Talk to management about the problem

I once did a very interesting consulting project for the CEO of a custom software company. It was a long time ago and I hadn’t thought about that client for years, but I took a call this week that reminded me of the moment when that CEO told me, with great conviction, that “marketing doesn’t work.”

The statement wasn’t directed at me – he didn’t think of me as a marketer because the work I was doing didn’t fit his definition of marketing. This was shortly after the dot com bubble burst and several of the company’s clients were out of business. He wanted me to identify potential markets for software the company got stuck with when they didn't get paid.

I asked the CEO how he had determined that marketing doesn't work. His long reply was punctuated with a lot gesturing and frustration. As it turns out he had hired advertising people for the marketing jobs and they bought a lot of ads. It’s easy to see the CEO’s logic: he hired a team of marketers, gave them a big budget, and sales didn’t increase. Ipso facto: marketing doesn’t work.

Fast forward to the colleague who called me this week. He has a client (a huge company) that wants him to develop ten buyer personas within the next two weeks. When I asked him what benefit the client expected to derive from the effort, he said the personas will be featured in a presentation at a worldwide meeting of the marketing team. Wait, I said, if we're not careful this company will decide that personas don’t work.

It’s been less than a week since an attendee at Pragmatic Marketing's Effective Product Marketing seminar emailed me to say that he’s encountering internal resistance to sending more people to the class he loved so much. His boss has decreed that “traditional” marketing doesn’t work and “new” marketing is what’s needed. Given his choice of words, I’m guessing that his boss has misinterpreted the recommendations presented by my good friend David Meerman Scott in his seminar or best-selling book, the New Rules of Marketing and PR. If this company persists on this path, they could decide that new marketing doesn't work.

At the core of all of these stories are people who have skipped the most important aspect of the outbound marketing job -- gaining deep enough insight into how the buyers think (grokking them) so that we can:

  • segment them into groups based on their problems and buying criteria
  • target those buyers who we identify as most receptive
  • develop strategies for other buying influencers who will be resistant
  • convince the sales people that working with these buyers is the best way to make quota

If the marketers at that custom software company had thought about these issues they would not have spent all of their budget on ads. And that CEO wouldn't have decided (he's wrong) that marketing doesn't work.

If the marketers who asked my colleague for ten personas were focused on the problem solved by personas, they'd realize that you can't grok ten of them in two weeks. We could prevent this big company from deciding (wrong conclusion) that personas don't work.

If the boss who wants "new" marketing thought about the issues facing the marketing team, he'd realize that all of that online content still has to say something that resonates with several different audiences, and no one in the company knows how their buyers think. Or else everyone has a different opinion about what the buyer is thinking and the company is delivering a bunch of confusing messages. If they don't watch out, someone might decide (they're wrong) that the new rules of marketing don't work.

If we want management to support the strategic part of marketing, we need to stop interacting with them about deliverables and talk about the problem we're trying to solve.

Topics: Product Marketing Redefined

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