Zombie Marketing – How Dead Marketing Ideas Still Walk Among Us

By Linda Julian, who offers strategic practice development counsel to lawyers and other professionals throughout Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. She can be reached at julianmidwinter.com.auand +61 2 9968 4168.When it comes to business development, zombie marketing still walks among us. A host of dead ideas and mindless marketing rituals circulate freely among legal and other professional service firms.

Here is just a small selection.

“We really need a rebrand.” If your firm identity and branding is presentable, professional and doesn’t make you look like Luddites, what do you expect a rebrand to achieve? Lots of cost, more hidden cost, bundles of effort… and chances are your clients and external market will pay it scant attention.

The biggest rebranding win is usually with your internal audience (and that is not to be underestimated).

However, many rebrands are all about lots of action and interest and massage of egos – and almost indiscernible business difference. That’s zombie marketing.

“We really need to increase our advertising budget to get ourselves widely known.” Known for what? As advertisers? Known by whom?

There are lots of ways to become better known, and advertising is but one avenue to that destination.

Good advertising sends exactly the right messages to the right audience at times you choose to change attitudes and/or buying behavior.

Provided you have crafted precisely the right messages, there are publications or electronic media which truly zero-in on your target clients, and you can predict and choose the right timing, then advertising delivers a message you control, to the people you want to hear it.

But how much advertising do you think will it take to change attitudes and buying behaviour?

Plus, in some quarters there’s still a vague suspicion about any professional who needs or is as brash as to advertise…

As David Ogilvy (doyen of the modern advertising industry) once said, “Ninety-nine percent of advertising doesn’t sell much of anything.”

We see professional firms buy advertising because an advertising sales representative calls…

Too often, expensive advertising amounts to zombie marketing.

“We really need to get our name in lights as sponsor of the opera/theatre/symphony/local football team.” Supporting worthy causes is laudable. Long-term association with a carefully selected not-for-profit venture may produce many benefits.

Simply buying a sponsorship, making a grand announcement, and handing out a few free tickets to events does little to develop business.

And, as one senior marketer told me “we really wish we hadn’t got mixed up in sponsoring a sports team – most didn’t notice it at all until the scandal broke, and then, all hell broke loose …”

Far too frequently, sponsorships are zombie marketing.

“We really need to do a golf day.” If your clients and prospective clients are mostly golfers, if their organizations are happy for them to take time away from business operations to attend golf days with suppliers and prospective suppliers, and if the non-golfers won’t feel ostracized, and if the golfers among your clients have decision-making power, and if those decision-making golfers have time to come to your golf day, and if you have the budget and organizational capacity to turn on a really excellent golf day, then a golf day is a great idea.

If the answer to any of these is “no” then let’s categorize this as more zombie marketing.

“We really need a restructure.” A new structure may fix a structural problem (and it may not).

If your problem isn’t structural (and most aren’t) then a restructure will create lots of activity, a little excitement, and even some angst, but paltry progress, and maybe some deep negatives.

As Gaius Petronius Arbiter is said to have said way back in 210 AD:

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.” “We really need to join an international professional association.”

Possibly a good thing to do, but it’s unlikely to deliver masses of work. Often it amounts to no more than cargo cult marketing.

“We really need to take [that client or prospective client] to lunch.” Lunch and other informal, semi-social settings can be great opportunities to build relationships and chew the business fat. Many qualify as zombie marketing because they’re “random acts of lunch” which amount to time squandered by the ill-prepared with the wrong people.

Rules of engagement around lunch vary enormously between sectors, corporations, and according to personnel level within organizations. Frequently, the busy and influential with plenty of spending power either don’t have time for lunch, or don’t want to be courted by prospective professional service suppliers for the price of a nice plate of food. They’d rather do their business, maybe including a quick coffee, and then spend their time with professionals and other folk they’ve come to respect and like as they talk over the deals and matters they’ve worked on and even celebrate successes together.

“We really need more brochures and much grander stationery.” While some brochures and marketing collateral are helpful, especially in terms of supporting in-person business development encounters and increasing professional confidence in pursuing new clients and work, rarely are flash brochures and fine stationery more than incidental to establishing and growing professional service relationships.

For brochures to be useful, lawyers and other professionals need to know what to do with them and then get on and do it.

Witness the piles of slightly outdated brochures which clutter many a law or other professional service firm.

“We really need to wait for our website to be perfect.” Good websites underpin professional services marketing. But fact is, the best websites are never “finished” let alone “perfect”.

Rather, they constantly evolve, grow, and are refined. Sometimes it is prudent to do work on your website before launching a new initiative or campaign.

Just as often, waiting for the all-singing, all-dancing, pristine website is a dead marketing idea because of the time it will take, or by itself, it won’t make all that much difference, or because the website excuse is just a cover for procrastination.

Take a hard look and check that dead marketing ideas aren’t still walking, automaton-like, around your firm. There are lots of better ways to spend your marketing and promotional dollars which much more powerfully and directly impact revenue production.

If the function of marketing and business development for your firm is to reach a client you would not otherwise access, more effectively turn opportunities into revenues, and improve the prices and terms on which you deliver services (and we think these are worthy and achievable objectives) then let’s not do zombie stuff – let’s do the marketing which makes a business development difference.

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