Is it a product?

Is it a product? Or a bunch of features?

Can you say why it exists without saying how it does what it does?

Can your customers?

For great products, the features are there for a reason. They serve a cause. That cause sparks a story and that story can be told and retold.

For bad products it’s the other way around. The features are the reason the product exists. There is no clear and concise cause and therefore, there is no simple story to tell.

This is usually the point at which a marketing agency is hired to come up with a story. Which they do. And it might be a good story. Or it might not. In which case, it becomes really hard to sell the product.

I’d suggest starting with the cause so the story is built into your product. It simplifies the whole marketing.

Marketing in sync with the outcome

Great marketing is true to who you are.

Great marketing also delivers results.

The confusion occurs when our true story doesn’t deliver the results we’re looking for. It’s tempting to conclude that we must bend the truth a little bit. Because, well, we need to pay the bills, right? So, we need the results. Also, it’s just a teeny bit, so really no big deal, agreed? (Plus: others are cheating as well.)

Well, your call.

I feel a better approach is to change our perspective. It’s rather likely that the story we’re telling with our marketing is not the only story that’s true to who we are.

Quite the opposite. There are almost certainly ways to shift our story while remaining true. Maybe we just told it to the wrong people. Or we told our truth while neglecting theirs. It might also be that there’s a slight adaptation to our offer that’s still true to who we are but resonates much stronger than our current offer.

When you do work that matters, it’s almost inevitable that it finally resonates. Fix your product so that the true story is in service of your audience. Fix your story so that it’s told on behalf of your audience. To the right audience.

And the results will come.

The complete secret recipe

Here’s the complete guide to marketing success.

Ask yourself this question: “If they knew what you know, would they buy?”

Depending on the answer, do this:

If not, don’t even bother with your communication. Fix your product. Repeat.

If yes, all you need to do is tell a true story about your product.

Skip the bullshit. Speak with clarity. That’s all there is to it.

Kind of remarkable

The Blue Man Group is kind of remarkable. Actually, it’s two kinds of remarkable: “built in” and “on top”.

Built in remarkable is the way they play the drums. They are highly skilled to get fascinating sounds out of unusual musical items (mostly drums). It makes for a remarkable show that people speak about (read: “make remarks about”) long after.

I call it “built in” because there would be no show without these elements. You can’t make a drum music show without playing some kind of drums.

But there’s another remarkable component to the Blue Man Group, the kind that I call “on top” remarkable: the blue skin color. They could make the same show without the makeup. But they choose not to. It’s built on-top of the actual product to make it even more remarkable.

So remarkable, in fact, that you can’t speak about the Blue Man Group, without mentioning that they are, well, blue men.

And thus, just because it’s on top doesn’t mean that it’s not essential. In fact, the Blue Man Group came to be because the three founders drew the attention of MTV due to their blue masks. The blue faces helped spread the word much more easily. The group understood that there was no shortage of remarkable music shows but a shortage of blue men making remarkable music shows.

Here’s the best part: once established, on-top remarkable becomes something that others can’t copy. While there are a lot of great music shows, there is no second Blue Man Group (other than their own worldwide shows, of course).

What kind of remarkable is your product?

The two kinds of suspense

There are two types of suspense: artificial and intrinsic.

Artificial suspense is what TV casting shows do to you right before an ad brake. They could tell you but don’t – because they know that as soon as they’ve told you, tension falls apart and you walk away (possibly disappointed because the reveal fell short of the promise).

Intrinsic suspense is the opposite. It’s what great stories do. They do tell you! Because that’s precisely why you want to know more.

Revealing the information opens up your curiosity as opposed to shutting it down. It’s much more the start of a new thread rather than the end of the previous one. Rather than walk away because you got what you wanted, it makes you stay because you want to know what happens next.

The same can be achieved with a great marketing story – when your story is so relevant that your audience absolutely needs to hear more about it.

It could e.g. be an eye opener … exactly what they wanted to hear … just what they’ve been looking for all along without even realising it themselves.

And so they beg you to tell them more: How does that work? What would it cost? What would we need to change? What are the requirements? Is there more to it? Can this be applied to other problems? When can we start?

