Things Marketers Need to Just STOP Doing

In general, Marketing is a Good ThingTM. It’s how we learn about new products. It’s where we get info on how to differentiate between products. It can help us decide a particular product’s suitability for specific purposes.

The folks in Marketing in the IT industry often take a lot of flak. There are several reasons for this.

IT is, by its very nature, technical. The vast majority of folks in Marketing don’t have technical backgrounds. Also, many Marketing folks have never been the customer for the product they’re marketing. This creates two hurdles when trying to market to technical customers.

Also, I’ll admit it — technical folks tend to be picky, sometimes even nit-picky.

I’ve always said that I brought two big advantages to any Marketing-type position:

  1. I have a technical, not a Marketing, background.
  2. I have been a customer.

So, while IT-related Marketing sometimes takes the blame for things that aren’t their fault, sometimes they do things that really are their fault. Below, I’ll cover the five things that Marketers need to just STOP right freaking now.

Saying “Open the Kimono”

I don’t understand why more people don’t understand this, but this is a phrase that’s just unacceptable in any professional environment.

Not only is it cultural appropriation to use the phrase, if you know anything at all about its origins, you’ll realize immediately that the phrase carries the double-whammy of being both misogynistic and racist, so just cut it out already.

I get the spirit of what folks using this phrase are attempting to get across. They’re looking to create an air of mystery and give the impression that they’re showing you something that other people don’t get to see. There are a lot of ways to do that without using this phrase. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Let me show you how we accomplish this.
  • Here’s what’s going on behind the scenes.
  • Want to take a look under the hood at the engine?

If avoiding racism and misogyny aren’t enough reasons to convince you to stop using this phrase, I have one last appeal.

Imagine yourself as the customer, sitting in one of your company’s product briefings. Now imagine that the last person you heard use the phrase “open the kimono” is the presenter. Imagine that he or she (in my experience, most likely he) enters the room wearing a kimono. Imagine the presenter standing directly in front of you and saying “Now I’m going to open the kimono…”

If you weren’t immediately overcome with a brain-crippling, want-to-gouge-your-own-eyes-out case of being completely creeped out, well, you’re likely a soulless Marketing robot who is immune to human emotion and my message is wasted on you. Save yourself the time and skip the rest of this post — it will only describe things you already consider to be “Best Practices”.

Saying “We Eat Our Own Dog Food”

I get the intent behind this one, too. The Marketer here is trying to demonstrate how good their product is by letting you know that they use it themselves.

That idea is critical. How much faith would you put in an OEM who uses someone else’s product instead of their own. Imagine a storage vendor who uses another vendor’s array for the business-critical applications. Imagine a PC vendor whose workers have another vendor’s PCs on their desks. You wouldn’t want to buy from either of those vendors.

So the central message is a good one. This just happens to be one of the least appetizing ways to get the message across, for two reasons:

  1. It doesn’t matter how good the dog food is, it’s still dog food, and your customers likely have no interest whatsoever in eating any of it.
  2. Taken literally, the statement is a lie. I’m 100% sure that none of the CEOs of any company that makes dog food are sitting down to eat dog food at the dinner table.

Why would you want to compare using your own product to a distasteful experience? (Unless using your product is actually like that, in which case your problem exists in Product Development and not in Marketing…)

For IT, you can get the idea across in plain, simple language by saying something like: “In fact, our own mission-critical applications are running on our product in our own data centers.”

If you feel you must use an analogy, try something pleasant and celebratory like “We drink our own champagne.”

Creating “X for Dummies” Materials

I don’t understand why this one is so popular with Marketers. Why would you try to convince people to buy your product by blatantly insulting their intelligence?

Think about it. If you’re producing “${PRODUCT_AREA} for Dummies” materials, the implications are:

  • You think your customers are dumb
  • Only dumb people would pick your product
  • The customer is too stupid to understand what’s going on and should just do what you tell them

Trust me, customers don’t like any of those messages.

I get the idea. You’re selling into a new and/or complex product area and you’re trying to be cute. Stop and think about your customers’ purchasing criteria. I’m guessing “cute” didn’t make the list.

(True story: As I’m typing this very section of the post, on my other monitor a tweet from a vendor appeared in my timeline offering customers a link to a “guide” accompanied by a “${PRODUCT_AREA} for Dummies” graphic. Stop it.)

