6 eye-opening marketing insights for non-marketers

Marketing insights: Women's eyes looking upwards

Over the last decade, my company, Articulate Marketing, has written marketing content for some of the biggest stars in the tech firmament including Microsoft, Symantec, LinkedIn and others.

Across nearly all clients and over many years, it’s become clear to me that product managers (usually technical people) and marketers (usually not) are ‘two peoples divided by a common language’.

While my job is to go into companies and talk fluent geek to the techies and then translate it into everyday business English, in this article, I’m going to attempt the opposite: explaining the world of marketing to non-marketers. Or at least, six marketing insights that are often new to them.

Features aren’t enough, tell a story

Telling somebody that your product has 48 Megafloodles won’t help them make a purchase decision if they don’t know what it means for them. Even if your competitors only have 24 Megafloodles, who cares? You need to tell a story about what your product can do for the buyer. At heart, marketing is talking to buyers about things that matter to them using their words. Here are two Apple examples that tell a story in a few words.

Apple MacBook Air ad

Apple Mac Pro ad

Heuristics matter

In some cases, features have become a proxy for something that buyers do care about. For example, camera megapixels signify picture quality and horsepower numbers signify car performance; even though experts know that lenses, sensors, handling and torque, among other things matter more.

People use these short cuts and heuristics to simplify the buying process. If your marketing is really good, they’ll also use them to champion your products to their friends and colleagues. (Just think about the first time somebody showed you an iPhone or some other cool gadget – they didn’t get the spec sheet out, they showed you a couple of things it could do.)

Marketers know that if you try to talk about everything, you’re saying nothing. The skill of marketing is finding 1-3 things that really differentiate your product or service and find clever ways to communicate them well. For example Nokia work hard to turn their incredible 41 megapixels into a message about ‘sheer perfection in every shot’.

Nokia Camera Phone 41MP

Proof points

Google’s great insight is that people don’t want to look at ten web pages to find what they are looking for. In an ideal world, they go straight from Google to the one site that is a perfect fit.  The ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button on the Google home page just takes you directly to the first site on the list of search results. People rarely click on it but it’s a proof point of Google’s commitment to finding the perfect result quickly. It tells a story about Google’s mission.

Google 'I'm feeling lucky' button

What’s your company or product’s proof point? (Hint: it’s not a technical feature although most people think proof points are nothing more than a kind of specification.)

People buy from companies they trust

Used car salesman, estate agents and politicians have a bad reputation because we assume they are lying to us. Human beings have a preference for trustworthy business partners. Trust takes time to build but, with copywriting and websites, there are some easy ways to lose it:

  • Unwarranted swagger, hype and bogus claims
  • Talking about yourself and not addressing customer’s needs
  • Spelling mistakes and bad design (which looks like you don’t care)
  • Trying to sound big and clever with long words and jargon

Most people aren’t ready to buy yet

You spend a lot of time thinking about your company, your work and your products. You probably spend more time doing that than anything else except sleeping. But don’t let that blind you to the four golden rules of the customer journey:

  • People spend more time thinking about their problems than your products – you need to talk about their issues using their words
  • They spend (much) more time looking at other people’s websites than yours – you need to make your point quickly
  • Most potential customers are not ready to buy yet – you need to build their trust, create a relationship and engage their interest first
  • They don’t see your products the same way you do. For example, they probably don’t obsess about your competitors the way you do so concentrate more on explaining what you can do for your customer and less on how you have more features than your rivals.

Names matter (but not that much)

Of course a memorable name is important but most of the great names you’re thinking of didn’t start out as memorable. Apple has a memorable name, sure, but where is near-contemporary Apricot Computers now? Equally, having a great name doesn’t make a lousy product memorable or a company successful. Just think of all those clever word play dot.com names from the late nineties. Moreover, as the naming geniuses at Igor explain, lots of memorable names might have lousy connotations.

Virgin Atlantic

  • Says “we’re new at this”
  • Public wants airlines to be experienced, safe and professional
  • Investors won’t take us seriously
  • Religious people will be offended

Caterpillar

  • Tiny, creepy-crawly bug
  • Not macho enough – easy to squash
  • Why not “bull” or “workhorse”?
  • Destroys trees, crops, responsible for famine

Oracle

  • Unscientific
  • Unreliable
  • Only foretold death and destruction
  • Only fools put their faith in an Oracle
  • Sounds like “orifice” – people will make fun of us

In short, the company makes the name, the name does not make the company. Better to concentrate on being memorable than concentrate on coming up with a better name. Courage is more valuable than consensus.

Marketing insights for life

Good marketing isn’t about the things that people normally think it is about: clever names, sneaky wordplay or selling hard. It’s about trust, storytelling, relationship building and putting your head above the parapet and seeing what’s out there. And that’s better for marketers, it’s better for companies and it’s better for customers.

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