Direct Marketing Article
The 4 Stages of Marketing Competence
By Bob Bly
During my quarter century as a copywriter, I have observed that business
owners and managers fall into one of four categories as far as their
competence and skill in marketing is concerned.
By recognizing which category you are in and taking the action steps
recommended below, you can move up to the next level and significantly
increase the ROI from your marketing efforts.
The lowest level of marketing competence is "unconscious incompetence."
don't know what you are doing, and worse, you don't know that you don't
You may even think you are a pretty sharp marketer, even though to others,
that is clearly not the case. Egotistical small business owners who appear
in their own TV commercials and junior employees at "creative" Madison
Avenue ad agencies can fall into this category.
Do you think you are an okay marketer, and blame the lack of results
generated by your marketing always on external factors, such as bad timing,
bad lists, or bad luck? You are probably in the unconscious incompetence
Solution: Recognize that you don't know what you're doing and it is hurting
your business. Get help. Hire a marketing manager who knows more than you
do. Or take a marketing course or workshop.
Read marketing blogs and trade publications.
The next stage up the ladder is "conscious incompetence."
that the reason your marketing isn't working is that you don't know what
Again, take the steps listed above. When I was at this stage as an
advertising manager recently graduated from college and with only a year of
work experience under my belt (instead of the
considerable paunch that resides there now), I hired an experienced ad
agency and leaned on them for guidance.
This strategy worked well for me and my employer. The company got better
advertising than I could have produced on my own. And working with the
agency accelerated my own marketing education, making me a more valuable
Moving higher up the ladder of marketing competence, you reach the stage of
"conscious competence." You've read the books, taken the courses, and
understand what works. But your experience at putting it into practice is
That means whenever you want to create a promotion, you have to slow down
and think about what you are doing. It doesn't come naturally.
In this stage, you should keep checklists, formulas, and swipe files
(examples of successful promotions you admire) close at hand. Model your own
efforts after the winners of others.
Don't try to reinvent the wheel. Observe what works and adapt it to your own
product and market.
Do this enough times, and you will slowly begin to become a true master of
You will reach the highest level of marketing competence,
At this stage, coming up with great offers, promotional ideas, headlines,
and copy is second nature to you. You do it naturally, without having to
consult your checklists or reference files. The quality of your work is
better, and it comes faster and easier.
However, you should still keep an extensive swipe file of promotions.
Borrowing ideas and inspiration from direct mail packages that are working
is a time-honored tradition in our industry, as long as it does not step
over into plagiarism or copyright infringement.
My colleague Michael Masterson says it takes approximately 1,000 hours of
practice to become really competent at copywriting, marketing, playing the
flute, or anything else. If you have expert guidance, you may be able to cut
that to 500 hours.
But ultimately, you learn by doing - and doing a lot. If you are at this
stage, keep doing more and more marketing. When you put in 5,000 hours, you
will become great, not just good, and your results will be even better.
Action step: Rank yourself using the four levels of marketing competence as
described here, and follow the recommendations for whatever stage you are
About the Author:
Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant with more than 25 years
of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, and direct
marketing. He has written copy for over 100 clients including Network
Solutions, ITT Fluid Technology, Medical Economics, Intuit, Business & Legal
Reports, and Brooklyn Union Gas...and has won numerous industry awards. Bob
is the author of more than 70 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to
Direct Marketing (Alpha Books) and The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt &
Co.). Visit: www.BobBlyMarketingBooks.com