Why do marketers have so many off-sites?

Doug Landis, sales productivity guru and former Chief Storyteller at Box, asked me a provocative question: “why do all you marketers have so many off-sites?” He said it in jest but in doing so exposed an underlying truth. He was right. Marketers have a lot of off-sites. I asked myself and my marketing colleagues why. Here’s what I found:

Most marketing teams either:

  • don’t have a marketing playbook or
  • haven’t operationalized their marketing playbook

Off-sites serve as a crutch.

Our sales, product, service, and customer success colleagues don’t struggle with the same problem. Each of those departments has a generally accepted methodology and software system which establishes a repeatable process and provides visibility into the activities of the department.

Let’s take sales for example. Tom Siebel founded Siebel Systems in 1993 and codified his sales playbook into software known as sales force automation. Salesforce later made sales force automation and opportunity management the de facto standard for sales. Sales trainers espouse different methodologies which are just different flavors of the same basic process. Popular methodologies include MEDDIC, Target Account Selling, Sandler, Value Selling, and many others. Today, companies spend several billion dollars per year on CRM software and sales training to help them adopt and operationalize their sales playbook. As a result, sales people know their objectives, the process they must follow to achieve them, and their results.

Marketing remains one of the few departments without a standard methodology or software tool.


The problem isn’t caused by a lack of technology. Marketers have access to more than 3,800+ marketing technology vendors according to Scott Brinker. However, most marketing tech focuses on delivering content to the channel rather than operationalizing our playbook.

3,800+ marketing tech vendors as of 2016, none automate the marketing playbook

3,800+ marketing tech vendors as of 2016, none automate the marketing playbook

While we may not be able to buy the marketing equivalent of Salesforce, Zendesk, or Gainsight, we can still turn our strategies into results. 

First, craft your marketing playbook

Does your team have a playbook? Here are a few questions you can ask:

  • Does my team have clear, measurable, and time bound objectives?
  • Have we outlined the programs we use to achieve those objectives?
  • Can every team member articulate how their tactics tie to the team's objectives?

I have a post forthcoming on crafting a marketing playbook.

Next, operationalize your playbook

While most teams have some form of a marketing playbook (often a PowerPoint artifact from multiple off-sites) very few teams have turned that playbook into repeatable and measurable processes.

  • Can we track our progress towards our objectives?
  • Do we have a cadence which allows us to both focus and course correct?
  • Do we have program and task templates to standardize our processes?

I’ll share thoughts on this in a future post as well.

Once we create and operationalize our playbook we can spend our off-sites on more important topics than coordinating work (see post on off-sites). 

Doug will be proud.

Are your product, sales, and marketing teams aiming at different targets?


I have a theory about golf (since we’re on the subject). The more golf you play, the less likely you are to hit a hole-in-one. The golf gods have a cruel way of gifting a hole-in-one to first-timers while veterans spend their entire lives waiting for the elusive ace.

I’ve played golf for more than 30 years and have never had a hole-in-one. At least not officially. Once, in tournament play, I snapped hooked a drive which sent my ball over the adjacent fairway. My ball landed on the wrong green (which was occupied by another foursome) and dropped into the hole. Adding insult to injury, I held up play while the rules official instructed me on how to play a ball from the wrong hole. I bought drinks that day.

Something equally as embarrassing and far more common is how sales, marketing, and product often shoot at the wrong target. It happens in almost every company. 

It’s hard to hit the bullseye when you’re aiming at multiple targets
  • Marketing targets an overly generic “persona."
  • SDRs target the most readily available lists such as recent fundraisings and "pageant" lists.
  • Account executives target accounts where they can get warm introductions or hear about related RFPs.
  • Product builds based on the most vocal (and highest paying) customers and design partners.  

In isolation, none of these may be wrong. But in aggregate they are suboptimal. To use another sports analogy: your teams are in the same crew boat, but are rowing in different directions.

Bullseye Targeting Framework

Here is a simple targeting framework that can get everyone rowing in unison. I call it the Bullseye. Thanks to my sales colleague, Rob Tomchick, for coming up with the graphic.

