As marketers we often believe our job is to create a story about our product or brand that will make consumers need it. But it’s not. Simply creating a need for a product in the mind of the consumer, whether B to B or B to C is a disservice to both the consumer and the product.

I was an observer at a marketing brainstorming session the other day that was a perfect illustration. The new CEO and the marketing team came together to discuss a product launch. Each team member came with messaging for launch, and every idea was written on the white-boarded conference room walls for discussion.

Everyone was excited about their ideas, ready to go to battle to beat out the rest of the team and see their wondrous plans come to fruition. It was electric, and the room was literally buzzing with the excitement.

As each presenter shared their ideas, the room got quieter and quieter. It became clear that not only had the team not discussed these ideas together, there was no collaboration at all. Each had created their story in a vacuum, alone with their own concept of what would inspire the market. It reminded me of the story of a group of blind men trying to identify an elephant. Each could only reach a part of the beast, and so assumed they knew the whole being. One held the tail and said it was a rope, another touched the side and said it was a heaving wall, each with their own perspective.

It wasn’t until they start arguing that they realized there was a bigger picture.
Like the blind men, it became clear that the marketing team didn’t have the bigger picture either.

  • None had spoken to the engineers who built the product to discover the driving force behind it.
  • They hadn’t done interviews with potential clients to learn what their needs were and get feedback on the design.
  • They hadn’t spoken with the sales team to gain their knowledge of the market..
  • They thought they knew everything.

And that reminded me of this wonderful TEDx talk by Ernesto Sirolli.

Ernesto frankly lays out the mistakes of his youth, doing good work in Africa, helping the locals learn to grow crops to sustain their communities. Did it occur to the relief agencies from around the world to talk to the locals about their problems before finding a solution? Nope. They knew best. Until the hippos came and showed them.

The marketing team, the blind men and the African aid workers have a lot in common. They neglected to listen. They thought they knew more than the market they were there to serve and so they simply didn’t bother to to hear them.

In the meeting it didn’t take long for the CEO to put a stop to the whole thing. He sent everyone back to the drawing table, this time they were to do outreach to the sales team who know what their clients pain points are. They would talk to the engineers to find out what the passion points are that drove then to address this particular need. They were to talk to clients about the pain points they felt, and what had worked or not worked in the past. Lastly, they were to pull all the data together and then gather to create messaging that truly represented the needs of the customer, even if it required re-tooling of the product to be a better fit.

I’ve had several calls with the team and the CEO since, and I’m encouraged by their progress. The messaging is coming together and there is real heart in it this time. I can feel the connection between all the aspects, from engineers, sales, customers and the inspiration of the marketing team. They are listening and we are all better for it.

By: Janet Fouts

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Janet Fouts

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