Authenticity Angle

authentic“It will take me a few days to get $800,000. Is that okay?”

This was actually uttered by the CEO of a tech startup when an early adopter customer was unsatisfied with the product and wanted to cancel their contract. The lesson herein is that this company is still alive, is thriving, and dominates their industry; and the customer still tells the story to peers … who buy the product.

It was a most authentic statement. Here, the CEO was understanding about the customer’s desires, and the limitation of his corporate cash flow, but also the need to make things right. He may have lost a sale, but he built a corporate reputation concerning authentic relationships.

The Authenticity Issue

Authenticity has always been a valued part of a brand. Now it is as critical as a heart.

People once allowed a lot of slop from corporations in terms of integrity (doing the right thing even when nobody is looking). But as mass media and then social media roared to life, companies that said one thing and did another were excoriated. In recent times, this includes the likes of Volkswagen in the wake of their fudging pollution test results.

Authenticity has many elements, and trust (belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something) is just one element. Of the sundry definitions for authenticity, for marketing purposes we’ll use “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” If your business’s brand is one of a heartless corporate cyborg, people may still trust you if you consistently act as one. But if your logo has butterflies and bunny rabbits, yet you lay waste to entire rain forests while harvesting raw materials, you will be rejected.

The Millennial Connection

Which brings us to millennials, the next super-sized set of consumers, and the ones currently with the largest household discretionary budgets. Here are some scary realities about these buyers:

  • They matured in the online world, and are adept at spotting fakery.
  • They prefer high-context connections, and place value on trust.
  • They are not in the dark about their own influence, and they use

No segment of the consumer market has ever demanded more authenticity from brands than millennials, and so few companies are delivering. Yes, many enterprises claim authenticity, and create expensive advertising to promote it. But walk into their stores, try to return items via their websites, and check what is being said about them online, and the story can be very different.

As we have mentioned (endlessly) before, every customer/vendor touchpoint is an instance of brand interaction. When your sales clerks, your web designers, and your tech support agents are not fully vested and trained in authentic care of the customer, you lose. With millennials, you lose big.

Set your corporate culture, your training programs, and your internal incentives accordingly.

Trust Me. I’m In Marketing.

Trust isn’t what it used to be, because there isn’t much left.

A report by Richard Edelman surveys people from countries around the globe to see who they trusted or not. Trust in government is low, but then again no sane person really trusts that much concentrated power. Trust in the media has plummeted as alleged journalists have removed their masks to expose their unmade partisan and ideological faces. Only businesses and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) score above the 50% mark, and they do so with no margin for error.

Who the heck is this Trust fellow?

All relationships are built on trust. If you don’t believe that, go buy a candy bar and think about the layers of trust incorporated in a simple purchase. You trust the maker of the candy bar not to poison you, which means you trust their trust in agricultural and chemical suppliers. You trust the store to not sell you past-dated products, and you trust the cashier to make correct change. There is a lot of trust in snack food.

Any company selling any product has to be trusted. The more trust consumers have in a brand, the easier the sale and the higher the margins that can be charged. Companies with no public trust seldom live very long.

Trust is a key marketing job, which is odd since most people distrust marketers.

I believe I might trust you

Trust is a belief system, and as such, it is no different than religion. You choose to believe what you believe, and marketing’s job is to guide you to that belief.

For marketing, creating a belief system is an additive process. You create belief through convincing one person at a time that your product will do something desirable. Over time, a critical mass of people will adopt this belief in your company and products, and the force of the belief system will amplify itself.

Of the most trusted brands, we see familiar names with strong beliefs, which may or may not be justified. People trust Southwest Airlines and Benadryl allergy medicines. They believe Southwest will transport them for little money, on time, and crash-free. People trust Benadryl will keep them from sneezing on their dates.

The point is that people will buy from trusted firms more readily because people believe they will get what they are paying for, and perhaps more. I have been on both delayed and canceled Southwest flights, but that does not rewrite the basic trust equation. I know I can get generic Benadryl, but when my wife was needing the medication, I got the brand name anyway.

Trust me to market correctly

bp-logosA lack of trust has the opposite effect. If you lose public trust, you may lose your company. Marketers (and CEOs, who are also on the low-trust list) need to make trust a central part of their public outreach. The CEO needs to instill a duty to trustworthiness throughout the entire organization, from manufacturing to sales to support.

Marketing needs to communicate trustworthiness. There is a reason British Petroleum (BP) has a logo that looks like the sun, a flower and a salad. It is also the reason people mocked the logo after the great BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The logo was designed, in part, to project trustworthiness. It said in part “We care about the environment.” The handling of the oil spill said otherwise.

Decide what your customers need to trust about you. If you make cars, does your market want to believe you make them safe, fast, sexy? Do all your communications reflect the belief the market wants to have about you? Add this to your wall chart of daily marketing affirmations.

Plan to Scramble

Sadly, go-to-market strategy planning has fallen out of vogue in Silicon Valley, for all the rightly wrong reasons.

The untempered M.O. of startups today is growth hacking. This is a work- and risk-intensive system that is, according to Wikipedia, “A process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business.”

The key word is “experimentation”. Experiments are conducted to discover the unknown. Hence, the goal of growth hacking is to discover the best way to grow your company when the path to growth is vague.

The problem is that the right paths are often known, or at least 90% of the bad paths can be eliminated before the first marketing dollar is spent. Traditional strategy development never picks the perfect plan on the first try, but it does typically find a low-risk path with very probable results.

Silicon Valley and the global tech community have waded into the deep end by applying growth hacking – a system that is necessary for new markets with unknown issues – to markets that they can quite easily map and thus define rational go-to-market strategies. Some start-ups waste a couple of years and hundreds of thousands of venture capital dollars in experiments for which, at a later date, someone in the company will say “Well, that was dumb!”