The Bullseye is a target which is partitioned by buyer attributes including:

  • industry
  • company size
  • geography
  • buyer role
  • use case
  • psychographics
  • pain points

The attributes should be adapted to what is most relevant for your business.

Representatives from sales, product, marketing, and ops should work collaboratively to fill out the Bullseye. Participants should come to the discussion with historical data and anecdotal evidence. Below is a hypothetical (and oversimplified) example of a Bullseye:


In the center of the target is the Bullseye. These are buyers/accounts that are right in your company's sweet spot. All your outbound sales and marketing efforts should be focused on these targets. These represent great deals with a high probability of delivering mutual value.

Inbound only:
The next ring is Inbound. Accounts that exhibit these attributes aren't as good of a fit as those in the Bull's Eye but are still worth considering if they come inbound. If these accounts come inbound your teams will do additional qualification before committing to the deal. Sales may need to manage expectations and product may need to assess if the product requirements align with the strategic roadmap. The key is to not invest expensive outbound resources on these accounts.

The outer ring is arguably the most important. These are the targets you want to avoid because:

  1. they have requirements that your product doesn’t currently satisfy
  2. the cost of sale and service may make them unattractive for your business
  3. they may force you in a direction that is inconsistent with your strategy

For this audience you’ll want to find a graceful way of saying “our product isn’t for you.”

Have a sneaking suspicion that your teams aren't targeting the right accounts? Try the Bullseye. The resulting artifact can be incorporated into your new hire on-boarding, continuing education programs, and CRM.

Focus on the pain, not your features


I love meeting founders. Fueled with purpose and optimism they go against all odds to create a product that should exist in the world. But they all make the same mistake.

"We’re building an AI-driven, machine learning, chat bot, with big data and a conversational interface."

Zzzz. Boring.

The problem isn’t their product, it’s the way they talk about their product. They talk about its features.

Features may be interesting to investors and engineers but not to prospective buyers. Buyers care about the pain. Here’s an illustrative example:

My wife became ghastly sick shortly after the birth of our first daughter. She visited dozens of doctors, nurses, and specialists but her condition befuddled all of them. “Interesting” was their only response. That’s physician speak for “holy s%#! I’ve never seen this before.” Meanwhile, my wife was in horrific pain.

Then we met Dr. H. 

Dr. H. examined my wife, reviewed her labs and said: “I know exactly what you have.” He went on to explain the rare condition, the researcher who initially discovered it, and the other patients he had seen with the condition. 

He named the problem.

At that moment we were willing to let Dr. H. operate on my wife simply because he articulated the problem better than anyone else. We had no clue if he was a skilled surgeon (we later discovered that he was an exceptional surgeon) but we assumed that because he understood the pain he also knew the solution. This led me to a realization:

Whoever best articulates the problem also earns the right to solve it.

The mistake most founders make is they start with their features when they should start with the customer's pain.

Marketers know that articulating (and then solving pain) creates emotional resonance. The greater the pain, the greater the impact. 

Marketers should climb the Pain Ladder in their messaging and positioning.


Let’s look at the example of a hypothetical AI, chatbot, customer concierge technology for customer service.

Features: “AI-driven, chatbot, with a conversational interface.”

Needs: “Agents need a way quickly respond to customer issues.”

Pain: “Customer satisfaction will drop if customers don’t receive quick, attentive, service.”

Job disruption: “The contact center is now the new customer experience center. Your job isn’t to handle cases, it’s to deliver a great customer experience.”

Industry disruption: Occasionally the pain is so great that companies disrupt the entire industry e.g. Apple, Amazon, SpaceX and Tesla

Remember, it’s never about your features.

Make what you have to do what you love to do

Every job has its crappy tasks.

I had one. Literally. I worked as a mountaineering guide once. In basecamp I drew the job of maintaining the BIFF (bathroom in forest floor). When this communal outhouse filled up I had to increase its capacity – with a shovel.

A friend of mine was hired by Google to manually review explicit and offensive ads all day long. Google made her sign a disclaimer indemnifying them against trauma.

