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April 30, 2006

The Top Ten Lies of Marketers (with bonus)

By popular demand, here are the top ten lies of marketers. Actually, it was too hard to stop at ten, so this list is a dirty dozen. As my mother used to say, "How can you tell if a marketer is lying? His lips are moving."

1. "Our PR firm says it can get Walt Mossberg to review our product." It's not clear who is dumber: your PR firm for saying this or your marketers for believing it. Walt reviews about fifty products a year, so the odds are not good that yours will be one of them. Certainly, no PR firm can guarantee a review.

2. "If we can finish the product we'll be invited to demo at Demo." Let's say that your engineers are running behind schedule. (It's not their fault, of course--it's the marketers for not specing the product properly, but I digress...) A marketer rushes into the engineering department to announces that if the engineers could finish, then your CEO can demo the product at this premier technology showcase.

If the person who runs Demo, Chris Shipley, would schedule more Demos, there would be a lot more innovative products in the world because marketers would have more opportunities to tell this lie to engineers.

3. "We have a really good strategy to get A-list bloggers to write about our product." Yeah, as if it's that easy and as if all A-listers are alike. Why some A-listers even claim that you don't need to suck up to them and ply them with freebies like wine. The best strategy has two elements: (a) a great product and (b) sucking up. How convenient: one role for engineers and another for marketers.

4. "We're confident that our product is extremely viral." Steve Jurvetson  best defined virality as "the involuntary adoption of a product." The key word is involuntary--for example, in the early days of instant messaging, ICQ was a viral product because if you wanted to instant message, you had no choice but to install ICQ. Any decent product can generate word of mouth advertising, but very few products are truly viral.

Anti-example: Have you ever wanted to post a comment to an MSN-hosted blog only to be confronted with the message that you have to sign in with a Microsoft .NET Passport? That's not virality--that's innoculation.

5. "Conservatively assuming that each user only tells three additional people, we will have an installed base of five million by the end of the first year." Do you know why we've heard about MySpace and FaceBook? It's not because it's easy and commonplace to amass millions of users. It's because it hardly ever happens. Whenever a marketer makes a forecast like this, add one year to the timeline and divide the installed base by 100.

6. "BigNameCompany is really excited about partnering with us." As long as you understand that the most realistic definition of "partnering" is "a relationship that lacks a business model," this lie can't hurt you too much. Especially because it's unlikely that Big Name Company is really excited, so nothing will happen at all. (See next lie)

7. "Jane Doe, vice president of biz dev of Big Name Company, isn't returning my phone calls or emails." Actually, this isn't a lie. It's the truth. It's just that this nugget of truth follows weeks of lies about how excited Big Name Company is to partner with you. Now, all of a sudden, it's not the marketer's fault that nothing is happening--it's simply that Jane Doe isn't returning his calls or emails.

8. "Conservatively, the total addressable market for our product is $50 billion." In seven years of dealing with venture capitalists including four years of being one, I've never met an entrepreneur who wasn't addressing a $50 billion total addressable market. Suppose you are starting a sushi restaurant. Is the total addressable market the grand total of what Americans spending eating out per year? I don't think so.

9. "This is how we are going to position the product." This is a lie of naivete that indicates a lack of real-worldliness and experience. You might try to position your product in a certain way, but ultimately customers, not you, position your product. You take your best shot and then you see how customers react--if, frankly, they react at all. But, at the end of the day, you're hardly in total control of positioning.

10. "We need outside consultants because we don't have the bandwidth to do all the marketing ourselves." What Bangalore is to engineering, "outside consultants" is to marketing. Much as most engineers hate to hear this, the two professions have lots in common including this fallacy of outsourcing. Nine marketers can't produce a baby in one month any more than nine engineers can.

11. "The PR firm (ad agency, whatever) that we interviewed really loves what we're doing." Not to put too negative a spin on this, but prostitutes tell customers that they'll love them "a long, long time"--which is about as true as this lie. The severity of this lie depends on what phase of the bubble you're in. If it's a frothy time, then you might have to convince a PR firm to take you on as a client. If it's a down cycle, then getting someone to love you isn't that hard.

12. "We found a rock star to join our marketing team." There's nothing like setting a person up for failure by creating excessive expectations. I've spoken to event managers, and they tell me that rock stars make all kinds of ridiculous demands like painting the backstage walls purple for Prince or punching a hole in a wall so that another performer could walk directly to the stage. Forget the rock star: Hire good, bright people who want to prove themselves, not live off the past.


"All we need is a 1% market share to make this work." (Peter Kim). How could I forget this one? Perhaps because I try to block this very common lie out of my consciousness.

"Our product is so unique that it has no competition." (Maura Welch). It has no competition for two possible reasons: (a) You're clueless and don't know how to use Google; (b) there's no market for it so no one else is dumb enough to do the same thing.

