Don’t base your marketing on worst-case scenarios

When it comes to marketing, one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen companies make is basing their decisions and efforts on whatever troubles them most.

It may be an aspect of their product or service about which they’re particularly sensitive. Could be a perceived flaw they worry the competition will exploit. It can even come down to a touch of internal paranoia.

Whatever that worst case may be, they address it through their sales and marketing messages and ignore their real strengths and what makes their offering unique. As a result, they fail to connect effectively with the most promising (and usually largest) market segments.

Worst-case marketing has many sources, but one of the most common is sales teams. When I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with clients’ salespeople and ask about the marketing tools and tactics that would best support their efforts, many concentrate on that one prospect they just can’t land. They focus on what it would take to capture that one prospect’s attention, then declare it’s exactly what the whole company needs.

I’m a salesman’s kid, and nobody has more respect and affection for those who tackle one of the toughest jobs in business. However, focusing on your worst prospect is nearly always the wrong call.

If you can connect with everyone else in your territory, and everyone but Mr. Mugwump is willing to buy, you’ve found a highly effective message and a powerful strategy. If you shift your approach to focus on Mugwump’s preferences, you’ll probably leave most of your other customers behind.

When companies base their strategies and tactics on what they’ve been unable to accomplish, instead of duplicating the efforts that have already generated success, they foolishly stroll away from the most effective ideas.

A similar shortfall happens when companies concentrate on some small subset of the market instead of focusing on the needs and preferences of the larger majority.

Still another example is the company that’s absolutely terrified it might offend a prospect or a customer. They’ve come up with a powerful, exciting message, but they start to have second thoughts. The new message just might upset someone. Perhaps they’ll think that we’re being cocky. The longer they study the new message, the more nightmarish the scenarios they imagine. Before long, their new message seems risky and wrong, so they retreat.

Simple fact of life: no matter how carefully you try, you’re going to offend someone. Your most innocuous message is going to strike someone the wrong way. When you get their angry email, you’ll think, “I had no idea anyone could interpret it that way.” Some people are just ready to be offended with minimal prompting. Others are simply insane. When you base your decision-making upon that handful of folks who just might be offended, you’ve let them become the tiny tail that’s wagging a much-larger dog.

The good news is there’s a simple antidote to worst-case sales and marketing. It’s called confidence. Knowing who you are, knowing what makes you different, and stating that with pride.

Focusing on what already works may not be as exciting as dreaming up something dramatically new. And yes, landing one sale from that worst-case prospect may be more satisfying than making 100 repeat sales to folks who already like you. But if your objective is to grow your business, you’ll do much better when you put your worst-case goals aside and concentrate on putting your best feet forward.