Marketing Expert's Corner

This article written in 2010


Control vs Effectiveness

Abundance = choice = freedom. 
Scarcity = dependency = control.

David Icke's famous quote may have been coined in the context of politics and economics, but it has important implications on the world of marketing and business development.  And it even touches on Sales.

If you think about really tight Sales organizations, there's a preponderance of control freaks.  They're trying to control their accounts, control the sales cycle, control the flow of information to the prospects, even control the flow of information to their boss.

Despite all that attention to control, we all know two ironies:

  • The sales process is still pretty unpredictable
  • The customer typically assigns very little credibility to the sales rep

In other words, the zeitgeist of control isn't all that effective.

Let's look at an example from Marketing.  Advertising is the pinnacle of control:  you know every pixel of the images that will be seen, every word of the message, the sequence and timing of the audience experience, and you can get timely measurements along several axes.  Yet with all that control comes the following results... that have been consistent over decades:

  • The impact of advertising is inconsistent and difficult to predict
  • The prospect assigns the lowest possible credibility to advertising (they rate the crummiest blog as having more of an impact on their decisions)

There's something of a pattern here.

McKenna's Marketing Influence Pyramid 

Way back at the end of the last millennium, marketing guru Regis McKenna looked at how influence worked with customers.  And the genius of his influence pyramid is that it put vendors at the bottom, and customers at the top.  Even though almost all industries need to have more customers than suppliers, McKenna wanted to draw attention to the idea that the customer is always an individual:  they will make decisions for themselves.  And customers are barraged with data they didn't ask for, endless appeals from all kinds of sources.  For someone in the US, this amounts to over 6,000 branding impressions a day -- almost all of which are ignored.

From the customer's point of view, the vendors are merely the most aggressive sources of noise (and you thought talk radio was bad...).  And unfortunately, the research data from decades of polling, perception studies, focus groups, and just common sense validates McKenna's model.

What's a Vendor to Do?

We gotta install microwave ovens
Custom kitchen delivery
We gotta move these refrigerators
We gotta move these color TVs
-- Dire Straits

You and I still have to make our numbers, fine.  
But it should be pretty clear that pushing won't
yield the desired results for long.  What do we 
do to increase our effectiveness ... with the full
knowledge that we're going to have to give up 
some control?

In Marketing, a well executed PR campaign is way more effective than advertising...and way less expensive.  But you don't have much control.  You can't control what anyone is going to write about you, or how large an audience those writings will reach.  However, if you get a good mention by the right writer, columnist, or blogger, the effects can be stunning. 

This isn't to say that you should focus your attention on print media:  far from it.  You want to be in the search engines, Twitterverse, and Blogosphere because that's where you're going to get the results.

A well executed (and lucky) viral campaign can take this much much further.  BlendTec's "Will it Blend" series of videos have reached an audience of millions at a cost of less than $0.01 per view.  Although there are things you can do better or worse in viral campaigns, you don't really have any control over what happens with them.  When they work, though, they're damned effective.

In Sales, the low-control/high-effectiveness formula is on the web.  eCommerce sites (and integrated demand-generation tactics) give you very little control over the sales cycle.  Sure, you can control what the prospect sees and the attractiveness of your offer...but you can't do much to directly influence them.  You can't even predict when they're going to buy.  But if you've got the right offer, buy they will. 

Effectiveness Comes from Credibility and Influence, not Control

If you're trying to influence the customer, you have to be much more attentive to their needs and perceptions.  You need to send them information they care about, and even invited you to send.  You need to build your stature as a source ofindustry best practices, not just "the best product."  Even if all you do is sell product, the goal is to be viewed as a credible resource, not just a purveyor.  Being a market leader means:

  • Being relevant, having information that matters
  • Forming and leading a community of interest (3 separate links there)
  • Paying attention to the customer's emotional state, and reframing your benefits to meet their personal needs
  • Providing a tiny and appropriately timed bit of hype
  • Presenting your messages in the sequence and timing that fit the customer's decision process, not your selfish need to sell
  • Measuring your place in the customer's mind through social media sentiment and buzz metrics, rather than "awareness surveys"
  • Building trust
  • Cultivating and leveraging positive references.

This style of marketing might look soft-sell, but it's anything but.  True, you're not hawking -- but you are systematically trying to get into the customer's head.  The whole point is to be an active participant in a community conversation, to be believed so that you can have influence.  Once people are listening, you can orchestrate at least part of their decision process, even if you'll never control it.


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