Kill the HiPPOs, or, How NOT to Create an Effective Marketing Strategy

Statistically speaking, more people are attacked by hippopotamuses than by lions every year in Africa. They are deceptively dangerous creatures, and we’d all be well-advised to avoid them while on safari in The Dark Continent.

Furthermore, they pose an equally ominous threat in corporate America. Many well-planned marketing strategies have been attacked and destroyed by the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) lurking in the corner office.Create an Effective Marketing Strategy

This is what happens when, after weeks of research, a solid, data-driven advertising strategy is tossed aside at the last minute in favor of the boss’s intuition or “gut feeling.” Besides being incredibly demotivating to the marketing team, it is just plain ignorant and egotistical for one person to believe that they know better than the feedback provided by the very audience that they are trying to serve.

Well, let’s assume for a moment that the company that you work for is a hippo-free zone. Given that ideal terrain, how should a smart marketer proceed?

Create an Effective Marketing Strategy

Practically speaking, the way we create an effective marketing strategy is through split testing; constantly and repeatedly testing one variable against another. This concept has been around for a long time, but has been given bigger muscles in the era of tracking pixels and Big Data. We can accomplish in a few weeks what used to take months or years. And with greater accuracy.

We can (and should) split test every variable along the entire pathway of our sales funnel. Test the ad image, test the ad copy, test the ad design. Then test the sales page; everything from the general layout to the headline to the offer. From there we can test our email automation. And finally, split test versions of the product itself.

Furthermore, there needs to be congruence throughout this cycle. Your ad must match your sales page which must ultimately match your product or service. In other words, don’t show them the photo of a Bentley in your ad, and then try to sell them a Toyota.

Once honed, you can then scale the entire pathway; pouring more money into the top of the funnel, and siphoning off bigger returns at the bottom.

Well, that’s the theory. But in between all of that, there’s a lot of hard work. So how do you get started? Here are a few things to focus on.

Images and Headlines

Facebook makes testing ad images very easy. You can upload six images for the same ad, and then give it a day or two to determine which image is getting the most attention. Keep everything else the same; the headline, the ad copy, the link, the landing page—and only vary the image.

Now here’s the bad news: the images don’t really mean much. While you might see a slight preference in your Facebook ads (some of that is due to Facebook’s internal biases), you’re not likely to uncover the one amazing image that inspires your target audience to buy.

So while it’s nice to find striking photo to try to grab people’s attention, focus on the headline if you really want to improve your click through rate. It’s the value proposition that makes all the difference in convincing folks to say “yes” to your offer.

You don’t get a lot of characters to work with, so you’ll really have to hone your copy-writing skills.

When pitching your product or service, remember to focus on the benefits, and not the features. Going back to our car example, use “Enjoy Driving Again!” over “V-8 Engine and Anti-lock Brakes.”

Facebook has recognized the extremely high value offered with their split-testing potential, and has recently released a new feature that allows you to track your variables even more accurately. For more, read the article at Social Media Examiner.

Monkeys over HiPPOs

If Facebook Ads aren’t part of your marketing plan (but why wouldn’t they be?), then you can gain a lot of audience insight by using Survey Monkey to poll your focus group.

Survey Monkey lets you create surveys, and then gives you several ways to use those surveys to extract information from a target audience. If you already have a large database of customers or email subscribers, you can send them your survey via a custom link. You can also share it on social media, as well as your website.

If you don’t have a large enough focus group, Survey Monkey can find the right type of people to answer your questions and give you valuable feedback. This is a paid service, but can actually save you lots of time and money spent on creating the wrong product or offer.

Again, don’t waste your efforts on testing images or colors or something equally insignificant. Test variations of your actual offer, which in the end, will be the factor that will move customers to either buy or ignore your product.

Join the 21st Century

The modern workplace should be a collaborative “bottom-up” approach to decision making, rather than old school “top-down” hierarchy and compartmentalized tasking.

Trust your team members to do the job that you hired them for. At all costs, avoid micro-managing every task to the point where nothing gets done without going through endless rounds of discussion and revision. This is a recipe for stagnation and frustration.

Instead, take a responsive approach to marketing, which will improve inter-departmental communication, get more of the right things done in a timely manner, and position your company to adapt to evolving customer desires.

The HiPPOs belong in the zoo (or better, just leave them in their native habitat)—they have no place on your marketing team. And they’re mean S.O.B.s, too. Just ask any African safari guide.

Rick Zullo
 

Web writer, social media expert, and a content strategist, helping people and brands establish a credible, professional-looking online presence.

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