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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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the reason the VP of Biz Development doesn't return the calls is because they've "left to pursue other interests" ( like buying a small vineyard in Volcano, CA)

jim Forbes


To my understanding, Mr. K is pushing the blog entry from a VC perspective. Just like his experiences with engineers. In addition, Mr. K might have weaved in a little bit of "Polarizing" in order to turn this entry into a product.

I don't agree with your inference that all marketers are liars, Guy, that they are lying all the time.

I think that's rude and wrong and I thought more of you than is demonstrated by such sweeping flippancy.

I've met some brilliant marketers who have helped change their firms' fortunes for the better and have never entertained lies or fools in their presence.

I've also meant brilliant entreprenuers and technologists with great products that have failed because they had bad marketers or thought that all marketers were liars so they should do it themselves.

WRT Mossberg comment: I've been a WSJ subscriber for 20+ years. Happy to see that Katie is now on the masthead almost all the time now as it seems she has been doing a ton of the "heavy lifting" for the last couple of years.

Love the post as a private individual laughing at the pathetic attempts of others to push puerile product.

Hate it as a sometime "intrapreneur" breaking my back to get a new venture off the ground and wanting, desperately needing to believe our own lies about how good we are, how great our prospects are, and how wonderful everything will be when everyone 'out there' at last finds out about and understands our latest widget.


BTW, I recently posted something that might be of interest: talking to unCustomers:

LOL... So true so true... marketing theories!!! it aint the truth until it sells.

FWIW, ridiculous "rock star demands" are an interesting negotiating tactic. If your contract rider specifies ludicrous conditions such as a backstage bowl of m&m's with all the green ones removed at each performance, you can be pretty sure not all of the conditions will be met throughout the tour. Which give you an excuse for breaking the contract or a solid basis on which to countersue if you are accused of failing to uphold /your/ end of the contract by, say, trashing the hotel room.

1. "We're partners with our sales force. They love us and our lead gen efforts."

>> Most marketers are afraid of prospects/clients, hate face-to-face selling, and disrespect their sales force.

2. "Marketing is the hub of this organization ... sales, engineering, R&D, and finance are spokes that complete the wheel."

>> Most marketers don't realize they're nothing but cost centers that contribute little.

3. "We've got hard data supporting our budget this year. We can prove an ROI!"

>> Flaky models and bizarre assumptions don't impress a savvy CFO.

4. "Direct marketing is too crass. We need to focus on building our *brand*"

>> Brand marketing, usually splashy TV, radio, and print usually, is fun and sexy -- also completely unmeasurable in terms of an ROI.

And so on :-)

I think this list of "lies" reveals an underlying "truth". Every one of those statements are what might be said to an investor. None of them are what might be said to your customers (i.e., your end-users).

Therefore the underlying truth is that many companies on the Internet aren't meant for end-users. They're meant to impress investors or the big fish who might buy you outright. The investors are the customers.

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