Here's a good counter balance by Alain Thys called, "The Top Ten Truths of Real Marketers"

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I think what you are doing is great!!! I want to use your color scheme at my sites...

Funny and accurate where "funny lists" go.
Bangalore deserves more respect though...

And the top ten lies of bloggers......

Funny and accurate where "funny lists" go.
Bangalore deserves more respect though...

The comment about positioning was especially on target. Companies do seem to throw a lot of money at positioning and rebranding initiatives, when ultimately it is only the customer who can validate a brand in the real world. Time to come down from the ivory tower of marketing.

It would be amazing to view statistical calculations on the negative *impact* of these "lies".

Walker T

After years on the agency side, I can say amen to most of this. The viral point is off though ... just because Steve said it and you agree with it doesn't change a widely held definition. Is SQL pronounced "sequel" or "ess-q-ell"?

The point itself is correct, but it would have been better supported with a simple "Over the last decade, only three products were worthy enough to fit the widely held definition of viral, and YOURS won't be next."

Thanks Guy for this short list. Could you be more precise about your second point : "(It's not their fault, of course--it's the marketers for not specing the product properly, but I digress...)"
This is exactly what I have to face daily - bad specing, and it would be great for me to get your advice.

Ok this is Seth's topic you should have given him some props.. not that either of you need it but this topic is all Seth G.

Great blog though

Along the same lines but maybe not marketers...

"In 3 years when we sell this at 15 times earnings..."

One of my favorites.

@No 2: If the person who runs Demo, Chris Shipley, would schedule more Demos,...

Well, in fact she does: ;-)

Hey, we European entrepreneurs want our share of it either...

And I'm quite happy to be invited to present at this year's show.



P.S. While still noticing the sarcasm in your original post... - I know these folks either. ;-)

From the perspective of a (very thick-skinned) marketing consultant, my biggest headache is the start-up CTO who has an MBA and now believes that s/he knows everything there is to know about marketing, product management, strategic business development, and any other non-core-CTO competency you care to name. These folks are even more entertaining when they have a PhD too :-)

(And yes, Guy, I'd be happy to link - maybe some of my clients will find their way here and learn something ...)

We are all rock stars.

You can make one of these top 10 lists for just about any position in the held by a human.

If you are in "it" for the long term, lies eventually come to haunt you... so try to keep them to a minimum or ever coming out in the first place... no matter your role in society.

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We've applied for over 15 patents which are potentially worth $100M to an acquiring company.

So let me get this straight. Marketers don't get it. Engineers don't get it. Entrepreneurs don't get it. VCs don't get it.

So everyone's a dope?

Do I have this right?


In a sense, you do. The nuance is that most of these people do not even realize they are lying. By providing these lists, I hope to elevate the level of awareness so that they at least fabricate new lies.


compared to sales, marketing is pretty tame, would you not say? I have a series of salesperson tricks on my nlog

- see this and it has links to others


"Our product is so unique that it has no competition."

This one is obviously true at some point, but you'd have to be on the bleeding edge of technology, and it'll only be true for five minutes. By the time a demo-able product is available there will be five competitors.

OK. Exactly what is wrong with aiming for 1% of the market? Most businesses out there probably serve less than 1% of the market.

Here's another - "Our product is so unique it has no competition."

On the money as always. But only because too many marketers and chief executives for that matter have overlooked the fact that marketing is not the same as promotion.

The key P of the classic 4 Ps of marketing is the one that stands for Product. Despite your assertion in point 3, it's not solely the job of the engineers to come up with the product - the marketing people should be feeding them a view of what the market wants or lacks.

Those engineers who create great products that they'd like to use themselves are, in fact, disproving the assertion that engineers can't be marketers.

Brilliant - I'd suggest a #13 as a baker's dozen bonus - "All we need is a 1% market share to make this work." Such a small number, but so far to get there. I've heard this approach from CEOs and CMOs alike...

Where I come from, we take these lies as gospel and follow them religiously. You know, it helps our cause.


Oh. Yeah. Ha ha ha, I just got it.

Maybe, I've had a sense of humour failure this morning.

Maybe, just because someone's joking to make a point doesn't mean you can't offer counterpoint to that point and say that they are (partly) wrong.

I agree with some of the article, but the off-hand slights were a bit too rich for my underdeveloped sense of humour.

Apparently, Antony does not read Guy Kawasaki's blog very often.

The entry that you've commented on is a continuation of a series on the lies that various occupational groups in the high tech industry tell. Guy has taken pokes at Venture Capitalists, Entrepreneurs, Engineers and Marketing types. Each of the articles is largely tongue in cheek with a fair lump of truth.

Having spent over 18 years in the engineering sector of the computing industry I found Guy's list of lies that engineers tell a bit tough to read but I had to admit that they were indeed accurate.

I don't think Guy is saying that all marketing people are liars. I do think Guy is providing some insight into the common lies that some marketing people tell.

Next time you visit Guy's blog, you might want to bring your sense of humor along.


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