What’s Wrong with Marketing?

If you’re looking for a microcosm of what’s wrong with marketing today, look no further than USA Basketball’s World Basketball Festival 2014 press release.

I’m pretty sure when most people read this they’ll zero in on the contributions the festival will make to Chicago and neighboring communities – as they should.

However, when you read into the details of the festival, specifically the opening ceremonies, it gets a bit more interesting, at least from a marketing point of view:

As part of the ceremony, consumers will hear from their favorite basketball players and coaches as well as interact with USA Basketball product collections.

Suddenly we’re no longer people or fans. We’re consumers. Now that we’re consumers, we’ll have the opportunity to “interact” with product collections.

Interact with USA Basketball product collections.

We want you to be excited about what’s happening, about what is being brought to your city … but most of all we want you to interact with product collections.

That’s a pretty fancy way of saying buy stuff. That’s a pretty sad commentary, too, on the state of what’s important.





An Introduction to Learn

What, exactly, is learn . know . believe?

learn . know . believe is a model that I’ve created to help companies successfully bring products and services to market. The has been honed in building early stage, credit card capital backed companies as well by helping fully mature, Fortune 100 organizations solve real-world product challenges. Translation? It’s been put through enough paces around the world to know that it works, well, in streamlining the product / service and company messaging and positioning processes.

Please note: For the sake of clarity I use the term “product” throughout this (and subsequent) posts. This can be interchanged with the terms service and/or company. The model is equally applicable to products, services and corporate messaging and positioning.

The foundation of the model begins with the answers to three fundamental questions:

  1. What is a <product / service / company name>?

  2. What has <product / service / company name> done? For whom?

  3. What will <product / service / company name> do for me?

In this post, I’ll focus exclusively on learn.

The basis of learn is quite simple. The first time someone encounters your product, what do you want them to learn? The clearest way to address this is to ask yourself, “What is a <product name>? If there isn’t a clear, English-language answer to this question, it is going to be incredibly difficult for someone to learn about you and your offerings.

To find your learn, begin by asking your team, “What is a <product / service / company name>?” Write these answers down and, when you have all of your feedback, find the common threads to arrive at your first answer.

Once you have your internal answer to this question, the public testing and validation begins. Begin this testing and validation with friends of the firm – those who have some idea what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. These individuals are more likely to provide an initial step away from your product – just far enough away to bring up questions about your own definition.

After the initial external feedback is received and worked into your messaging, take the revised-yet-again messaging to friends of friends of the firm. This may also include initial prospective customers and customers of other products you offer. The objective with this second group is to get a bit further away from your core and see where the definition and messaging breaks down.

Next, once you have these first two iterations complete, take the third iteration and test it with key contacts in your industry. Media contacts, potential partners, potential customers, anyone who is far enough away from the core to have little idea who you are or why you’re working on this particular product is a perfect target for the third iteration.

Finally, after the third iteration, you should have a very strong first draft of your answer to the question, “What is a <product>?”

The final answer to this question will have, on average, a dozen iterations before you’re fully satisfied – and the market is fully satisfied. Don’t become discouraged after the fourth iteration when you see it start to shake as more people learn about your product and begin forming their own opinions and providing personal feedback. You are likely to have somewhere near eight more iterations to go before everyone (you, your company, your customers, your partners, your shareholders, the media, etc.) gets on the same page.

Once you have this your answer here, you’ll have the first step of the process complete – everyone will be able to learn exactly what you want about your product when they ask, “What is a … ?”

I’ll dive into Know in the next post.

Your Product’s Most Important Question, What Does It Do?

The first thing to do when you begin bringing a product or service to life is to ask yourself, “what does it do?” A simple, almost silly question – yet it’s critically important. What, exactly, does the product do? What is it’s core value to the person(s) who will use it?

Write this answer down, in English.

Not marketing speak. Not tech speak. In English.

Once you have this written down, test it. Take it to three people who will use it and ask them how it resonates. What you’ll learn is that their definitions and descriptions of the core value will be different.

Modify your original statements.

Take this to three additional people and ask them the same question. You’ll likely have two to three more unique definitions and descriptions.

Map this information and find the common threads.

Modify your original statements.

Take the revised positioning to the same six people.

Now you’re close. That’s it … just close.

The moral of the story?

While the definition and value of a product begins with you, the definition and value of a product never end. Successful products and services are a constant refinement exercise to capture the imagination of your customer base, not create the next definition or value in a vacuum.

Are Your Customers Explicit or Implicit Learners?

People have an insatiable desire to learn.

For some, this desire is explicit. Explicit learners are comfortable asking how they can learn to do something. Explicit learners will simply “pick it up” and figure it out on their own and are happy to engage in trial and error as they build their knowledge base.

For others, this desire is implicit. Implicit learners are most likely to nod knowingly at something they don’t quite get yet. However, as they’re nodding, you can see the wheels turning as they try to figure it all out. Implicit learners will take more time to discover and research – to RTFM – before simply “picking it up”.

While someone may exhibit different learning behaviors in different surroundings (e.g. when they’re in a crowd v. by themselves, who is in the crowd, the consequences of their actions, etc.), individuals will typically fall into either the explicit or the implicit group over a period of time.

Herein lies the first challenge for product managers: Are your customers explicit learners or implicit learners?

The answer to this question will have dramatic impacts on the ways in which you:

  • Sell your product / service;

  • Are able to provide support for your product / service; and

  • Engage in and execute all types of customer communications.

A diverse customer base is made of both explicit and implicit learners.

Herein lies the second challenge: Do you know how each of your customers wants to learn?

The answer to this question is significant. Approaching explicit learners with implicit practices will quickly turn them off as they will grow frustrated with an “endless stream of tutorials”. Simultaneously, providing implicit learners without the necessary information will result in them becoming frustrated and walking away just as quickly. The opportunity to provide your customers with the right information at the right time, in the manner in which they will best process it, is a never ending challenge – yet it is a challenge that must be undertaken for long-term product / service success.

Remember, people have an insatiable desire to learn.

If you aren’t properly educating your customers – if you aren’t helping your customers learn in their own way, on their own terms – your competitors will be.