The Comcast employee tasked with reversing my decision to close my account has a crappy job. We got into a 45-minute argument. Then I hung up on him. He billed me the following month.

While undesirable, these tasks are necessary. So we, as employees and customers, simply grin and bear it whenever we draw the short straw. Little do we realize, crappy jobs offer golden opportunities.

Morgan took a new job as Head of Housekeeping at a vacation resort. That put him in charge of linen duty. Nobody liked linen duty. Guests were annoyed that they had to take time out of their vacations to haul their dirty laundry to the laundry room and then haul fresh linens back to their cabins. The resort staff didn’t like it either. After all, they would rather teach water skiing or lead beach activities than fold linens.

Since he had to do the job anyways, Morgan decided to make the experience magical. When linen day came around he dressed up in a tuxedo. He laid out lawn chairs with hot washcloths and cut up cucumber slices for the guests. He set up a bar with signature cocktails and lounge music. The Linen Bar was born.

Morgan the mastermind behind the Linen Bar

Morgan the mastermind behind the Linen Bar

Guests no longer endured linen day. They relished it. They pampered themselves at the makeshift spa while Morgan swapped dirty linens for clean ones. Other staffers at the resort begged Morgan to join him on the linen shift.

Photo credit: Instagram  @linenbar

Photo credit: Instagram @linenbar

Morgan then coined the phrase:

Make what you have to do what you want to do

The experience was so memorable that Morgan decided every day should be linen day. He set up a presence on Instagram (@linenbar) and Twitter (@linenbar) where he publishes inspirational sayings and stunning photos of, you guessed it, linens. A guest told me she looks at Linen Bar pictures whenever she’s stressed at work.

Photo credit: Instagram  @linenbar

Photo credit: Instagram @linenbar

Morgan stumbled upon a brilliant insight – undesirable tasks often yield golden opportunities.

Of course, we’ve seen this happen before.

Virgin America reimagined its inflight safety announcement (a federally mandated and undesirable job) and produced a fun, toe-tapping film which has over 11 million YouTube views (watch video).

A few fishmongers at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle turned hauling smelly fish into a standing room only tourist attraction.

Uberconference swapped out the horrible elevator music you used to hear on conference calls and replaced it with an original and cheeky tune.

Many undesirable tasks come with expectations so low we could step over them. But we don’t. Because it’s easier to complain than it is to care.

Let’s be more like Morgan.


Stop Selling Wedding Dresses to Singles (Why Traditional Demand Gen Doesn't Work)


Every couple months I receive a beautiful direct mailing from the same organization. It’s always stunning. Each piece is beautifully designed with full bleed photography and inspiring copy. It’s printed on premium card stock and must cost a fortune. And, it's completely wasted on me. The marketing team at this university can try as many A/B variations of their direct mailing as they want, but I will never respond. I’m simply not in-market for a degree.

You'd never try to sell a wedding dress to a single person who isn't in a relationship. After all, doing so is not only futile, it’s bad karma.

Seems obvious, right? Well, you are selling wedding dresses to single people. And so am I.

Here’s what we can do about it.

Why traditional demand generation doesn't work
The term "demand generation" is misleading. Very few companies have the resources to actually create demand for their products out of thin air. Coke and Apple are two obvious exceptions. Coke spends over $3B annually on advertising. They buy so many ads that they can actually create more demand for their beverages. Apple has such a strong customer community that it can introduce the Apple Watch and instantly spike demand for smartwatches. You and I don’t have Coke or Apple’s assets. So we should focus on identifying existing demand, not generating demand.

What is demand identification?
Demand identification is all about uncovering who is already in-market for your offering and then reaching them with a timely and relevant message. If you’re marketing wedding dresses, it's all about identifying who is getting married, and when. Great sales reps and marketers identify demand naturally by observing dynamic cues (e.g. behaviors and timing) rather than relying on static cues (e.g. demographics). A woman who is engaged to be married next year is a much better target for a wedding dress than is a 30-year old woman. Demand identifiers analyze behaviors in order to answer the question “who is in-market?"