If your product is so new, or the area it addresses is so complex, that it’s beneficial for you to help educate your customers, there are lots of ways to do that without insulting your customers. Produce materials like:

  • A First Look at X
  • A Guide to X
  • X 101
  • Understanding the Importance of X in Your Data Center
  • Technical white papers about X

Yes, all of those are harder and less “cute” than “X for Dummies”, but they’ll likely be much better received by your customer base.

Describing Your Team as Being “Full of Rock Stars”

Unless you’re selling a music-related product and mean it literally, just don’t use this phrase.

I get it — you’re trying to get across the idea of what a great team was involved in the creation of your product. But think of the things that are often associated with the image of a “rock star”:

  • They’re narcissistic and not open to feedback from others.
  • They’re not known for being good team players. In fact, they often break up the band.
  • They’re heavy drinkers and drug users.
  • They’re known for trashing the places they visit.

Would you want to buy a product built by those guys?

If you feel it benefits your message to talk about the team responsible for the product, by all means do so, but do it by being specific. For example:

  • Each member of the development team has over 20 years of experience in this industry.
  • The folks who designed ${OTHER_GREAT_PRODUCT} were central to the development of this product.
  • Members of our team have received the following third-party awards and recognitions…

Claiming “Ours is the Only Product That Does X”

Again, I completely get why Marketers want to do this. It’s their job to differentiate the product from the competition.

The problem here is that you need to take the 60 seconds of required research before making any claim like this.

I can’t think of a single example of when I’ve heard a vendor make this type of claim where I couldn’t think of anywhere from three to six other products from other vendors that do the same thing — and that’s just off the top of my head. It doesn’t matter if it’s “has this particular feature”, “solves this specific need”, or “was built with X in mind”, this is a very dangerous phrase to use in any Marketing material or messaging.

It’s incredibly rare that any vendor is the only vendor doing a particular thing, and even then it’s only for a very short period of time. “Was first-to-market with X” is believable — if true.

Saying your company is the “only” one who does whatever, when the listener knows it’s not true, brands you as either:

  • A liar.
  • Someone who is completely clueless about the industry you’re in.
  • Someone who couldn’t be bothered — or doesn’t know how — to spend 60 seconds on Google discovering the truth.

Is this how you want customers to see you?

Maybe there is some uniqueness to your product, but then use truthful statements to describe that specific uniqueness, rather than the sweeping generalization of “only”. For example:

  • We were first-to-market with this feature for this specific use case.
  • While several other products out there have some of these features, ours is the first to have all of them in a single product.
  • There are a lot of products out there that address this issue, but let me tell you what’s different — and better — about our approach to it.

Remember, your target audience is generally knowledgeable about the industry you’re in. Avoid easily-disprovable claims, or risk being tossed out of meetings.

To Sum Up

There are some simple ways to avoid all the mistakes covered in this post. They include:

  • Don’t do dumb things. I feel like I shouldn’t have to mention this, but looking at some of the Marketing efforts out there, apparently I need to.
  • Find a group of people you trust who understand the customers’ viewpoint and test messaging with them before going public with it. (I call this the “Won’t someone please think of the customer?!” method.)
  • Hire someone with a technical background who understands the customer’s viewpoint to be in charge of your messaging.

5 thoughts on “Things Marketers Need to Just STOP Doing

  1. Dave,

    Great read.

    I would argue about the “Dummies” books however. They aren’t meant for a technical audience.

    Think of a CxO type who’s heard about or needs a high level primer about a technology. That is the audience IMO.



  2. Thank you so much for stepping on the “only one to do X” claims! Like you, I’ve seen it a hundred times and it’s almost never true. Too often, I know that because I’m among those who have been doing whatever it is for years. I’d just like to extend your warning a bit. It’s not just the marketers themselves who need to do the sixty seconds of research before making such claims. It’s also the “journalists” (looking at you El Reg) and “independent” analysts who hear and repeat those claims. The rule should be that such claims aren’t reproduced – even in quotes – until they’ve been at least cursorily checked. Unlike performance or cost claims, which tend to remain forever arguable, “first” claims can usually be 100% clearly refuted if someone would only try.

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