Managing the Fundamental Tension in Marketing

Say you’ve got a new product release.  You’re super excited about your app’s new Feature X.  It’s very innovative.  Product marketing sees it as long-needed differentiator.   Sales sees it as a silver bullet:  “with Feature X, our competition is screwed.”  Everyone’s excited.

Then it happens.  A regional sales VP says, “Hey, marketing, we’ve got a do a webinar on Feature X.”  Part of you is tempted to do it because “sales is the customer,” but deep down you also know that no one will come.  While highly differentiating, Feature X drives real benefits only indirectly and is fairly complex to understand.

Herein lies what I call the fundamental tension in marketing:

What we want to say vs. what they want to hear

I love to make physical analogies for marketing problems because I think it makes them visceral.  Most of marketing, in my opinion, can be modeled off a tradeshow booth.  “Hey, should we gate this white paper on the web?”  Well, what would you do if you were in a tradeshow booth and a student doing a research paper walked up and asked for a copy?  Would you say no (generating ill will and not spreading the message), would you say yes but not run his card (sharing the information, but not generating a fake lead), or would you say yes and run his card (strictly following procedure, but generating a “lead” that will might get $100 worth of processing before your organization figures out it’s worthless.)

The right answer:  give him the white paper – but don’t run the card.

At the risk of over-extending my metaphor, let’s say we’re working with a big tradeshow booth this time; one big enough that it has a little theater inside where we run shows (i.e., movies) every hour.  We have control over two things:  the poster we put up to advertise the shows and the content of the movie that we run.  (If you prefer, you can just use a real movie theater as the metaphor and still stick with the poster vs. the movie concept, which is the real point.)

So when thinking about the fundamental tension:

  • The poster represents what they want to hear. After all, if we want to get people to come into the theater we’re going to need to make a poster that is compelling to them.
  • The movie represents what we want to say. This might be our overall story, our view of the market, or why our new features belong on the industry agenda.

Now some marketers might say put “Free Beer Here” on the poster and if we did, we would most certainly pack the theater.  The problem is most people would leave during the movie, few prospective actual buyers would hear our message, and we’d have spent a lot of money on free beer.

A bad CMO declares victory in this scenario, “We packed the house!”  A good one declares failure, “We generated no real opportunities for sales.”  Take a moment to think ponder which type of marketer you really are.  Deep down, are you more excited about leads than opportunities?  If so, you’re going to need to rewire your brain in order to be successful.

No CEO wants a bunch of deadbeats drinking his/her beer if they have no chance of buying his/her technology.

The magic in resolving the fundamental tension is two-fold:

  1. First, recognize that it exists.  The topics we want to talk about are not typically those about which the world wants to hear about.  If you fail to recognize this, you condemn yourself to running company-centric, product-oriented marketing that attracts fewer leads.  If there’s one thing to remember from this post, it’s this:  simplify and clarify the discussion with sales by talking about the poster and the movie.  Typically sales blurs them all up.
  1. Second, learn how to build bridges. This is the art – it’s not easy to figure out which poster attracts the maximum number of potentially qualified buyers who will stay and watch the movie so that you get your chance to “set the agenda” and talk about what you want say.

.When it comes to building bridges, there are three things to consider:

  • Start with the customer. Find or execute surveys of hot topics or key priorities among your target buyers.  These will help you determine “what’s on their mind” and thus “what they want to hear.”
  • Find your angle. Find a few pre- or post-sales consultants knowledgeable in the space to help you determine if your company has a story, or angle, in addressing those top priorities.  In a perfect world, there’s a straight line between the priority and your product.  Sometimes you need to connect a few dots.  Beware, however, building “a bridge too far” where the linkage is too subtle or indirect.
  • A/B test. The great thing about today’s environment is that, with a little creativity and some discipline, you can run 3-5 different posters for the same movie.  This will enable you to see which posters (e.g., PPC ads, web banners) in which locations (sites, networks, audience slices) most cost-effectively attract not only movie-goers, but more importantly people who watch the movie, take the next-step, and eventually become sales opportunities.  helps you determine the top priorities in the mind of your audience.

One response to “Managing the Fundamental Tension in Marketing

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