The Biggest Mistake Marketers Make
Before a crowd of small business executives, I was recently asked what the number one mistake marketers make. Without hesitation, I answered, “thinking that any customer or prospect cares about you.” As might be expected, chuckles wafted through the audience. While the answer may have appeared flippant, it is entirely accurate, in my experience.
Steeped in our own Kool-aid, marketers tend to believe their own hype. It's as if we believe all that self-directed horn blowing is justified. Aren’t we awesome? Many marketers tend to believe the grandeur spawning from their own messaging sessions. Whether based on honest belief, exceeding arrogance, or hubris, the fact remains we believe very highly in our own companies, services, and products. In many ways, we reflect them and them us. The melodic messages we concoct and pump out make us feel good, even if they matter not a wit to others outside the company. In essence, in trying to gain an edge, we turn that supposed edge against ourselves and cause harm. Don’t do that anymore.
When we ideate and create marketing campaigns from this perspective of rose colored glasses, we commit a mortal marketing sin: assuming the consumer of the information cares. In truth, some may. In fact, most don’t. We are, at the end of the day talking about hundredths of percentage points to demonstrate “moving the needle.” Fewer still take notice or recall what you said, unless you said it with such skill and creativity it becomes embedded in their brains. Given the cacophony of marketing noise existing in all mediums, the likelihood small businesses can make a meaningful impact is doubtful. After all, I am unaware of any small business that possesses a budget or pure marketing muscle sufficient to flood the market with compelling messages. By definition, small businesses are, ahem, small. They are not Nike nor are they McDonalds.
So, what's a small or emerging business to do when faced with this predicament? The answers are quite elementary and fundamental to marketing.
First, believe none of your own hype. You may sincerely believe yourself to be the second coming, but the reality is your “Next Generation, best-in-class, cutting-edge, world's leading, and robust products and services” are nothing but white noise in a static-filled world. Your customers and prospects don't care about any of that: they only care what you can do for them. So, for the love of all that’s holy, stop talking about just yourself. Instead, talk about your customers and prospects. Use words and images that demonstrate empathy not superiority. “We care about your challenges” works oodles better than “I am the best in the world.”
Second, begin each messaging exercise from within what I call the “Negative Nellie.” This is that deep, dark, dank hole full of poignant and penetrating questions just like your old Aunt Nellie asks around the holiday table. Always negative and oozing worst case scenarios, Aunt Nellie can find danger and harm in any situation. A small cut can become a deadly infection. A headache must be a brain tumor. An itch, a contagious rash necessitating the entire family to don Hazmat suits. Take on Nellie’s persona when you start your messaging exercise. Ask similar tough questions, such as: Why should they care? So what? How does that make my life better? Why should they give a flying leap? How do we know that segment will care? If all the good stuff about our company is true, why aren’t customers lined up to buy our product and services?
By going negative early, it forces your team to consider the most obvious and prevalent deficiencies in your story. In my experience, this helps to minimize the overly confident and positive messaging elements in order to give credence to what's really on the mind of your customers and prospects. Remember, your customers and prospects are not simply wallflowers eager to be fed lines but rather intelligent, smart, discerning buyers who are naturally skeptical. Think like them and you're more apt to be successful in the marketing arena. Speak their language: they will appreciate the empathy.
Third, as in cooking, timing is critical. You can’t whip up a five star meal in two minutes, if it takes hours for the meat to tenderize. The same applies in marketing. Just because you launched a campaign does not mean they will come now or ever. Give it time. Have patience. Let your creativity have time to percolate. Too often, marketers tire of their own work quickly and jump from message to message. Confusion spawns, clarity disappears, and you end up right back where you started. Let your messages seep in, and iterate your messaging. Expand and amplify the narrative within the framework you defined. Don’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater. Push your brand forward, not sideways.
Finally, focus on the big stuff. If you get that right, the small stuff will follow. What’s big and what’s small? What’s big is your brand, your narrative, your story, your values, your reason for being, your value proposition, and what the world would be like without you in it. Small things are your tag line, your colors, and even your logo. Some may argue this point, but ask yourself this: when was the last time you bought or didn’t buy a product or service from a company because of its logo, tagline and colors. Yeah, I thought so. Marketers tend to worry about stuff that doesn’t really matter to the only people who do matter in the buying journey: the buyers themselves. Pick a look and feel. Standardize on some colors. Trust a graphics expert to design a solid presentation, and then, move on. You may ponder whether the seafoam green hue is too bold or light, but I guarantee your customers and prospects don’t care.
Smart marketers spend time digging deep to find out what their customers and prospects really think. The less they rely on their own biased and often overly positive notions the better the chance is they will succeed in the market.
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