Stop marketing infatuation

Most marketers have been there. Some have been the cause of it. Someone in your organization, usually at the top, gets an idea that the key to your organization’s success lies squarely with one thing. Maybe they attended a conference, read a blog post or noticed that your top competitor was doing it. And thus the infatuation begins:

“We need automation!”
“We need an app!”
“We need more followers!”
“We need a 2,000-word blog post every day!”
“We need to be on Instagram!”

How can it affect your business, and how do you respond?

What is Marketing Infatuation?

Remember your grade school crush? You can still remember his or her name, can’t you? Your life revolved around seeing that special person every day. Food was a burden. School was the pits. Unfortunately it didn’t always turn out for everyone like it did for Squints in The Sandlot (he married his crush, Wendy Peffercorn.)

Marketing infatuation is the same thing in your business. It’s an obsession with a trendy channel or measurement that sounds great on the surface but does not fit your goals or objectives. Sometimes you might not know whether it fits your strategy or not. Sometimes the infatuation comes from within the marketing team; sometimes it’s an outside force. But one way or another, it becomes an obsession at the expense of strategy, budget and your mental health.

How do we get in these situations?

One cause for these situations is “one size fits all” marketing, which I discussed previously. Another cause, which I think this is more significant, is that we don’t provide a good enough reason not to do it. Having your marketing strategy clearly defined can give you the ability to make these decisions. Another way to be able to say “no” is by having data to either confirm or counteract the infatuation. Sometimes the data will support moving forward with that channel; sometimes it will not. But either way, the right decision ought to jive with your marketing strategy.

There are at least three types of marketing infatuation that can affect (or infect) your team:

1. We can become infatuated with a channel

This is typically the most common type of infatuation because we hear so much about channels or tactics. We hear about the success of platforms like Periscope, Vine or Blab and conclude that we will have equal success with it. But the reason others have success in those new channels is because those channels fit their strategy, reach their target audience and effectively engage consumers.

The challenge is that focusing on a channel puts the cart before the horse and shoots your strategy into oblivion. We learn in Marketing 101 that objectives, messaging, audience and strategy all come before tactics. Infatuation throws tactics to the top of the list.

2. We can become infatuated with the wrong metrics

We love metrics. They can prove our value. But we can become infatuated with the wrong metrics that tell the wrong story and, over time, cause us to focus in the wrong areas. For instance, when your Web traffic is growing, you may be tempted to report only your unique visits or downloads. But what if your traffic is inflated because of a red herring like floating share buttons that inflate your numbers, and your content isn’t getting any real engagement?

There’s a reason why most traffic-related measurements are called vanity metrics — they might look good but they are only skin-deep.

3. We can become infatuated with the product

Moshe Engelberg of Research Works recently described a challenge his friend faces at a small technology company:

Her leadership team has the unfortunate belief that a) because the company’s problem solving skills are so unique, and b) because they’re so good within their specialization, they don’t need to invest in marketing. By extension, the supposition is that customers must inherently understand what the company does and know why they’re the right choice. Therefore, the logic goes, the company doesn’t need to work on their marketing strategy, or brand positioning, or what their value proposition is. (Feedback to the contrary and underwhelming sale figures be damned!).

Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen explains the consequence, as quoted in Gabriel Weinberg’s book Traction:

The number one reason that we pass on entrepreneurs we’d otherwise like to back is they’re focusing on product to the exclusion of everything else. Many entrepreneurs who build great products simply don’t have a good distribution strategy. Even worse is when they insist that they don’t need one, or call [their] no distribution strategy a “viral marketing strategy.”

What marketers should be doing instead: embracing their role as expert prescribers

It’s up to marketers to manage the way that marketing is viewed within our organizations by embracing the role of expert prescribers.

Engelberg continued by describing how to work with CEOs who are infatuated with their own product:

The good news is that there is a way (besides deep pain!) to overcome a CEO’s dismissal of marketing as an unnecessary investment and the corresponding presumption (i.e. hope) that customers will just “get it.”

It stems from an often overlooked common ground: Both engineers and marketers fundamentally believe that with the right tools, any problem can be solved. The key is to leverage this powerful and shared worldview. This can be accomplished in several ways that I’ll cover in detail in a future post. One of the most compelling is to set up experiments in which management a) hypothesizes what customers know, and b) commits to taking corrective action if their hypotheses are proven wrong. Then you do the customer research to confirm or correct the hypotheses and bring the results back to the team. This approach seems to bypass egos and importantly, reframes the problem in a way that better matches the CEO’s more technical mindset.

This same thinking can apply to infatuation with a particular channel or metric. The key is to find a way to challenge assumptions and a willingness by both parties to move in a different direction if those assumptions prove false. An expert prescriber can play this role.

An expert prescriber, like a doctor, plays the role of studying the positive effects and risks of every solution, then recommending the best one(s) to get the result you want. Here are some keys to making it happen:

  1. Reserve time every day to study trends, even if it’s just 5 minutes to read a blog post
  2. Know your audience better than anyone
  3. Test, re-test, then test again
  4. Be obsessed with metrics and be able to interpret them correctly
  5. Challenge all assumptions, such as what worked in the past will work now, or what didn’t work in the past won’t work now

Keep in mind that many times, the best way to understand how to succeed at a marketing channel is to do it. I once was in a pitch meeting with the CEO of a $400M division that was considering how to implement a social media strategy. At one point I looked around the room and observed that I was the only one who had a Facebook, Twitter or YouTube account. We spent a great deal of time explaining how social media worked — how to post, how to reply, etc. While the pitch went well, the strategy could have been greatly improved if everyone on the team had actually used the channels that we were pitching.

That doesn’t mean to cut out experimenting. Marketers ought to dedicate up to 10% of their time each week to experimenting and studying. But experiment with the expectation that you are making an informed decision that isn’t just based on someone’s gut feeling.

It also doesn’t mean to always say “no.” Marketers should be in the habit of saying “Not yet,” or, “No, but here’s an alternative that fits our strategy.”


Being an expert prescriber means coming to the table ready to recommend decisions based on data, on your target audience and on your strategy.

So the next time that certain voice starts reverberating down the hall that “We need X,” you’ll be ready to respond properly.