Why Promotion is Frequently Ignored in Marketing

There’s a song that I remember from my old Boy Scout Camp Songbook that we’d sing to the tune of Auld Lang Syne:

The fish, it never cackles ’bout

it’s million eggs or so,

The hen is quite a different bird,

one egg-and hear her crow.

The fish we spurn, but crown the hen,

which leads me to surmise:

Don’t hide your light, but blow your horn.

it pays to advertise.

Yet, for some reason, the promotional side of marketing tends to get ignored and maligned even by those in charge of marketing strategy. Maybe it’s because many of us were indoctrinated that humility is a virtue while pride was a vice. I think in many cases, people view promotion as an “expense” rather than an “investment” – throwing a party rather than building lasting business capability.

St. Humility transporting bricks to the monastery.
[SOURCE] Painting by Pietro Lorenzetti, work is public domain.

Marketers will be familiar with a common, “Build it and they will come” mentality that some product creators and business owners have. They think all it takes is yet another feature, or capability, and then we will get more customers.

The problem is that if nobody knows about your better product, nobody will be asking for it. I suppose many product developers have in the back of their head a miracle marketing plan. Someone miraculously finds their new product, falls in love with the new features, and then spontaneously writes an article that everyone else in the world notices.

What actually happens is you get over investment in development a product or service that is not actually targeting an addressable market niche. At the same time, you are underinvesting in awareness and branding. This means you lack leads, and you lack the best possible fit of a product’s value proposition to the needs of a population most likely to buy it. This acts as a double-strength head wind retarding growth of new products.

However, many of us marketers are equally guilty of neglecting promotion. We think that all we need to do is create the perfect piece of content, the perfect special, or that amazing event, and in will come sales and leads. However, if nobody knows about our awesome blog, our 50% off special pricing, or our grand opening event, then our marketing investments fail to return awareness and sales pipeline we were hoping to build.

Here’s an example: my favorite Chinese food restaurant in my hometown serves cafeteria style Chinese porridge and sides. I’m doing a poor job of describing this style of cuisine, but just trust me the food is delicious. They have a weird marketing program however. If you eat dinner there on weeknights, they give you a free side of fried tofu. Nowhere is this promoted. You just miraculously find this out if you happened to eat there on the right night.

I suppose you could argue that this program serves to entice customers to come back. However, the restaurant also has a frequent eater punch card to accomplish the same mission. You might argue that the surprise fried tofu is a way to delight the customer and increase word-of-mouth advertising. However, I think some tweaks to this program could make this much more effective. For example, advertise the special via good old-fashioned coupons. Sure any customer gets the special if they come in on a weeknight, but the coupon would drive awareness to noncustomers of the fact. Or, make an event out of it. Every Tuesday is “Fried Tofu Tuesday.” Even if this wasn’t promoted, or maybe only promoted via a banner outside, just giving the special a catchy title will cause more people to mention it to their friends.

Now here’s an example of a very well executed guerrilla marketing campaign right in my own neighborhood. A new fitness studio is having their grand opening this week. To bring attention to this event, they parked florescent orange bicycles at every other bike rack along the main shopping street, and hung brochures on them describing the studio. Most of these bikes were strategically located outside the popular yogurt and coffee shops, and ATMs. (In hindsight, I should have looked more closely at their brochures, because a special QR code and brochure version could have helped the studio’s management explicitly measure the effectiveness of this promotional campaign.)

Guerrilla marketing campaign for Orange Theory fitness studio in San Jose.
[SOURCE: © 2013 Greg Chase, according to Creative Commons License]

Contrast this to another fitness studio that is opening up on the same street at about the same time. I’ve seen no advertising so far about their grand opening event. As far as I know, they might have already had a their grand opening, but I never noticed, despite the fact that I walk my dogs past their storefront every day.

For me personally as a marketer, blogging is one of my favorite means to develop a message. To promote my message, I broadcast my blogs to my connections primarily on Twitter, and to a lessor extent LinkedIn, Google+, and Facebook. A key promotional tool for me that allows me to meet amazing people and rapidly grow my connections on Twitter is a service called SoapBox. (Disclosure: I’m a mentor and advisor to the company that makes SoapBox – vTricity.)

The moral of the story is, be a chicken, not a fish. Product developers and business owners – don’t forget marketing. Marketers, don’t forget promotion!


  1. Great post! Well-executed promotional campaigns are indeed a necessary component to a successful company.

  2. They’re getting trashed for imitating the ‘ghost bike’ campaign

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