Examples of demand identifiers
A software company servicing the corporate events market has built a database of every major event worldwide. They know exactly how many days prior to the event to reach out to the conference organizer to educate her on their offering.

A hardware company mines corporate real-estate data to know precisely when companies are moving into new offices. They time their outreach to the IT communications leader such that the person is almost certainly in-market for networking and communications hardware.

A marketer uses Pinterest to identify people who have pinned their products to project boards.

The buyer’s journey
In-market buyers go on a predictable “buyer’s journey” as they research and consider different solutions to their problem. If you can reach these buyers early in their buyer’s journey you will be much more likely to win their business. Whoever is "first to educate” will have the greatest influence on buyer's decision.

Here’s the problem with traditional demand generation: Buyers no longer tell you when they begin their buyer’s journey.

In the past, buyers would call your sales reps or visit your website to educate themselves on your offerings. Today, they self-educate elsewhere on the internet with reviews, blogs, analyst research, communities, etc. By the time they visit your site and fill out a lead form, they have already formulated a strong opinion about you and your competitors.

Savvy sales and marketing teams want to reach buyers earlier in the buyer's journey. Unfortunately, most of our tools only work after a prospect visits our site: Cookies, retargeting, landing pages, lead forms, nurture emails, in-app analytics are great tools for the end of the buyer's journey. We simply haven't had the tools to know who is in-market before they visit our site. As a result, we have adopted a "spray and pray" approach to demand generation which includes demographic-based ad buys, mass email marketing, and firmographic-based cold calling. 


Fortunately, there is a better way.

The next wave of demand identification technology
The explosion of digital data and compute power has set the stage for new predictive technologies that take the guesswork out of demand identification. Companies such as 6sense and Lattice-Engines use machine learning and predictive modeling to decipher in-market buying behaviors from ordinary internet activity. These companies give sales and marketing greater visibility into the early stages of the buyer’s journey. More demand identification tools are sure to follow.

Tips on identifying demand

  • Don’t rely on demographics - In most cases if you’re targeting people based on static attributes such as age, gender, title and socio-economic status, you’re being lazy.
  • Identify behavioral cues - Ask yourself what behaviors do people exhibit when they are in-market for your offering?
  • Pay attention to timing - When would buyers be most receptive to connecting with you? When would they want education vs. an offer? Draw a typical buyer’s journey on a whiteboard and look for specific times when the buyer would welcome your help.

How are you proactively identifying demand for your offerings? Any clever tools, techniques, or hacks?


Tips on Bridging the Sales and Marketing Divide

Photo credit:  BC Gov

Photo credit: BC Gov

I didn’t even have time to pack a bag for my red-eye to Cleveland. Hours earlier I received a frantic call from one of our sales reps who was vacationing in Mykonos or Costa Rica or some other tropical place. The executive at one of his accounts would meet with us one last time to reconsider his decision to buy one of our competitors products – tomorrow. The rep couldn't attend – so I needed to. I wrote slides during the entire plane flight, I pitched the executive, we won the business. A couple weeks later the rep sent me a Starbucks gift card. “Jerk” I muttered.

I sourced a few leads at a random event once. I was so angry that no reps followed up with the leads that I called the sales VP and told him if his reps wouldn’t close those deals, I would. I was lying of course. They weren’t even good leads. And I’m bad at sales. I was the jerk.

The unfortunate reality is, that if not properly tended, the gap between sales and marketing can quickly look a lot like the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula. Both sides stand at attention staring each other down across the void between marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs). Here are a few tips I have learned (the hard way) on how to bridge the sales and marketing divide.

Get your face in the place – 
Legendary sales executive David Rudnitsky routinely barked this mantra instructing his reps to physically visit their customers. It's also sage advice for marketers. I started spending a half day a week “hoteling” on the sales floor. Did it kill my productivity? Yes. In the short term. But the discussions I overheard, calls I hopped on, and feedback I received saved me from wasting hours on misinformed content and programs.

