Marketing is a delusional profession.
We’re so used to pushing our Kool-Aid™ at people that we’ve lost our ability to see our own Kool-Aid™. (It’s the same reason that fish have no word for ‘water’).
But delusions—and their weaker cousins illusions—can totally warp our marketing. They allow us to form a picture of our prospects that just isn’t true, killing any chance of producing stuff that resonates with them.
Here’s a random batch of delusions that are still quite common in B2B:
1) People believe your marketing.
Marketing is based on the assumption that people believe what we’re saying. And that the only challenge is to say things that move them, that incite action.
As if credibility is a given, it’s just the content that matters.
Trouble is, they don’t believe us.
They can tell what we’re doing is marketing, so they listen through a fine-meshed screen. Your first job as a marketer is to invite people to lower that screen for a few moments so you can talk to them.
That’s not an easy thing to do. But if you don’t do it, you’ll never get through to the people you need to reach.
The best way to do it is to be honest. (Sometimes Insanely honest).
Credibility is not a given. It has to be earned. You have to prove to people that you deserve to be believed. (We listed 17 ways to build credibility in this really-old-but-still-true-post). (Oh, and one about how value and credibility are actually inversely related in buyers’ minds).
If you’re not ready to work hard to earn that, good luck marketing through the screen.
2) Everyone should love your products.
Marketers are needy bastards. We love everyone and won’t rest until everyone loves us.
We’re convinced that the only thing preventing a person from buying our products is their failure to understand. And if we could just show them how wrong they are, they would buy our stuff and thank us for it.
A whole bunch of people not only will not buy our products, they should not buy our products.
They know their own challenges and priorities and situations better than we ever will. And, for many of them, our product is NOT their salvation.
For some, our products might help but they’re not a priority.
And for many more, our product would be a bad idea.
Until we admit that, we will chase every warm body down the street like lunatic evangelists.
When we do admit it, we can let casual shoppers browse into and away from our websites without trying to force our agenda on to them (“Convert now! Convert now!”).
More importantly, we can focus on the people who really, really, really should buy our stuff. Our ideal prospects.
To do that, we need to be honest about who we aren’t right for. And be okay with that.
And maybe even, god forbid, share it openly. (Insane, right?)
3) Great marketing comes from the Wisdom of Crowds.
If one smart person can write a good thing, then ten smart people should be able to write something ten times better, right?
Ten smart people will stomp the living daylights out of that good thing.
Committees never, ever make creative work better. They can only dilute, distort or cripple it.
Yes, a few expert readers will correct mistakes, add new ideas and inject extra authenticity. And a few fresh readers may point out infelicities or unintended connotations or sources of confusion.
But a systematic review process that includes everyone who deserves a say will, without exception, weaken the work. Often fatally.
If you’re okay with that, keep everyone in the loop.
If you’re not, explain to everyone that your review circle will be small and that your marketing will be faster and better for it.
(BTW – I do believe in the wisdom of crowds for input. I want to hear from everyone in the world who can add insight or a unique perspective on the thing I’ll be writing about. Only time and budget force us to limit that to, say, a dozen.)
4) You can and must hide your agenda.
The central conceit of marketing—especially content marketing—goes something like this: “Hey you! I can help you with that problem you’ve got! Nothing would make me happier than solving that for you!”
What we tell ourselves is that people’s response to this is something like, “Well, thank you! Thanks for caring about me so much that you’d take out an expensive ad in Forbes and run a commercial on Game of Thrones just to reach out and help me. How sweet!”
But, um, that’s not what they’re thinking.
They know it’s our job to sell them stuff. They know that we know that the best way to do that is to appear to be their concerned, selfless friend. They know that we are not, in fact, their concerned, selfless friend but paid professionals with a brief to lead them to our sales teams.
But we act as if we didn’t know that they know that we know that they know this.
The whole pantomime of old-school marketing is based on this ridiculous proposition.
The weird thing is, we actually have nothing to hide.
There’s nothing shameful about making a great product and letting people know about it.
Instead of hiding this agenda, we can relax and expose it. We can (and should) still produce helpful content. But we don’t have to pretend we’re only doing it out of altruism. Or pretend we don’t have a reason to want them to like us.
5) Your competitors are frauds.
