On Saturday, I had the opportunity to work with some Boy Scouts who were preparing Trojan Park for a huge camping trip next month.  There were a total of 8 participants from my unit, and I saw another 60+ people working various projects around the park.  My team ended up helping with a trail clearing project - to support some Sea Scout vessels that will be at the camp out, we needed to cut a trail from the park to the Columbia River where they'll be docked.

We started out with a tractor cutting the grass towards the river.  It looked like the tractor would make short work of the project - it ate through most of the grass without any problems.

Then we hit the swamp.

"Let's build a bridge for the tractor," one man suggested.

"Go find some scrap lumber on the shore that we can stick in the mud to help the tractor across," another instructed.  I went off with 3-4 other adults about about 15 Scouts to find some scrap wood.  Even with a small hiccup it looked like things would continue to move smoothly ahead.

Or so I thought ...

It turns out that most of the men who work with the Boy Scouts are type-A personalities.  The "I'm right, we do it my way, shut up and work" kind of people we all know and love.  As a result, we had 3 people in charge of our work project - and none of them were communicating with one another.  Our project began as a fill-up-the-mud-with-scrap-so-the-tractor-won't-sink project.  Then it changed to a layer-scrap-lumber-to-build-a-bridge project.  About an hour later it was a no-let's-just-build-a-footbridge-and-forget-the-tractor project.  And back again.

One leader would give out a set of instructions and get to work.  Then another leader would show up, pull up all the wood we'd lay down, give out a different set of instructions and get to work.  This was followed by a third leader with their own set of ideas, and then again by the first leader returning to ask why we'd messed things up.

There's a word I'd use to describe this kind of chaos ... but it's not a family-friendly one.

In the end, it took us almost 6 hours to complete a 2 hour project.  Despite the lack of communication, I still had loads of fun.  It was just a bit frustrating to feel pulled in so many directions at once.  It felt inefficient, and I can guarantee more than a few egos came away just as bruised as our shoulders.  Still, there's now a functional footbridge set up to cross the swamp in the middle of the trail, which, ironically, we ran out of time to cut any farther than the end of the bridge.  :-)

But think about how often marketing messages can fit this model.  One television commercial brags about your product's superior manufacturing and how it will last long enough to be passed down as an heirloom.  A magazine insert tries to reinforce the necessity of preventative maintenance in keeping your product running the way it should.  Then an email campaign goes out encouraging long-time customers to trade in their "worn out" model from last year and buy something bigger and better for this year.

So, it will last forever.  But only if you maintain it regularly.  But last year's model is already worn out and outdated, so just replace it.

Do you see the problem?  We try to address too many audiences at once and end up giving out conflicting, confusing messages to the market as a whole.  It's a pervasive issue in marketing, and it costs us millions in unneeded advertising expense and uncounted billions in brand equity.  You cannot build a reputable brand by confusing your customers. Take some time to sit back and polish up the single, consistent message you want to convey and go at it with both barrels blazing.

Marketing is all about building a bridge in your customer's mind between what they need and what they know exists in the market.  Make sure you have a singular plan for building that bridge, and make sure that it actually leads to somewhere.  It's easy to confuse your customer so much that the bridge never gets built.  But you can also end up with a bridge that doesn't connect them to anything, either.