Create feedback loops – 
The best reps are too busy selling to give you unsolicited feedback on your marketing. That’s why you need to ask for it, often. Build a feedback loop into all your programs wherever possible. Fortunately, tools like Showpad for content and GetFeedback for surveys make this easier than ever.

Help reps help you – 
Most reps prefer concrete targets to abstract ones. Don’t we all? Instead of saying “help me invite prospects to our upcoming marketing event” say “each of you are responsible for filling x seats by y date.” Give them the tools, create a simple leaderboard, and the work is done. 

Get out of the building –
Join sales in the field. It turns out that prospects like hearing from people who aren’t being paid to close the deal (at least not directly). Plus, nothing will give you more empathy for sales (and humility about your content) than joining them in action.

Give sales the credit –
Most of the time they deserve it. Their job is hard. Marketing is the point guard and sales is the power forward to use a basketball analogy. Our job is to lob the ball close to the rim so sales can slam it home. If you want credit, be a sales person. If you want to create, be a marketer.

Don’t set up zero-sum dashboards –
What gets measured gets managed. So don’t set up any "sales vs. marketing" reports in your CEO dashboard. Focusing on pipeline by channel generally leads to more productive conversations.

What things have you done to keep sales and marketing in sync?

How to Tell Better Stories

Photo credit:  Nabeel Syed

Photo credit: Nabeel Syed

One of my relatives was tied to a tree and left for dead in the desert. He was a member of the Sheriff’s Posse in Arizona at the time. He was pursuing an outlaw in the Arizona desert when he was ambushed. The outlaw bound his hands to a tree, leaving him to face certain death. Fortunately for my family, my relative used the binding around his wrists to saw off the tree branches and escape.

This story is not only amazing. It's true.

My grandfather, who passed away a few decades ago, told me this story when I was young. I still remember specific details about the story just as if I heard it yesterday. Sadly I can’t recall the exact year of my grandfather’s death, despite attending the funeral. For me, stories are more memorable than facts.

I’m not alone. In fact, storytelling is the primary way humans have passed down knowledge for thousands of years. Our minds are conditioned to pay attention to and remember stories. Story is the lingua franca of humankind.

So why is it that we forget the art of the storytelling the minute we walk into work? As knowledge workers, our job is to communicate ideas and inspire action. All too often we resort to charts and statistics instead of stories.

Why? Because storytelling is hard.

It's easy to string together some industry buzzwords, layer on some mind-blowing statistics, and drop the “d” word (“disruption" for those not in the biz). Like this:

“We're using big data, machine learning and natural language processing to disrupt the $36B global CRM industry."

Yawn. Sadly, this change-the-world rhetoric isn’t memorable.

If you want your idea to stick, tell a story.

Companies That Lead With Storytelling

Here are a few examples of companies that use storytelling to differentiate their products.

WeWork. WeWork rents workspace to small teams and freelancers. WeWork is effectively a landlord. But it’s story, “do your life’s work with a community of creators,” is memorable and inspiring. Its tells the story of its members (see video) and even hosts a crazy summer camp (WeWork Summer Camp).

Airbnb. Airbnb doesn’t list vacation rentals - it helps you “belong anywhere.” Airbnb does a great job telling its guests’ stories on its blog and via word-of-mouth.

Ritz-Carlton. The luxury hotel chain built its reputation by providing outstanding customer service. Their employees built a culture of service by sharing “Wow” stories  of exceptional customer service during their Daily Line-Ups.

Your company has its own stories whether you like it or not. The question is: are they compelling?

How to Tell a Great Story

Most of us weren't born with the innate storytelling abilities of Walt Disney, Colin Powell or Sheryl Sandberg. Fortunately for us, storytelling is a skill that we can develop with practice. Here’s a basic framework I have borrowed from Stanford researcher Jennifer Aaker and other storytelling greats:

1) Know your audience. After all, the story needs to be relevant and resonate with that audience.

2) Know your goal. Ask yourself why are you telling the story? What action should it inspire?

3) Create a story arc. Each event should build on the other leading to a transformation or resolution. Avoid chronologies wherever possible.

4) Show don’t tell. Humans are visual creatures. Even if you don’t use visual aids you can still use visual language to describe the scene.

