A Q&A with Linda Popky

April 01, 2015


Our Q&A with Linda Popky about her new book, Marketing Above the Noise, and more.

We started our Thinker in Residence with Linda Popky with a review of Popky's Marketing Above the Noise. Today, Linda was kind enough to fight through a cold to answer some questions about the book, and one about how women authors are marketed.

A Q&A with Linda Popky

The central premise of the book is that in order to rise above the noise, marketers have to get back to the basics of marketing, and then you lay out the timeless truths, the basics. But I wonder when you first realized the significance of the noise. You've been doing this for a long time. The marketing landscape has always been filled with noise, but not even close to the level of noise we're hearing now. Do you remember thinking at some point, "Wow. This has gotten way out of control."?

You're right—things have been getting noisier and noisier for a while. However it seems in just the last few years, the noise level has risen so that it's out of control.

Maybe this has to do with the advent of smart phones and the fact that the number one way for many people to consume content is on their mobile devices. We have them with us 24x7, and we are now getting marketing messages pushed to us through text alerts, apps, as well as email and websites.

With all these new technologies and tactics to reach people comes the conventional "wisdom" that all of marketing has changed—nothing is the same, everything is new.

But conventional wisdom isn't always correct. I realized that as noisy as it is today, the same basic principles of marketing that have worked for thousands of years still apply. We just need to be better at applying them in today's digital world.

Throughout the book you make it very clear that marketing needs to be ingrained into the entire company, that marketing needs a seat at the table throughout a product's creation. I remember about 15 years ago this was a really big idea. Marketing gurus left and right were championing the importance of marketing's input. So, I guess my question is: why is it still so often the case that marketing isn't at the table, that they're asked at the end of the process to market something a bunch of other people created?

Marketers are very good at driving the creative concepts, managing the brand, creating a cool website, etc. I think we're often focused on these very visible and fun aspects of our work, allowing ourselves to be driven by deliverables rather than focusing on some of the more basic strategic questions.

Over the last few years, we've really seen an explosion in the types of technology and tools that have been developed especially for marketers—from new ways to manage and track clicks, to marketing automation, social media, apps, analytics, etc. These tools can be quite valuable, but they can also be distracting. We have to be careful not to do everything out there, just because we can. And we need to employ technology to further our business objectives, not just for its own sake.

But most importantly, we need to show senior management that we can add value to the business at the front end—that we are not just implementers and order-takers. Like anything else, it takes time to build credibility, but once we've done that, we can really become trusted advisors to the executive team.

The Dynamic Market Leverage Model is cyclical, with each principle feeding the others. I consider myself in a lot of ways a self-taught marketer, and one of the more illuminating moments was when I realized marketing is not linear. Some of the tasks or responsibilities are carried out in a linear fashion, but to do it right, everything must feed back into the same big picture. The book is the blueprint, but for those yet to read the book, can you give me a sense of how to prepare your mind for that consistent connectivity among principles?

That's a great point. It's important to think of marketing as an ongoing process. What we learn from one phase should inform and influence what we do with the others. You can't go through the steps once and think you're done. What you learn from going to market with a product or service helps you understand how to refine your strategy, better understand your customers, and then continue to be successful in the future. 

It's also important to note that marketing doesn't stop and start with getting customers to buy your product. In most cases, purchase is just the middle of the cycle. You'll want to move to preference, where all else being equal, customers prefer your product. Eventually, the goal is to get to loyalty, where customers will reject other less expensive or more convenient options because they feel so strongly about what you provide. That loyalty only comes through repeated experiences with your product or service, and it's important that as a marketer you are reinforcing that positive customer experience time and time again. 

When done correctly, each part of the Dynamic Market Leverage model reinforces the others. When done badly, any part of the model impacts all of the others in a negative way. So if you don't have a quality product or service, your brand suffers. If you don't understand your market position or really know your customers, you'll have a hard time communicating and selling your product. 

This is very off topic, but it's something I and my coworkers, especially our General Manager, Sally Haldorson, have been struggling with and I wonder if marketing can help solve the problem. Books written by women tend to be packaged and marketed as books for women readers. This is true in the business world, but also in fiction. Obviously this is driven by larger societal issues, but from a pure marketing perspective, what can be done? I love that your book doesn't do this. From the packaging to the marketing copy to the book itself, there is no hint of Marketing Above the Noise being a "book for women." 

This is a fascinating topic and very timely. One of my fellow business authors, who happens to be female, noted that there aren't many classic business books written by women. Although we can speculate, we're not exactly sure why that's the case. 

Certainly there's a market for books that speak specifically to women's issues, particularly those that address how women can play bigger and be more successful in today's working environment. These help get both men and women thinking differently and they drive important discussions.

That's not what my book is about. I'm focused on marketing and how to build strategic advantage in the marketplace. The timeless truths or momentum factors I discuss in the book are not gender-specific. I am brought into an organization because I'm a marketing expert—not an expert in marketing to one gender or the other. We will know women have truly arrived when it's not unusual to see books written by female authors marketed and packaged to fit their particular audience—without the expectation that that audience should also be female.    

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