Author Archive

Four Simple Ways to Become a More Customer-Centric Marketer

April 26th, 2016

Recently, I wrote about our need to guard against company logic. I argued that it is very easy for us as marketers to slip into a mindset that ignores the ultimate desires of the customer. This is a struggle experienced by all companies, big or small, new or old, well-known or unknown.


Ironically, as one commenter posted, perhaps even my blog post suffered from a little company logic as it seemed to focus on what I wanted to say rather than what would have most served the audience: more application. Knowing myself, and the tendency that I have just like anyone else, it may very well be true. I can also relate to wanting to know not just the “what” of a thing but also the “how.”

So, in the spirit of taking my own medicine, I would like to attempt being a little more customer centric and suggest four ways in which we can practically guard against company logic and become more customer-centric marketers. These are not the only four ways, but they are a good place to start.


#1. Listen

Learning the discipline of listening to your customer is essential for all marketers. This is where a marketer should always start. Listening to customers was once much more difficult, but today there is so much feedback our customer is giving to us. With the prevailing social dynamic of the Internet, our customers are constantly talking to us (directly or indirectly). We just have to make sure we are listening.

Many marketers are tempted to fear social feedback. I mean, who really wants to hear someone else critique you? However, if we are really doing our job, we will embrace both pleasant and painful insights that we gain from hearing from the customer. It is so easy to become insular and solicit feedback only from our peers, but we must force ourselves to hear the customer’s feedback. Sometimes that comes in the form of them talking directly to us, and other times it comes in the form of customers talking to one another. Nonetheless, our customers are talking, and we must learn to listen.

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From the Westin to the Waffle House: Overcoming the pervasive challenge of company logic

March 22nd, 2016

I recently overheard an interesting conversation at a Westin hotel check-in counter. It went something like this:

“… and we’re energy efficient!” said the Westin receptionist.

“That’s great …” the customer’s hesitating response was only met with her static smile.

“So … What does that have to do with my room?” he added.

“Well, you will have to use you room card to turn the lights on,” she replied with the slight hint of an eye roll.

“Oh … ? How does that work? Do I have to have it on me or wave in front of the …”

“You put it in the light card holder. We are energy efficient.” she interrupted.

“To turn the lights on?” The customer asked with now his own slight hint of an eye roll.

“Yes, a lot of hotels are doing it now,” she replied, slightly defensive.

Trying to get her to break from her conditioned customer service pose, and make a slight acknowledgement of the absurdity, the customer joked, “Ah … well all the hotels I have gone to have these light switch things.”

He failed miserably at this attempt, obviously not cut out for comedy.

“We are an energy efficient hotel!!” She said again, but this time with two — yes, two — exclamation points.

“So … where is this card holder thing?”

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Marketing to Millennials: Are we still just selling snake oil?

March 1st, 2016

Skepticism is the disposition of our age. I’m not saying it’s a altogether new, but it is definitely the disposition of anyone under the age of 30 — AKA Millennials (see this study, and this one). I was recently reminded of how this reality impacts marketing when I came across a snake oil spoof video:


Most of us are too young to know the history of the original snake oil ads, and yet we have been significantly impacted by them. Some of the original snake oil ads (see below) created so much demand for their product that entire businesses were built upon them. It has been reported that city blocks had to be converted into factories just to handle the demand generated from such an ad.

And yet today, this kind of disingenuous marketing has completely jaded the marketplace. If this ad could even make it past all of its legal offenses today, it would not even come close to producing 1% of the results it did hundred years ago.

Snake Oil Cures AllThe above video, though a spoof, is making a very poignant point — many of today’s marketplace, particularly Millennials, see our “clever and creative” marketing tactics as nothing more than snake oil.

Consider the video as more than just something funny to pass around the office, but as a satirical indictment of our marketing techniques. Yes, the content of the video is absurd, but the marketing approach is not. And the painful truth I am reminded of as I watch it is that the post-modern consumer sees right through all our “best” methods.


We are more “oily” than we think

Whether you’re a Millennial or not, you don’t have to go very far to feel what I am talking about. You are a post-modern customer. Consider your email box right now, and look at the emails that have come in the past 24 hours.

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How a Roll of Sushi Changed My View on Marketing

December 1st, 2015

As a marketer, sushi really fascinates me.

I do enjoy a good sushi roll, but I am by no means a “sushi connoisseur.” However, the fact that I have met so many of them really intrigues me. How can so many people be so passionate about the rolling up of raw fish and rice?

I was recently visiting a friend, and he began to pontificate about the best local sushi restaurant, apparently rated one of the best in the world. He also claimed that I technically have never had sushi until I’d had it from this restaurant. He said I would “simply die” after just one bite (see irony). And I know my friend was not alone, for it took several weeks to get reservations for this restaurant.

Again, the sushi phenomenon fascinates me. Why would anyone wait weeks for sushi when they can just go to the local grocery store? Sushi and sushi, right?

How a Roll of Sushi Changed My View on Marketing


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Creating Engaging Content: A five-step method for busting writer’s block

July 7th, 2015

Ah … the ambience of a blank white computer screen. I am staring at one right now. There are the days when this glow speaks freedom and fresh opportunity and I take it. But then, there are those days, like right now, where the glow feels more like an impenetrable force field.


