a win-win for everyone.

Morris: Data, Data Everywhere (116-117): In your opinion, is this good news, bad news, or both? Please explain.

Popky: The good news is we have so much more data today, and powerful tools to analyze it. The bad news is there’s so much data we’re nearly drowning in it. We need to be careful not to get caught in a cycle of endless data analysis where we defer decision making to those running the analytics. Data gives us information. From information we get insights, and from there we can make judgments. Now more than ever, we need people who have the good business sense and wisdom to interpret what the data is telling us.

Morris: Which Comes First: Customers or Employees? (132-133): Herb Kelleher once explained the major reason for Southwest Airlines’ success: “We take great care of our people. They take great care of our customers. Our customers take great care of our shareholders.” What are your own thoughts about all this?

Popky: You can’t have happy customers if the employees who serve them are frustrated and unhappy. It just doesn’t work. Your customer-facing employees are the first, and sometimes the last, connection between you and your customers. They have to feel valued, and they need to understand the mission and purpose of the organization. They are an important extension of your brand.

Morris: Setting the Table (137-138): Danny Meyer selected this phrase to serve as the title of a book in which he explains how his restaurants focus on providing a superior dining experience for their guests. What specifically do you think this process involves?

Popky: I spoke with Niki Leondakis, the CEO of Commune Hotels. Commune wants to build a brand identity that represents its higher purpose—something that everyone in the organization can understand and incorporate into how they do their jobs and interact with others. This statement of purpose (Commune Hotels is dedicated to creating transformational experiences that inspire the human spirit) serves as the unifying factor that impacts everyone who deals with Commune, and it ties into the company’s marketing and communication efforts. It sets the table consistently throughout the organization.

Morris: Context Counts (144-145): Please explain.

Popky: With nearly 1.5 billion active users, it’s likely that the target customers for most organizations are on Facebook. However, they’re likely not there to interact with most companies, especially those in the B2B space. Customers and prospects look at what you’re saying in context. If you show up in a place they’re not expecting or don’t want to interact with you, chances are they’ll tune you out and you’ve just wasted time and effort (and potentially upset these folks as well).

Morris: The Five Momentum Factors (158-170): Which seems to have the greatest impact? How so?

Popky: They’re all important, but if you don’t have the support of senior management within your organization, it’s really hard to get anything done. If the executive team understands and buys into what you are doing, it helps you to get the resources, people, and technology needed to be successful. And all of that allows you to take a proactive position when it comes to understanding your environment and being prepared to do what’s necessary to compete in a rapidly changing world.

Morris: Of all the great entrepreneurs throughout U.S. history, with which one would you most want to share an evening of conversation if it were possible? Why?

Popky: Probably Thomas Edison. Not only was he responsible for the modern lightbulb, phonograph, motion picture camera, and stock ticker, he also created the first electric utilities (some of which still bear his name). He fought numerous health challenges, and had little formal schooling, yet still had a huge impact on modern civilization. It would be fun to hear what he has to say about what’s happened in the 85 years since his death.

Morris: Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read Marketing Above the Noise and is now determined to establish or strengthen a workplace culture within which everyone is actively and productively engaged in helping to increase demand for what the company offers in terms of career opportunities as well as consumer products and/or client services. In your opinion, where to begin?

Popky: Start by understanding the current state. Where are we today? What does our brand stand for with our customers and in our market or industry? Were do we fit amongst other players—are we seen as a leader, a follower, or not seen much at all? What brand attributes do we want to build upon? How effective are we at making sure our branand our purpose are represented throughout our culture? Once you really understand what’s working and what’s not you can start to hone in on what should be reinforced and what needs to be rethought and possibly replaced.

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in Marketing Above the Noise, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

Popky: You don’t need to jump on every bandwagon and chase every new shiny object. Build a core set of marketing initiatives by ensuring that you are focused on those key factors that don’t change. Your marketing team will use different tecniques and tools to get the message out to your audiences, but focus first on getting the basics down right. The best social media program in the world is a waste of time and money if it’s not reaching the right people with the right messages at the right time.

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Popky: This is quite comprehensive, but one question people ask me about is the use of music as an ongoing metaphor in my book. “Why introduce music into the business discussion and what can we learn from this?”

We often use sports or war metaphors in business today. Both these concepts focus on winning and beating the competition. We all want to win, but it seemed to me there was another approach that focused more on being heard effectively. I’ve found the use of music to be quite effective because everyone listens to some kind of music. We know what we like and don’t like, and we know what happens when there’s too much sound happening at once and we can’t hear what we’re looking for. The concept works for leadership, too. Good leaders, like good conductors, are those who can bring out the best performances in others, enabling a much richer, fuller sound than those individuals could create by themselves.

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To read Part 1, please click here.

Linda cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Leverage2Market Associates link

Linda’s Amazon page link

Marketing Thought Leadership link

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