What every founder needs to do is first map their markets. Understand to the best degree possible the buyers, their motivations and how they prefer to learn about products such as yours. Once you do this, ask yourself “Do I know 60% or more of what I need to know in order to start selling?” If so, then growth hacking is a waste of human energy and VC cash. Colin Powell, the general who led the first war against Iraq and saved the Kuwaiti nation, said “Study until you know 60% of what you need to know, then go with your gut.”

Don’t believe your market is so new and disruptive that it is unknowable. Most likely if isn’t.

Impatient Ideas

Clarke’s Law of Great Ideas eloquently summarizes the four phases your boss passes through after you insert a novel new idea into his alleged mind:

  • It is impossible – don’t waste my time.
  • It is possible, but it is not worth doing.
  • I said it was a good idea all along.
  • Members of the board, here is my idea.

But it isn’t just your boss. It is your market that goes from utter disbelief to passionate involvement over time. Marketing’s job it to short circuit the disbelief/belief gap and reduce the time to mass market acceptance.

It ain’t easy. If it was, then anyone could do it.

concept acceptance over time - adapted from Seth GodinSeth Godin recently opined on the topic, and provided a graph (we prettied it up) which shows that in the short-run, ideas are not warmly met by everyone. Yes, a small set of early adopters “gets it”, but most of the market fails to see the value of any new product, including yours. If the idea has any mass market merit at all, in time everyone in the market will “get it”.

But not every company has the time to wait on an entire market to wise-up. One of marketing’s many jobs is to compress the time from product introduction to a universal belief that the product is good, valuable, and so popular that not buying it is a display of mental instability bested only by running for elected office.

In the graph above, the obvious element is the difference between early adopters and laggards – the people who get it and the people who don’t. You can spend a ton of cash and blather until your continence turns a lovely shade of cyan and still not get a market to accept your product. But people who get it can and often do so for free.

How does an idea become common knowledge – the right end of the graph? By being “common”. Good ideas – and even some bad ones – reach a critical mass of acceptance. When they do, the knee of the curve is reached and the market self-perpetuates the belief. The idea appears to be universal, and thus is accepted as such. Al Gore promoted anthropogenic global warming as “settled science” in order to make the idea appear universal (if it was or wasn’t was immaterial – he had to make the public believe it was).

How does a marketer make buyers reach this point of assumed mass consensus? One reason social media is such a popular marketing tool is that it creates the illusion of peer-level consensus. “People” visuals in promotions create the illusion that real humans (not just stock photo models) believe in the product. “Booth babes” that can attract and hold visitors at a trade event indirectly create a sense of broad consumer interest.

The mechanics of these different approaches are that they tap into a common belief system – that being part of a group is better than being a disgruntled dissenter. Humans are pack animals, and though we may choose to run with different packs, only über eccentrics are not in one pack or another. Social media to sell apps, photos of families to promote gout medicines, and even smoking hot women in skimpy outfits roping in tech tradeshow geeks are part of stimulating pack mentality. These are forms of “getting it”, being part of a group, and sharing some innate belief. This is essential to short circuiting mass acceptance, be it for environmental consciousness or toothpaste.

Startup Marketing Mistakes

How do founders kill their companies? Most often by not understanding the basics of marketing strategy.

I spent a pleasent hour at Draper University speaking to students about the top three ways Silicon Valley startup founders crash their own companies. Draper kindly provided video from the event, and you can watch the whole presentation.

Guy Smith speaking at Draper University on the marketing mistakes that kill startups


For a full course on the basics of marketing strategy, get a copy of our book The Start-up CEO’s Marketing Manual at

(if you have technical difficulties watching the embeded video above, it is available at YouTube at

Restricted Brand

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am not a Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative. Hence, this article is non-aligned.

censored content google facebook twitterAre Facebook, Twitter and Google corrupting their brands by being socially underhanded?

Of late, both Facebook and Twitter have been publicly accused of censoring non-left-of-center content. Now Google admits to blocking advertisements due to Google’s perception of social desirability. In each instance, these corporate goliaths, which together control the flow of most online human interaction, either admit to or are accused of filtering legal content based on their perception of what should or should not be.

The new media is aping the old media, and runs the risk of the same fate.

Regardless of if you agree or disagree with the filtered content, the troubling aspect is that large corporations are deciding what content their users should and should not see. Outside of endangering activities (e.g. terrorism, child porn, congress convening), the Internet has been libertarian in nature. The consumer, now provided with ample choices for everything, could consume the content they preferred.

Herein is where Google, Facebook and Twitter are engineering their own potential downfall by Continue reading

Marketing is from Mars, Sales is from Venus

Some things are predictable. Politicians lie. The sun rises in the East. Sales and marketing don’t get along.

The misalignment between sales and marketing is legendary to the point of cliché. The reasons are both obvious and not-so-obvious, yet all distill down to perspective. Neither sales nor marketing can change their perspective, nor would that be desirable. But one of the two teams can adapt. This will not end the misalignment, but it will increase profits.


A definition of the word perspective is “the faculty of seeing relevant data in a meaningful relationship.” The gotcha word is “relevant”. What is relevant to a salesperson struggling to make their quarterly quota is different than what is relevant to a CMO trying to enhance a brand.

People with different perspectives rarely unite. Airlift a rural bible-belt citizen into a San Francisco transgender convention, and there will be little shared perspectives at first (though some begrudged concessions may occur after chitchat and cocktails). The perspectives not shared between sales and marketing are numerous and profound. Yet only one side has the ability and leisure to obtain a little of the perspective of the other side.

Where are the differences? A short list includes: Continue reading