Marketing Expert's Corner

This article written in 2005


At its best, marketing appears to be magic.  And in at least two ways, it is:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke

So if you've really got the marketing techniques down and your campaign is well  orchestrated, the total impact is way beyond the-sum-of-the-parts.  But there's a darker side to magic:

The conjurer's art is in directing the audience's attention away from what he is actually doing.
                                            - Robertson Davies

Here, the marketer misdirects attention, engages the audience's willful suspension of disbelief, and -- at its worst -- tricks the prospect into believing half-truths that are misleading or irrelevant.

10 Dirty Little Secrets of Marketing

Longtime readers will remember the "marketing heresy of the month" from prior issues.  This issue may be nothing but marketing heresies -- and I am  hopeful they will be both useful and interesting.

1. The best marketing, like the best selling, comes from listening carefully:  subtly directing the conversation, not driving it.   Stop focusing so much on your own outbound noise, and instead work on the magical effects of having your customers and partners talk about you.  Get as much of an echo- chamber effect going as possible.  References are more important than technology advantages or any amount of hype.

2. The real magic of marketing cannot start until you have some customers.   The argument can be made that you shouldn't even hire any full-time outbound marketers until your first five customers are in production.  Until that point, all your marketers can do is create short-lived visibility, which is much less important than the credibility that comes from happy customers.  Timing and sequence effects are essential to the magic of marketing, so don't turn on the noise machine too early.

3. Consistency, tenacity, enthusiasm, and flawless execution are far more important than brilliant marketing strategy.   Of course product advantages and savvy strategy are valuable, but they will not come to fruition without relentless drum-beating and deal-closing. This is the core of the Gartner Group'sMagic Quadrant:  ability to execute (sell) is more important than vision or technical advantage.

4. Connecting the dots is really important. Magicians do not leave anything to chance.  So, don't leave it to the sales force -- or worse, the customer -- to make connections about your marketing message, value proposition, or promotions. Make your business sledge-hammer simple, and never rely on heroic efforts.  Your team should be able to deliver on promises blindfolded.

5. I can't think of a company that can afford to spend one dollar less on their web site.   To quote Bill Gates, "people tend to overestimate the impact of change over a 1-year period, yet underestimate it over a 10-year horizon."  Remember all the VC screaming in '95 about how the internet would change everything?  Well, it's ten years later, and it actually happened.  It's almost impossible to overstate the impact -- both negative and positive -- that your company's web has on your company's success in marketing, selling, and customer satisfaction.  Don't be cheap on this one.  See here for more (four separate links).  That said...

6. Magicians invest their marketing dollars well.   Companies tend to under-invest in the things that really make a difference -- web, references, and telemarketing -- while over-investing in things that feel good (sales prospecting, events, and visibility). Further, when revenue falls short, management tends to cut marketing more than sales, implicitly over-investing in sales.  This virtually guarantees that the reps won't have enough to do: there won't be enough pipeline.  Like on Wall Street, marketing investment is often driven by emotions.  Magicians want their customers to be swayed by emotional responses, not their own management decisions.

7. In theory, Sales and Marketing should like each other, but in reality they almost never do.  Marketing and Sales ought to be joined at the hip, but the emotions run deep and are not very positive in most companies.  This results in inefficiencies and real career problems on both sides.  Even though Sales and Marketing are two sides of the same coin, they must be lead by different people and be true to their inherent differences. Under most circumstances, it is the marketers' job to prevent the negative stuff from happening:  they are the ones with the time and "MBO focus" to really bond with their most important audience and customer.  Sales folks have to be nudged to do the right thing by the CEO: their priority must always be to make the number -- not dream up blame-ridden excuses.

8. Good intentions and management directives don't hold a candle to the comp plan.   Management often wants to change sales or channel behavior, but will torpedo their own objectives by not changing the sales comp plan to match the new goals.  You may be able to change Marketing by jaw-boning and strong arguments, but the Revenue Engine is influenced most strongly by how and when the money goes into their piggy-bank. Don't kid yourself, the comp plan trumps almost everything.

9. SFA systems, unless used equally by sales and marketing as part of their daily jobs, are almost useless.   The magic of sales force automation is not in the software, but in the habits, processes, and incentives that are set up to create an integral, holistic view of the pipeline from first lead through contract close.  For an SFA to really make a difference, incentives and comp plans must be modified, and the CEO, Sales VP, and CMO must send consistent directives to change behaviors.  You know you're on the right track when every lead, every deal, every forecast, and every customer reference is driven through the SFA system... and when every rep knows they won't get their commission unless the deal was in the system before the contract is signed.

10. Company valuation -- public or private -- comes at least as much from market power as it does from profitability.   I stole this one fair and square from Geoffrey Moore's The Gorilla Game:  Wall $treet puts more emphasis on earnings acceleration (read: expectations of market power) than on absolute profit levels (read: economic health).  Market power, like brand equity, is something you can't buy.  It's earned through doing unusual things that build customer loyalty, sales volume, and influence.  To heighten the magic, create visible situations where your discretionary power is greater than your customers' and partners'.  This builds the perception that you can cause others to follow your lead.

Bonus Item!  Magic comes by marketing hardest in your weakest area.   It's a really bad plan to do defensive marketing, and in fact it's often a great plan to be very assertive in areas where you're actually weak.  I wish this blustering technique didn't work, but it really does... particularly in advertising and politics where nobody can really prove you wrong.  Taken to extremes, this practice can be dangerous:  what you market isn't what you sell, and what you're pushing is where you have the deepest problems. 


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