Effective marketing means stepping back, doing your homework, and (usually) starting over from scratch.
Over the past decade or so, I've reviewed dozens of marketing plans and hundreds of sales messages, and watched thousands of companies try to establish themselves in some of the most competitive markets in the world.
My main take-away from this experience is: there's an incredible amount of really lousy marketing out there. I'm not just talking the "inept" kind of lousy, I'm talking the "would stink in a deep space vacuum" kind of lousy.
1. No Concept of the Ideal Customer
Many marketers have a completely product-centric view of the world. They know their product up, down and sideways, but have only a vague idea of who might actually want or need it, or how they'd actually use it. Worst case, the marketers don't think that's important because their product is so "state-of-the-art" that it's obvious why it's a good thing to buy.
2. No Time Spent Listening to That Type of Customer
Even when marketers DO have a concept of the ideal customer, they often spend little time actually listening to those customers. They do "market research" and run demographic numbers, but when it comes to just sitting down and listening (really listening)... that's simply not on the agenda. Not surprisingly, the result is marketing messages that don't mean anything to the people who are supposed to buy.
3. No Idea of What That Customer's Customer Wants
Even when marketers DO listen to an ideal customer, they listen for the wrong things. They try to find ways that the product their marketing can fulfill the customer's needs. While that sound's smart, it's actually stupid. In business-to-business sales (which is the bulk of most sales activity) what's important is not satisfying the customer's needs, but the needs of the customer's customer. That's what's driving your customer's business. Your product only counts if it counts to the end customers.
4. Inability to Formulate a Meaningful "Value Proposition"
Even when marketers DO understand their customer's customer, they often have an extraordinarily difficult time formulating a value proposition that makes sense to both the customer and the end customer. Doing so requires an understanding of the business dynamics that permeates the entire supply chain, a concept that's unfortunately beyond the ken of all but the most experienced marketers.
5. Inability to Articulate a Value Proposition in 25 Words or Less
Even when marketers DO have a great value proposition, they have a tendency to do "group writing" that always results in long-winded sentences, full of abstractions, biz-blab and jargon. Writing a crisp message is a specialized task that only a talented individual can accomplish. It's a rare skill, as evidenced by the truly awful marketing messages floating around, even inside otherwise great companies.
What's the solution?
Well, don't get mad at your marketers, who are trying to do their best at a very difficult job. The real solution is to step back from your marketing milieu, research potential customer bases, spend lots of time listening until you thoroughly understand how their businesses work.
Then, after you REALLY understand what's going on, give the writing assignment to a professional writer and resist the urge to let the process devolve into group editing, which is the messaging kiss of death.
GEOFFREY JAMES writes "Sales Source on Inc.com," the world's most-read sales-oriented blog. His new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, will be published in early 2014. To get weekly blog updates, sign up for his free "Insider" newsletter. @Sales_Source