Author | Marketer | Speaker

I help companies turn data, ideas and relationships into reach and influence. 

Four hard truths of exceptional marketing

Four Hard Truths of Exceptional Marketing There’s money to be made in convincing people that exceptional marketing comes easy, but it doesn’t. I’ve been thinking about marketing’s “hard truths”—those essential but sobering realities that tend to reveal themselves through failure. Maybe the only way to learn these marketing truths is to experience what happens when you contradict their wisdom. Or maybe you’ll read this in time to avoid some particularly thorny terrain (that’s what I prefer to believe). Here we go:

Thought leadership is in the eye of the beholder. It’s always earned, and never bought.

Your audience decides your fate. You can’t produce thought leadership—it’s not a type of marketing. It’s an earned state, and a temporary one at that. You are a thought leader when your audience considers you a thought leader, and not one minute before. You can buy a lot of things that thought leaders tend to have—a six-digit Twitter following and a place on the best sellers list, for example. But these are typically the results of being a thought leader, not the things that get you there.

I was once paired with someone at a small speaking event whose name I wasn’t familiar with. Odd, I thought, because this person had over 100,000 Twitter followers, claimed to be a marketing expert, and also lived in Austin. How had our paths not crossed? After our Q&A session, I asked some friends of mine here in Austin—actual marketing thought leaders—if they knew him. None of them did. After a few minutes perusing his followers, it was clear most of them were fake. Gaming the social proof might have fooled event organizers, but the audience clearly wasn’t impressed with his portion of the session.  They decided he wasn’t a thought leader, so he wasn’t.

Utility is never ignored. Make yourself (and your marketing) useful.

People don’t shut you out when it’s clear that you’re helping them. Most marketing points to some help that the audience will get in the future…if they do X, Y, and Z they don’t really want to do. But the best marketing is itself useful. Every page on your site, every tweet, every email you send to prospects—every one of these is a chance to provide something useful.

And guess what? If you give away something useful, people will want to share it. They want to be useful, too. They’ll also come back for more. Jay Baer wrote a whole book about the concept of utility in marketing, and it looks really…useful!

Buzzwords, jargon and superlatives fool no one.

What’s the difference between the “ground truth” and the “truth”?

Would you rather be “enabled,” or simply “helped”?

Why do customer service reps always put that “do” in between “I” and “apologize,” like “I do apologize for that, Mr. Greenleigh.”

When was the last time you read a company boilerplate and believed they really are “the leading” company in whatever space they play in?

Marketing is like a yearbook where seniors write their own superlatives.

No one buys any of this nonsense. Buzzwords and superlatives can make us feel smart, relevant, part of the tribe, and in control, but they alienate just about everyone else.

Write and speak like the people you want to reach and influence. Even if they use buzzwords, resist the temptation (using buzzwords doesn’t mean one responds to buzzwords).

Show, don’t tell. Marketing should deliver—not promise—value.

“Show, don’t tell” is an old writer’s saying. It means don’t rely on exposition to carry your story forward. Rather, have the story telegraphed through things your characters do (or don’t do), say, their appearance, etc.

Marketers love to tell you about value. They focus a lot on offering things, but not enough on providing them. Here’s a concrete example. One of the transformations I led at Bazaarvoice was taking the blog from promotional to useful. When I arrived, we were still talking about how great our data was, about how much we knew about consumers—and here’s a blog post to promote a webinar where we’ll tell you some of what we know. That kind of thing. I wondered why we shouldn’t just share some of what we know on the blog, and use that content to generate leads. No one objected; it just wasn’t the model my colleagues were used to. Once we got the hang of it, and saw all the right indicators going up and to the right, it seemed so ridiculous that we had focused on offers at the expense of delivery. Take a look at your company blog right now and be honest with yourself: which are you focusing on?

Question: What other hard truths of exceptional marketing would you add to this list? 

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© 2016 Ian Greenleigh