Why you don’t need to be the product expert to be the product marketer

In 1912, McCann Erickson Advertising trademarked The Truth Well Told as their moniker. It perfectly summed up the job of advertising then, and still does today.

Our job as product marketers is to find the core truth in the brand we’re selling. The core truth is what people say about our product, unprompted and off the cuff. If we can capture that truth in our communication, our words and pictures will strike a chord.

Unfortunately, you usually won’t find that truth in a marketing brief written by your client. Here’s why.

as expertise goes up, perspective goes down

If your client is the founder of the company, chances are they invented the product. They know it inside out.

The same goes for anyone who is working at the company in a role directly linked to the product. It’s what they eat, drink and sleep. That product is core to their professional existence. Darn tootin’ they’re product experts.

Ironically, this expertise robs them of perspective. They’re so enamoured by their product that they’re unable to see it with unbiased eyes. A bit like proud parents that simply can’t understand why the school principal doesn’t recognize the genius of little Tommy.

This is why company insiders generally make terrible ad writers. The features and benefits they put in their ads aren’t the features and benefits that casual, apathetic outsiders – aka consumers – are looking for.

It’s also the reason you’ll rarely find a core truth about the product in a brief given by that company insider.

the best product marketers are consumer experts

My clients hire me because I bring an outsider’s perspective to their business. That enables me to see their product through dispassionate eyes.

But they also hire me because I love to hang out and chat with their consumers. Long before I get around to generating ideas, I have dozens of phone calls with the folks who buy the product. When I worked on McDonald’s, I hung out at the restaurants. When I helped launch Pomme Natural Markets, I made a point of engaging folks in the supermarket aisles. I love playing anthropologist, just watching people interact with the product.

I also love playing psychologist, figuring out what their hidden drivers are. The fact is, most consumers can’t tell you why they love a product. When you put them on the spot, they’ll give you reasons aplenty. But those reasons are often rational and sensible. They aren’t the visceral, emotional reasons that really drive the bond.

The job of every good marketer is to get to those visceral emotions as quickly as possible. They’re the foundation of the core truth I talked about at the beginning of this post.

For a healthy relationship, don’t get too close

While working at an ad agency in Europe, I met a creative director who had done nothing but orange juice advertising for five years. She knew the product inside out.

Unfortunately, she had completely lost the ability to generate fresh ideas. As a result, her work was abysmal.

Sure, you can say Lee Clow at Chiat Day Advertising has worked on Apple since the computer company launched, and he does great work. Thing is, Lee (and his army of creatives) work on multiple accounts in addition to Apple.

Perspective is something you can lose. My friend and mentor Mike Maddock said that you only have six months of fresh ‘outside the jar’ thinking at a company before you lose your ability to see the product as an outsider does. According to Mike, the real danger of going ‘inside the jar’ isn’t that you lose the outsider’s perspective – rather, it’s that you don’t realize you’ve lost it. The jar’s glass walls lull you into thinking you still have ‘outsider cred’. Out of touch communication is the result.

So resist the urge to impress your client by knowing more about their product than they do. Instead, make it your mission to understand the consumer better than your client ever could. Your outsider perspective is what will make the cash register ring.

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