Spit out the Kool-Aid
Why collective delusion is ruining your
marketing and why it doesn’t have to.
Here’s a conundrum
B2B marketers are smart, honest people.
But most B2B marketing is neither.
It’s not just 51% meh.
It’s more like 92%. (Yikes.)
So why is that?
Why are so many smart people
making so much stupid stuff?
Big, bold, but utterly empty claims.
Well-honed ‘USPs’ without the U (or the consequent S).
‘Thought leadership’ where the lack of the former prevents the latter…
There are lots of reasons.
It’s partly the weirdly irresistible allure of convention.
Or that ‘Me too’ is the default setting of our hyper-social species.
Or (and I really hope it isn’t) because too many of us really don’t care that much…
The good news:
One of the biggest killers of great marketing is a thing that each of us can help change.
Drinking the Kool-Aid.
Mistaking things that you wish were true…
…for things that actually are true.
*Fewer and fewer marketers actually know the
ghastly birthplace of this phrase:
1978, Jonestown, Guyana.
Did not end well.
Kool-Aid is bad enough when an
individual drinks it.
But when a whole marketing team or a whole company drinks
it… it totally undermines your ability to resonate with the people
you most need to move.
Kool-Aid is produced wherever
marketers are marketing.
In strategy decks.
In “message houses”.
In content, web pages, emails…
Pretty much everywhere
Often the Kool-Aid is served up
from above—from the K-Suite.
Most corporate Mission Statements are soaked in the stuff.
And executive offsites tend to mix it up by the jeroboam.
It’s then consumed and
codified by well-meaning
We marketers play well with others. Maybe too well.
And we’re so used to Kool-Aid we don’t even notice
that we’re spraying it at our prospects and customers.
The thing is, non-marketers
—civilians and customers—
spot it instantly.
And it triggers a powerful, subconscious defence mechanism.
(Or an all-too-conscious vulgar gesture).
They spit it out.
Along with all of your true, credible, relevant messages.
Let’s stop and think about this.
As a marketer, you’re the most vocal advocate of the customer in the entire company.
So the most valuable thing you can do for them is to spot Kool-Aid and pour it down the drain before it reaches any victims.
How do you spot Kool-Aid?
Just be honest with yourself.
Read your marketing as if you were a sceptical customer.
(Or maybe your closest competitor).
Be the grumpy, busy, cynic who’s been
burned by marketing many times before.
Now read every internal
marketing deck with your
And monitor your internal reactions:
If you don’t understand it, it’s probably Kool-Aid.
If you don’t believe it, it’s definitely Kool-Aid.
If it uses phrases like, “The best…”
or “The only…”? Yep.
If it implies huge wins with zero effort?
If it suggests no competitor
or substitute comes close?
If it says your prospects will fail
if they stick with the status quo?
Kool-Aid is everywhere.
But simply spotting it isn’t enough.
Here’s the important part:
Call it out.
Call it Kool-Aid. Call it bullshit.
Call it whatever you
like but call it.
You are the customer’s advocate.
Her best friend.
As marketers, it’s our holy
obligation to stop Kool-Aid
from reaching the customer.
And to do it diplomatically, so we don’t shame our
colleagues in public.
At first, bad things will happen.
Especially if you’re in a cult/culture where advancement is
dependent on Kool-Aid consumption.
You’ll be unpopular in meetings.
You’ll annoy any executives who aren’t used to being
And yes, you might even get your ass fired.*
But you’re a marketer.
That’s the gig.
[Cue ‘Lonesome Cowboy’ theme tune]
And soon, good things
More of your colleagues will pause before drinking
More people will start to call it when they see it.
More emperors will admit they’re naked and demand
And your marketing will
start to sound different.
Less empty. Less bullshitty.
Because Kool-Aid, as sweet as it may
taste, really doesn’t work.
Five popular flavors
of Kool-Aid and
“No other solution comes close to ours for power, ease of use, scalability and total cost of ownership”.
“There are a lot of good options out there to solve this. We think we’ve got a unique approach that could be right for your company. We should probably talk.”
Dismissing all competitors and
substitutes with a wave of your hand
shows you’re living on Pluto. Get real.
“Our procurement management software makes the world a better place, one invoice at a time.”
“Can’t help it but we hate waste. So we make software that crushes it out of your company.”
The backlash against Simon Sinek’s “Start
With Why” approach wasn’t because he
was wrong-it was because so many
brands did the mission thing so badly.
(Hint: Unless you really have a shot at
saving the planet, don’t say you are.)
“Best value. Best user experience. Best functionality. Best performance.”
Frankly, our log-in is clunky right now-the analytics were our #1 priority. But out next release will fix that.”
We’ve written a lot about this Insane
Honesty approach. To us, there’s
nothing more powerful (or sane)
(or, let’s face it, rare).
“Our AI-powered auto-cloud algorithm generates the perfect offer for every prospect.”
[Just delete the black-box AI stuff until it’s actually true.]
Fear of looking old-fashioned makes
brands put magic-lipstick on their perfectly
“We’re built from the ground up with the customer at the heart of everything we do. Every breath we take is for the good of our…
[If you walk it, you don’t have to talk it. Your customers will.]
The loudness of customer-centricity claims
is inversely proportionate to actual
customer service quality. And everyone
knows it. (Except, apparently, every bank,
airline, car rental company and, yes, many
B2B SaaS vendors).
So next time someone pipes up in a Zoom
call with something like,
“Why don’t we just cut
through the crap and say,
‘We’re the best’?”
Put yourself on Mute, scream, “F!F!S!!” to the heavens*.
Then take a deep breath… and send them this link.
*Make sure the little red microphone is
crossed out. (Hard-earned experience.)
Welcome to the resistance.
By reading to the end of this piece (or even skimming, you lazy bum), you are now enlisted in the anti-Kool-Aid army.
Next time you see it, call it out.
See what happens.
(And let us know.)
Thanks for indulging yet another
Velocity therapy session.
We’re a B2B marketing agency specializing in tech. (Yes, one of many).
We’re all about the three most important things in B2B today:
Meaning, metrics and mojo™
We love talking about this stuff, so get in touch.
The ™ is a lie. Lawyers cost too much
(and kill everything that might
be mistaken for a vibe).
Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Grab a fork.
It may sound all tree-huggy but it turns out culture matters. A lot. So we tried to capture ours.
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