People are so bloody tribal that we can’t help but vilify our competitors as ‘the enemy’. To think of them as deceptive hucksters happily lying to their prospects—our prospects—to lure them from the Path of Righteousness (the one that leads to our shopping cart) to the Path of Sorrow (the one that ends up with a new logo on the bad guy’s website).
Maybe we need to get over ourselves.
Maybe we can admit that our competitors have a valid solution and are playing the same game that we are: trying to earn the attention and trust of our shared audience.
Maybe they even do some things better than we do.
And sometimes have good ideas.
And their customers just might be as happy with them as ours are with us.
If we did admit that, we’d be on the same planet as our prospects, who already know all this.
We’d also be a lot more likely to work harder to create real differentiation instead of devising a smoke-&-mirror-based strategy to promote the simulated kind.
6) What worked yesterday will work tomorrow.
This one is really hard to break.
Our brains are programmed to use past experience as our best guide to predictions about the future. It’s how our species rose up and defeated the apes in the Great War of the Apes and marched, under General Darwin, to seize the Citadel of, um, Mightiness (my grasp of evolutionary biology may be a little sketchy here but you get the idea).
So, yes, what worked last year may well work next year.
But it’s almost as equally likely to not work next year.
The world is changing fast.
And marketing is too.
Sure, many things will never change. But some pretty important things already have.
7) Your strapline is your brand.
Okay, this one is a small thing. But gratifying to whine about…
Straplines are really fun. They force you to distill your whole story down into, like, a lovely sound. Or maybe an aroma. Then send that sound or aroma out to people in as pure a way as possible.
But straplines are just straplines. They don’t move anyone to do anything.
At best they capture your view of the world you’re in or your attitude or your mission.
Maybe once people know about you they may conclude that your strapline is the perfect distillation of you. But they won’t be able to conclude that until they know about you (which kind of changes the brief).
If you expect your strapline to change anyone’s mind, you’re smoking marketing-grade marijuana.
And if you think your strapline can pass the ‘covered logo test’ (cover the logo and the strap could only be you), you’re mainlining marketing smack.
No strapline passes the ‘cover the logo test’. None.
“Just Do It” could easily have been said by Adidas. (Until Nike said it.)
“I’m lovin’ it” could have been Burger King’s strapline. (Until McDonalds claimed it.)
Yes, create a great strapline. If nothing else, it’s a fun and interesting exercise in crystallization. (And I do love writing them, to be honest).
But don’t think it will crack open your market like a nut so your sales squirrels can rush in and scoop out the money.
8) Senior marketers are better marketers than junior marketers.
Senior marketers got senior in a different world. The lessons they learned on the way may not be applicable.
The best senior marketers—the ones who never stopped learning—can marshal the relevant experiences from their careers and mix them with new strategies and tactics. That’s unbeatable.
But other senior marketers stopped learning and just keep bringing the same game to every job. So they stomp on fresh ideas that don’t come from the classical marketing playbook.
Today, you’re just as likely to find great marketers at the bottom of the marketing hierarchy as at the top. Things like empathy and smarts can happen anywhere.
So the most important job for less experienced marketers is often to educate their bosses. (Hint: bring data.)
9) If we’re relentlessly positive, our prospects will be too.
Oh, fuck right off. (Not you, the gurning fool who wrote that into the Marketing Canon).
Stifling half the spectrum of human emotion doesn’t seem like a desirable or sustainable strategy to me. It doesn’t feel real.
Negativity is the appropriate response to bad things.
10) The bar is lower for B2B.
Now this one I really do hate (see 9). B2B marketers and agencies have let themselves off the hook for decades with this one.
It’s bullshit. The bar isn’t lower in B2B than it is in B2C. The bar is higher. This is harder.
There is NO reason we can’t be as funny, brilliant, entertaining and memorable as the people selling beer and soap and cars and clothes.
If your bar is low it’s not because your company/market/boss won’t let you raise it. It’s because you haven’t insisted on raising it.
So it’s time for some serious Stakeholder Management.
Well, I feel better now.
Not a lot better but a little.
Any delusions I should have included?
[UPDATE: I’ve received a few great suggested delusions already, so I’m going to do a follow-up post. If you have one to share, drop it below or email me: [email protected].]
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