Best Practices Aren't

If I had a nickel for every time a client asked me to tell them about marketing best practices, I could match The Donald’s proposed charitable contribution.

I try to explain that there is no such thing as a best practice. The truth is:

1. What works for one company won’t necessarily work for other companies. A so-called best practice is dependent on a firm’s strategy, organization structure, quality of their technology apps and infrastructure, composition of its client base, the quality and composition of its product line, and a gazillion other factors. For another company to simply say “oh, we’ll do what they do because it works for them” is short-sighted.

2. What works for one company may not really be their own doing. The factors that influence the success of a business practice go beyond the internal factors listed in #1. The state of the economy, hell, even the weather may be as much a determining factor of how successful a practice is as anything the company itself does. If true, the so-called best practice isn’t likely to be sustainable.

3. What works for one company may not really be working as advertised. Marketing measurement is a mess in most large organizations. When a so-called best practice produces a 100% ROI, who really measured and vetted that claim? The consulting or technology firm that worked with the company? What costs were included in the ROI calculation? Have the top line results been replicated in other campaigns, channels, product lines, etc.?

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This last point is why benchmarks aren’t particularly reliable, as well.

At a meeting with a client today, one exec asked me about the benchmark among banks for acquisition cost per customer.

His question has no accurate, reliable answer. For starters, there is no common definition of what costs are included under the umbrella of acquisition costs.

If that wasn’t enough, not all customers are created equally. A company that spends 150% of the industry average to acquire customers that are twice as profitable as the market average isn’t under-performing.

In addition, I would argue that a bank’s potential marketing cost per new customer could go as low as zero. Want proof? Raise the interest rate paid on checking account deposits to 5%. Within a week, you’ll have a million new customers without spending a penny on advertising or marketing.

You’ll lose more money on those accounts than you dreamed possible, but your acquisition cost will be best-in-class.

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I’m tempted to blame the obsession with best practices on Silverbulletitis:  A condition in which the sufferer expects easy answers and solutions to difficult problems. 

But I know that’s not always the case. I’ll just have to continue educating the masses that best practices are just a figment of their imagination.

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