In Part 1 of this post, I talked about the disturbing trend of marketing stakeholders and clients reflexively responding to questions about their marketing problems with a lot of positive rah-rah nonsense that’s not only not helpful, but actually harmful to the strategic and creative process.
In this second part, I’ll list several possible reasons for this trend, a trend which invariably results in wasted money and bad marketing—and then follow them with a pathway to reversing it.
Here are the reasons why cheerleaderism might rear its ugly head:
- The stakeholder is in sales, or a sales-related position, and is so used to pumping up their company that that’s how they answer any question.
- The stakeholder has bought the fictitious line that thinking and acting positive all the time, and making positive statements all the time, no matter how terrible the situation, is the road to success. It isn’t. It’s the road to denial.
- The stakeholder just has a psychological need to please and impress people, even people whom it absolutely will not benefit them to impress.
- The stakeholder is simply not a very clear thinker. They are possibly the victim of 12-hour days, the stress of working for a volatile boss and driving in traffic and raising a family, the mental cloudiness of certain substances commonly used to alleviate said stress, etc.
Any or all of these may be true, but the result is always the same: When a creative professional asks the legitimate question, “What marketing problem are we solving here,” the response is either a blank stare or a bunch of positive-sounding but unhelpful gibberish.
Now, here’s what you, as a stakeholder, can do about it:
- Be candid. When a creative professional or strategist is smart and curious enough to probe, answer their questions openly. In other words, tell them what the damn marketing problem is. There must be one, or you wouldn’t have hired them. What are you paying them to fix, exactly? This is not the time to be Mr. Rogers and pretend everything’s OK when it’s not. If you’re not straightforward, you’re not “saving face” or “making the company look good” or “being a loyal employee.” You’re simply hurting yourself and hurting your company.
- Be proactive. If your copywriter or art director doesn’t ask you where your business is falling down, tell them. Don’t wait for the question. With some people, you might be waiting a long time. Tell them exactly where the holes are in your business model. Do you have renewal and customer success issues? Are there lead nurturing gaps where prospects show interest at first, then fail to engage? Is there a high price point that can’t be moved, so you need to show more value? Do your own homework, then be brutally frank. Remember, the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one.
- Be humble. This is not the time to talk up your product. You’re not trying to sell it, and the creative professional is not a sales prospect or a user. Don’t boast and brag about how your product is the greatest thing since sliced bread and creams the competition, or about all the great numbers you made last year and plan to make this year, or all the new demos you plan to crush. Instead, everything that you’re unsure, insecure and secretly freaking out about? Let it all out. That’s what we’re here for and who knows, we might even be able to help.
Dave Dumanis is a creative director, copywriter, and 25-year veteran of Bay Area advertising and marketing.