National Clothesline
Question everything
Slow down and think it through
By John Graham
The only way to find out if your marketing is performing the way you want is to doubt
everything you’re doing.
Instead of guessing, jumping from one initiative to another, hoping for the best, or taking
advice without knowing how to evaluate it, start at the beginning by questioning your
assumptions, your expectations, your personal preferences, and, particularly, your perceptions
of what marketing should do for the company.
Just to be clear, question every marketing activity, every plan, every “great idea,” and every
recommendation. It’s the only way to move from hoping and assuming to getting marketing
right for your company — and here’s how to do it:
Clear away customer roadblocks
Seemingly minor missteps drive customers crazy and then away, and the bar goes higher
every day. Being put on hold for even a few seconds raises ire — and is never forgotten. Failing
to respond promptly to an email (an hour or less) is deadly. There’s little tolerance for excuses.
One supermarket chain guarantees no more than three customers in a checkout line or the
manager hands out $1 bills to let customers know they understand what customers expect.
Starbucks and Panera have smartphone apps so customers can order and pay ahead so
there’s no waiting. Starbucks’ app will also add a tip.
When customer loyalty is more fragile than ever, making it easy to do business is a huge part
of the solution.
Get the messaging right
To their credit, more businesses are working at getting technology right, but they tend to
lump the smartphone in with computers and tablets.
And that’s a mistake. We use computers and tablets to do things such as performing tasks
and accessing entertainment, but the smartphone is qualitatively different: it’s an extension of
ourselves. There’s no putting it aside and there’s a profound sense of loss and stress if it isn’t
with us at all times.
Lou Paskalis, Bank of America’s enterprise marketing and media chief, describes the
smartphone as “the gateway to the consumer mind.”
Because the smartphone is personal, messaging should be, too: conversational rather than
“ad” like, talking to one person instead of “broadcasting” to many, and always with new
With 79 million Millennials checking their smartphones 45 times a day, as one study shows,
texting may be preferable to emailing.
Make engaging customers the goal
And that means not focusing on what you want to sell.
“We have just what will be right for you.” Customers once welcomed such words, being
almost eager to be told what to buy. Today, the same words only antagonize. No one wants to
be told what to buy.
Experienced salespeople often have an intuitive sense of what a customer is looking for; even
so, keep your mouth shut if you want to make the sale.
Get customers involved by asking questions, offer reliable and helpful information, and walk
with them through the process at their pace.
A tile salesperson questioned the customer about the project until he had a clear
understanding of what they wanted to accomplish. Then, he made several suggestions, getting
feedback as he went. Before they knew it, the customers were satisfied they had made the
right selection.
Copying others says we don’t have what it takes
There’s nothing as common as “marketing and sales plagiarism.” Go to a meeting, attend a
webinar, read it on a blog and find what someone else is doing and use it.
Or, as expressed by songster Tom Lehrer’s satirical lyrics about mathematician Nicolai
Lobachevsky, “plagiarize, don’t shade your eyes.” It also applies to many companies when it
comes to marketing.
On the other hand, Amazon’s success comes from leading, not following and from innovating,
not copying.
“We’re missionaries about inventing and simplifying on behalf of customers,” says Amazon
Kindle Vice President Peter Larsen in USA Today.
When we can buy whatever we want elsewhere and often at a lower price, marketing success
is far less about products and prose and more about what companies do to make life easier and
more enjoyable for customers.
Match messages to your customers
Seems obvious, particularly when so much data is available and customers expect
personalized marketing messages. The “Dear John” greeting on a CVS email offering a 50
percent discount was intriguing until I found it was for women’s skin care and beauty products.
The CVS message had unintended consequences: “After all this time, they really don’t know
me,” I thought.
Whenever this occurs, it creates “messaging dissonance.” When something isn’t quite right, it
makes us feel ill at ease and we reject it. Once doubt creeps in, trust erodes. Matching
messages to customers is critical.
Follow through and keep your promises
The contractor said, “We’ll be back to you in a week with a proposal.”
After 10 days or so, there was no response and the homeowner sent an email asking about
“We got busy and fell behind,” came the response. “Have it to you at the end of the week.”
Needless to say, it never came.
Broken promises, even seemingly small ones, are killers today. When this happens,
customers don’t just feel let down — they feel betrayed. They invest time and effort and put
their trust in someone, only to be rejected.  When this happens, they react by posting negative
comments, make sure others know about their experience and they never forget.
Following through by keeping customers informed with good news and bad builds trust.
Slow down and think it through
“Act now; think later” may be the number-one marketing mantra. And it may also be the
number-one reason why marketing gets a bad rap. It takes time and imagination to think
through even the most basic marketing activity.
The place to start is by asking the right questions:
“How does it fit in our overall marketing strategy?”
“What are the implications and possible outcomes if we do this?”
“What can go wrong?”
“What are the expected results and how will we measure them?”
The best way to get what we want from marketing is to start by slowing down and thinking it

John Graham of
GrahamComm is a
marketing and sales
consultant and business
writer. He publishes a
free monthly eBulletin,
“No Nonsense Marketing
& Sales.” Contact him by
email at
johnrg31@me.com or by
phone at (617) 774-
9759 or visit