If your product is that good, if it’s exactly the product your customers have been waiting for, then you can skip artificial suspense. You don’t need to hold the best part back. You can reveal it because it’s precisely the thing that makes them want to know more.

In essence, the relevant question to ask is not “How do you make your topic exciting?” but “Why is that crucially relevant for your audience?”

And if it isn’t … then, sure, you can reach for artificial suspense. But the better approach would be to work on relevance.

What’s hard about slogans?

It’s not really hard to come up with a great slogan that grabs someone’s attention.

What’s hard is to come up with a slogan that’s true to who you are and grabs the attention of those people you seek to serve.

The former problem requires some creativity. The latter requires empathy. The crucial difference? You can buy creativity. But you can’t buy empathy.

The “pocket” is underappreciated

When marketers rave about one of the greatest ad slogans of all time, they tend to overlook the most important piece.

I’m speaking of the iPod ad: A thousand songs in your pocket.

A lot has been said about how brilliant it was to translate 3GB into 1000 songs. Because what’s 3GB, right? It can’t be overstated how much better 1000 songs is than the default tech slogan of “The 3GB MP3 player”.

And yet, the “pocket” is way underappreciated.

If the slogan ran like this: “The MP3 player that carries a thousand songs.” … it would still be better than “The 3GB MP3 player” … but not even close to Apple’s version.

What the “pocket” does is that it translates the slogan into a story. With this device, you can carry your whole music library (back then) in your pocket. It’s not about the device at all, neither 3GB nor MP3 (or AAC, for that matter).

It’s about you! You are going to have your entire music library with you. How cool is that?

Now, how does your product transform your customers life? Don’t stop at translating the numbers. Translate it into a story that relates to our life.

Let’s assume you’re having a smash hit product

Let’s assume that your communication works. You’ve made us see the brilliance of your product. People are buying from you, maybe in large numbers.

How does life look like for us? What’s different? Can you make me see that future? Can you make me see myself in that future?

Painting that picture might just be the story that you need to tell to actually convince us.

Surprisingly often, this story gets bypassed.

Surprisingly often, communicators stop at telling us about the the problems of the present. They offer us a solution and leave it to us to figure out how the solution works out for us: Here’s a problem … here’s a solution … now, please buy from us!

But what will I get? Will it be worth it? How will life look like with your solution? I might not be willing to figure it out myself if it’s too vague.

The desire for a better future is what creates the tension that’s required for action. The more tangible, the more tension.

Yet, make sure that it’s a true story. False stories destroy trust. True stories create it.

A respectful approach to marketing

Most marketing is geared towards changing what people do. Essentially, it’s about making them buy something they wouldn’t have bought without our marketing.

I feel like a better approach is for marketing to be geared towards changing what people see. This kind of marketing, which I call “lighting the path”, is about making people see something (in a way) that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

And then, it trusts them with the decision to buy it (or vote for it or apply the advice). Its goal is not to persuade but to resonate.

It might lead to the same result. People might buy from us. And so, it might look like a little difference. But, it’s actually a profound one. A more truthful and respectful marketing approach.

It works only when we care deeply for our audience because only then will we be able to make products and craft messages that are so relevant that they resonate.

But when they do, and when our product actually delivers on what we promise, we’ve built trust. As a result of respect for our audience. And that leads to loyalty.

The path to engaging online meetings

This is part 2 of the series on leaders who light the path – a group of extraordinary people doing work that matters. All of them have been pioneers in going through my new masterclass “Leaders Light the Path” which will open to the public this fall.

Jobien Hekking is the founder and CEO of Brainy Bunch. Brainy Bunch’s mission is to help organisations run online meetings that achieve much higher levels of effectiveness and which, at the same time, are much more enjoyable.

Yes, you’ve read that right. Enjoyable!

In this interview, we’re speaking about how that’s possible by tapping into the creativity and potential of every single participant in an online meeting in order to increase the level of energy and effectiveness of online meetings to unprecedented levels.

Jobien’s passion and energy to help organisations achieve this is infectious. She lives and breathes online meetings. Her level of expertise and dedication is unmatched by anyone else I know.

Read her fascinating story in the second interview of the “Leaders who light the path” series.

PS: If you’d like to boost your marketing just like Jobien did, I’d love you to consider joining the public launch of my masterclass this fall. Get more information here.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz

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