Although I’m not a great author, it’s a comfort to know that I am not alone in suffering from terrible writer’s block. Dorothy Parker, who wrote hundreds of poems and short stories, sent this note about it to her editor in 1945.


So what do I do when I know I have something to say, but I just can’t get it into words? Should I start scouring the Web to find something interesting to comment on? Or should I just rehash something that I have thought about or written about before? Or, the most tempting, do I just give up and hope my muse shows up tomorrow?

I’m not going to lie — all those methods can work, and have worked for me in the past.

However, there is one particularly useful approach that I have learned over the years for dealing with content writer’s block, particularly when you are on a deadline. Because — face it — as much as we would like to let creativity gently come to us, sometimes we have to go and take it by force.

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Marketing Strategy: What is your “Only Factor”?

October 17th, 2014

Warning: I am about to offend someone. It could be you. It might not be. Either way, I wouldn’t continue reading unless you’re up for having your notion of marketing challenged and you have the time to leave a ranting blog comment — just in case you end up feeling the need to.

Let’s talk about marketing strategy for a moment.

That’s right. Put down your proverbial to-do list, and let’s talk about the force behind the success (or failure) of all your marketing campaigns — your value proposition.

A good value proposition is the key to true sustainable competitive advantage, and without one, you are simply just pushing pixels around, hoping something will stick. However, a good value proposition must have what we call an “only factor.”

There has to be at least one way in which you can say about your product, we are the “only.”

You can match your competitors in many ways, but in at least one way, you must excel. If you do not have this “only factor,” then you are, as Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS, says, “simply surviving on pockets of ignorance.”

Now, customer ignorance was once a decent way to make a living (when I say “decent,” I’m using it in the old snake-oil sense of the word). Today, thanks to the internet, your customer can learn everything about you and your competition in about three mouse clicks. As information abounds, ignorance decreases.

Our marketing exists in a world where there are very few pockets of ignorance. In a world like that, a true “only factor” is the only way to survive.

If I haven’t offended you yet, I’m about to provide two more opportunities.


Don’t blame the “crowded market”

When teaching these concepts, I often get asked, “What about crowded markets?”

First, I generally ask a group of marketers to raise their hands (gutsy move, I know) if they are currently not working in a crowded market. You want to take a guess at how many hands get raised?

There are no good markets that aren’t crowded. I haven’t met a marketer yet who feels like their market isn’t crowded (and if there is, please introduce yourself to me). We all like to talk about how our market is so crowded, when the reality is that there are few, if any, markets that aren’t crowded.

The point is that opportunities draw crowds. If there is any inkling of an opportunity in your market, it may only be a matter of time, but it will become crowded.

Also, “crowd” is a relative term.

Meaning, the sense of crowding is completely dependent on the available space. Three’s a crowd in the back of a cab — but not so much on a football field. It all depends on the size of your market, and for many niche markets, it only takes a couple competitors to make a crowd.

Here’s the point: Dealing with a “crowd” is a basic experience of marketing. It is not unique. It does not release the marketer from needing a forceful value proposition. If anything, it makes it more necessary.

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Value Proposition for Startups: 3 questions every startup must have the courage to answer

September 5th, 2014

“Every time a person says ‘yes,’ they are saying ‘no’ 10,000 times. One ‘yes’ equals many ‘no’s.’ The power of ‘yes’ is not in its affirmation but in its negation.”

– Flint McGlaughlin

Leading a new business to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage is not easy. It often involves difficult choices and a certain level of courage. But for the startup, it isn’t solely the courage to say “yes” that enables it to thrive; rather it’s the courage to say “no.”

Recently, I had the privilege of spending some time with a young startup company and working with them on their value proposition. Like many startups, this group had done well without any formal process of identifying a value proposition.

They had a group of founders, who, like many, built a unique product to solve a problem for a particular group of people. Intuitively, they had launched with a successful value proposition.


When competitive advantage is challenged

However, times had changed for this group. They used to be the first in their space, but now their market was crowded, and their customers had many similar competing products to choose from.

During the course of our conversation, I could feel the pressure the leaders of this company were up against, which stemmed from the worry about maintaining their strategic competitive advantage.

The temptation was to attempt to be everything their (new) competitors had become — in some sense, to be all things to all people. This is a common pressure, but it is often this precise pressure that causes many organizations to “acquire” their way right out of a good value proposition.

The most forceful value propositions are not those that try to do many things well, but rather those that try to do one thing really well.

Focus is one of the most essential components of a strong value proposition. Unfortunately, focus is often one of the hardest things to find in a business. Focus requires courage, especially the courage to say “no.” Learning to say that two-letter word was precisely the kind of negating focus this startup needed to answer three essential questions:


Question #1. How will you not serve?

A business cannot be all things to all people without diluting the power of its value proposition. By its nature, a specific value proposition must appeal to a particular prospect type. This can be counterintuitive, but knowing who your customers are necessitates knowing who your customers are not. Recognizing this distinction is essential.

The startup I mentioned above had created the most respectable and trusted cloud-based email distribution service. Because of their intense focus on accepting only those clients who send reputable emails, they had the highest deliverability rates, a serious evaluation process and strict guidelines. But ultimately, they had to make the difficult choice to turn away potential customers in order to preserve the value proposition that served their true customers.

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