5) Make it human. Talk about people instead of abstract concepts.

6) Keep it real. Make sure the story is truthful and relatable. Expose the flaws - audiences rarely resonate with flawless characters.

7) Avoid the seven deadly sins. Aaker created this list of things that will kill your story. 

Additional Resources

Here are some of the resources I have found helpful as I have worked on my own storytelling skills.

Resonate by Nancy Duarte 

Made to Stick by Chip Heath 

The Power of Storytelling (webinar) by Jennifer Aaker (Stanford GSB) and David Hornick (August Capital)

What techniques have you developed for crafting and telling stories? Any suggestions?


The Most Expensive Marketing Mistake You Can Make

Quick, what’s the first word that comes to mind when I say “Mercury cars.”

Drawing a blank?

How about using more than one word. Can you describe a Mercury? If you’re like me you can’t.

I have probably seen hundreds, if not thousands of Mercury cars and ads during my lifetime and I can’t tell you what makes Mercury unique. That’s pretty crazy when you consider that Mercury spent close to a hundred million dollars a year on advertising just to tell you and me what a Mercury is.

Not surprisingly, the executives at Ford (which owned Mercury) shut down the division in 2011. Mercury failed to occupy a position in the minds of car consumers. The Mercury team made the most expensive mistake marketers can make – bad positioning.

Now, quickly name a luxury electric car.

Tesla, right?

Unlike Mercury, Tesla spends almost no money on advertising and has quickly emerged as one of the hottest brands in the automotive industry. Obviously that has a lot to do with the quality of the product. But its also has a lot to do with positioning. Tesla makes luxury electric cars that are fast and beautiful. It owns that unique position in our minds. Tesla's positioning is solid.

Positioning is how your audience associates and categorizes your company or product in their minds.  I think it’s the single most important thing marketing teams do.



The human mind gathers information through the body’s five senses and instantly filters and categorizes that information subconsciously. That’s why we don’t even notice a brown rock but pay very close attention to a similarly shaped brown bear.

Our mind does this with marketing messages as well. We are so overloaded with messages that our minds filter and reject most messages to save processing power for things that matter. Messages that are easy for our minds to categorize and position are the ones that are most likely to stick.

You can see a more contemporaneous example of this mental phenomenon at work in any Silicon Valley coffee shop. Listen to an entrepreneur describe his or her startup and you’ll likely see a befuddled look on the other person’s face until the entrepreneur says “we are basically like Uber for prescription drugs.” Then the lightbulb turns on. The person couldn’t process the new concept until it was properly categorized against an existing mental framework.

Positioning matters because it anchors your product in the mind of your audience.

Here are some examples of companies with strong positioning:

Volvo = Safety
BMW = Performance
Tesla = Luxury electric
Virgin = Cool
WalMart = Low-cost
Nordstroms = Great service

Positioning is all about your audience’s perceptions.

Volvo can spend millions of dollars touting its performance, but those dollars will be wasted since the audience has already associated Volvo as safe. Safe cars (in the mind of the audience) are not high-performance cars.


The most expensive mistake marketing teams can make is poorly positioning their products. As we saw in the Mercury example, you can’t spend your way out of bad positioning.

Here are a few common ways marketers screw up their positioning:

1. They don’t pick a single position
Picking multiple positions means you aren’t picking a position at all. If you say you are high quality, low cost, cutting edge, safe, and reliable, you’re also utterly forgettable.

2. They pick the wrong position
At Highfive, had we positioned ourselves as a video conferencing app instead of video hardware for the conference room we would have competed for mindshare with widely known (and free) services such as Skype, Google Hangouts and Apple FaceTime. Not only would it be difficult (or nearly impossible) to occupy that position in consumers minds - we would have a hard time justifying payment for a service people think should be free.

3. They can’t communicate their positioning
Many companies never develop a concise messaging platform. And many who do forget that you need to reinforce your positioning in every customer experience. That means your website, creative, messaging, sales interactions, customer support interactions, email correspondence, packaging, etc. Every touch point with a customer should reinforce your positioning.

