Ordinary marketing is trying to persuade the market it needs a firm’s products and services. Great marketing is telling a story of how your firm benefits your customer’s business.

Note that great marketing uses a different model than ordinary marketing. Ordinary marketing talks about What your firms does, Who is serves, and how it is Different from competitors. Customers don’t care about any of that. They care about how what you do benefits their company.

The experience of Rob, the CEO of a software firm serving agencies that provide nurses for home health care, provides a nice example. His solution really was the best and offered enormous value. Inexplicably, rather than being welcomed for boosting his customers’ profitability, potential customers viewed his firm with suspicion. We’ll return to Rob in a minute.

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6 Lessons From Great Communicators

Kevin Daum, in his popular Inc. Magazine column wrote about lessons for great communication.  As with any communication, technique is only as good as what you are communicating. Marketing is an important type of business communication.

Great marketing must accomplish six things:

  1. Connect. The best marketing resembles a conversation. What I mean is that you must draw in your audience progressively. If you don’t connect, you end up talking about what’s important to you rather than the customer (who quickly tunes you out). Knowing your audience so you know how to connect is as important for marketing as it is for public speaking.
  2. Engage. Study after study shows that even for B2B goods and services, people buy from people they like. Engagement requires some give and take. Demonstrating that you understand how a prospect’s business problem affects them emotionally is a good place to start.
  3. Disarm. Coming at a prospect with a canned marketing pitch is a sure way to fire up their defenses. If they’re on the defensive, they probably aren’t seeing you as a friend and someone they like. Good marketing disarms the situation by being comfortable and authentic while demonstrating understanding and respect. Sales people do this by repeating key information back to the prospect. You must to know your audience so your interaction has energy, interest and passion.
  4. Focus. The best marketing is (story)telling rather than selling. The stories, however, must be focused on making a specific point to be effective marketing. Get to the point as quickly as you can–but no quicker. There are lots of tutorials on how to tell a good story. Here, here, and here are a few examples. Focus on what you want people to remember.
  5. Clarifiy. Don’t assume just because you understand what you’re saying that your audience does. Simplify complex concepts without being condescending. You want to help prospects select your firm. Showcasing your firm’s complete history and knowledge rarely offers the most direct path to accomplishing this. Most marketing lacks clarity because firms don’t truly understand what is needed to help prospects select the firm. Not knowing what actually works, firms resort to random acts of marketing.
  6. Reinforce. Research shows people only retain about 10 percent of what they hear. Make sure your prospects walk away remembering why your firm is the best choice for their situation. Make it clear, keep it simply, and reinforce it. Stories are an incredibly powerful way to communicate and reinforce key messages. If you reinforce without first connecting, engaging, disarming, focusing, and clarifying, you squander your time with the prospect reinforcing an effective (or even counter-productive) message, and your marketing works against you.

Not All Benefits Are Equal

Rob’s marketing was good by traditional standards. He focused on increasing his customer’s profitability, but for some reason it wasn’t effective. It focused, clarified and reinforced a message about improved agency profitability. As it turned out, most of the agencies he was targeting–his potential customers–are businesses owned and managed by nurses. Nurses are famous for putting patient care above profits. A focus on profitability that would resonate with most other small business owners was an alarming dog whistle for a customer base concerned about faceless business interests displacing the needs of the patients.


Once I helped Rob re-position his firm so his business development process spoke directly to how the benefits of his solution aligned with how the nurse-owners viewed their business, sales took off. Instead of focusing on increasing customer profits, streamlined business processes were touted as generating additional time and money resources that could be used for patient care. The execution still focused, clarified and reinforced, but now it started by connecting, engaging and disarming. For Rob and his company, a Strategic Marketing Plan pulled it all together.
A Strategic Marketing Plan drives disciplined execution and practice. Marketing is not just for marketers. A broad understanding of how what your firm does benefits your customers is valuable to every employee at your firm.
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