4. They try to copy other people’s positioning
By definition, your positioning should be unique. I see a lot of  startups copying Steve Jobs' famous “10,000 songs in your pocket” positioning that he introduced with the iPod. Today I’ve seen “a parking spot in your pocket”, a “handyman in your pocket”, and all kinds of weird things you would never want in your pocket. Don’t copy other people’s positioning. Do the hard work of developing your own. The goal isn’t to be clever - it’s to be effective.


After talking to customers, I like to create several perceptual maps with opposing attributes such as: economical vs. expensive, boring vs. cool, consumer vs. enterprise, daily use vs. special occasion. These maps help you identify unoccupied positions in the market. Then, develop your messaging platform.

The best way to test your positioning is to simply ask people how they would describe your product to other people. If they consistently cite the same thing that’s on your messaging platform - you’re doing a good job of reinforcing your positioning.

Here are a few other ways to test your positioning:

  • Customer surveys - how would you describe us to a friend?
  • In-person focus groups (Craigslist can be a great source)
  • Usertesting.com
  • 10-second Starbucks test (show your homepage to someone in line at Starbucks and ask them to tell you what the company does)
  • Email prospecting tests
  • Google and Facebook Ad tests

So before you spend a bunch of money on awareness and lead generation, make sure you’ve nailed your positioning. Your product (and budget) depends on it.

What else? How are you developing and testing your positioning?



Why Marketers Need Their Own Hippocratic Oath


It was well after midnight and I was still going back and forth with my product colleagues and corporate comms team over IM. I was staring at two different drafts of an email which we needed to send out in a few hours. The email informed our customers that we were deprecating a high profile feature. One draft was from my heart. The other was from the corporate comms machine. I paraphrase the two drafts below:

From the heart draft
“I’m disappointed to let you know that we have decided to no longer support feature x. I know you love the feature – frankly, we do too. We had to make a tough call between supporting this feature versus investing in some exciting new capabilities – we chose the latter. Several of our closest partners have stepped up to offer any ongoing support that you may need…"

Corporate comms draft
“Customer success is our highest priority. As a result, we continually invest in new product innovation. In order to better serve you we are turning over support of feature x to our certified partners…"

In the early hours of the morning, I relented and sent the sanitized comms draft. It sucked. I had just put a crap sandwich in the inboxes of some of our most loyal customers – and I knew it. The response was exactly what you’d expect. They were pissed. Not about the feature being deprecated but about the fact we were trying to pull one over on them instead of being honest and empathetic.

After that, I made a vow: I will not produce marketing that I personally wouldn’t want to receive.

According to this Harris Poll, physicians top the list of the most prestigious/respected professions in the country. We trust physicians with our health and safety and believe they will put our interests first. Physicians understand this. For 2,500 years, physicians have sworn the Hippocratic Oath which is a moral commitment to serve their patients the best way they know how.

Marketers aren’t on the list of the most respected professions. That’s because too many people in our profession resort to manipulation instead of marketing. Sure, anyone can steal your attention with sex on a billboard. Or pay to interrupt you. Or play upon human psychology to entice you to do something that isn’t in your best interest. All that works – in the short-term. Until it doesn’t. That is manipulation, not marketing.

Marketers have a moral obligation to build trust with their communities. Marketers build trust by creating marketing that is useful, delightful, and brings their communities together. The ones who do that will reap the rewards of customer loyalty. The marketers at Patagonia and Dove provide great examples of brilliant marketing:

Patagonia Better Than New Campaign
Patagonia's marketing is so good in so many ways but their Black Friday “Better Than New” campaign is particularly brilliant. They throw parties to reduce consumerism. I love it. And I still throw more money at them.


Dove Real Beauty Campaign
The fact that a company that sells white bars of soap can inspire us to reevaluate our perceptions of beauty demonstrates marketing’s potential to create positive change.


Decision makers and consumers rely on marketers to help them make educated decisions about products and services. Whether they know it or not they are trusting marketers with their time, money, and (in some cases) their careers. Maybe its time for us as marketers to take our own form of the Hippocratic Oath. Or perhaps the Golden Rule. I humbly offer "I won’t create marketing that I personally wouldn’t want to receive" as a start.

The Best Ad Campaign I've Seen in a While

Most of the advertising I see these days is really bad. Many companies and their ad agencies try to steal our attention with provocative statements and imagery. They adopt "attract the bugs to the lights" strategies instead of doing the hard work necessary to understand and connect with their tribes. That’s why I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the Wall Street Journal’s new Make Time campaign. It's dang good. I stood in the subway and skipped the next train as I savored the simplicity and depth of the message. Am I a geek? Maybe. But I appreciate great craftsmanship. Here are a few thoughts on why this campaign is so effective and what we can learn from it.

The Campaign:


The messaging and storytelling is what makes this campaign so great. “People who don’t have time, make time to read the Wall Street Journal.” Sheer genius. The message reflects highly nuanced insights about the Wall Street Journal’s tribe. The WSJ tribe is made up of highly ambitious people who are busy leading, creating, and making an impact. These high performers don’t have leisure time to read a morning paper. But, they make time to read the WSJ because it helps them perform at their best. The message not only reinforces the tribe's beliefs, it handles customers' biggest product objection – time. It effectively reframes WSJ reading time as a professional investment.

The campaign supports the message with an artistically composed photo of Tory Birch (and other business leaders) reading the WSJ at work. Note that the photos depict people reading at work. The images support the message that the WSJ is a tool for career success – not an accompaniment for your Sunday morning coffee.

The subjects of the campaign are also carefully selected. The campaign creators chose Tory Burch (designer), Will.i.am (musician), Zhang Xim (CEO of Soho China), and Mike McCue (tech entrepreneur). Each of these individuals is an artist/creator as well as an ambitious business leader. The subjects suggest that the WSJ helps spark creativity and business savvy. They wisely did not include investment bankers or hedge fund managers in the campaign (despite the obvious connection given the paper's name). Finance professionals are, indeed, part of the WSJ tribe. However, featuring them in the campaign would lead the audience down a far less relatable path. It would suggest the WSJ is a tool for finance professionals instead of a tool for creative, ambitious people. Financial professionals can relate to Tory Burch’s ambition while non-finance professionals often have a hard time relating to the titans of finance.

The campaign supplements its out-of-home message with a digital experience. The landing page and videos reinforce the story with even higher fidelity. Here's the Tory Burch video:

The campaign concludes with a new tagline: “Read ambitiously.” I generally don’t like taglines because they are either too abstract or too cheeky to be meaningful. In this case, the tagline works. "Read" is a concrete verb and "ambitiously" perfectly describes the defining attribute of the WSJ tribe.

Key Takeaways:

The WSJ campaign offers a few great lessons for marketers, salespeople, and leaders.

1. Talk about your tribe, not yourself
We all tend to talk about ourselves when we should talk about our audiences. Most ads, sales pitches, and presentations are more about the company (or presenter) than the customer. Customers like hearing about themselves far more than they like hearing about vendors. So figure out what your audience cares about and talk about that. Your product or service is only useful insofar as it supports the beliefs of your tribe.

2. Don’t be average
Focus on extreme users, not average users. The WSJ campaign doesn't feature 9-5 employees who read the paper once a week. It focuses on creators and executives with no time who read it every day. Nobody is inspired by average. Yet we're tempted to say “our product is for everyone.” According to Seth Godin, the day of selling average products to average people is over. We need to be comfortable saying “our product may not be for you.” People who want a paper for a lazy Sunday should buy a USA Today. 

3. Do the hard work
Clever jingles and creative stunts are poor substitutes for an in-depth understanding of our audience. We need to roll up our sleeves and listen. Only after we know what our audience truly cares about can we tell a story which resonates with them. Then we need to do the hard work of making the story simple. One of my graduate school professors regularly cites this quote by Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr.: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Distilling nuance and complexity into something simple is hard and incredibly powerful. There is no shortcut to success – we have to do the hard work.

What do you think about this campaign? Are there any others that similarly reveal an underlying truth?