Should Marketers Think Like Journalists?


Should Marketers Think Like Journalists?

The answer is somewhere in the middle.

In a time when the freedom of the press ("the only named profession in the U.S. constitution" - TechCrunch) is under threat, I'm interested in how the definition of journalism is shifting in a time of business-model pressure-cooker cuts and how we hold powers to account.

From a marketing perspective, I believe we need to be crystal clear where journalism serves as a good example for what we do, and when it's simply ridiculous to call ourselves journalists. Here's my take - I'd love to hear yours in the comments. (Be nice.)

Note: This post originally appeared on (the excellent) Managing Editor Magazine.


Content marketing was first lauded as the future of marketing (“the only marketing left”) in 2008. It was positioned as an opportunity for marketers to serve their audiences as journalists do.

So content marketers frequently hear the advice that they should think like journalists.

I don’t disagree — but I don’t think we should take this guidance at face value. It’s more nuanced than that.

A Deficit of [Thought] Leadership

Former President Barack Obama recently gave a speech in which he said he wanted to inspire new leaders.

“We have a deficit of leadership,” he said, “and we need new blood.”

In many ways I think the same is true for business leaders — we’re facing a deficit of original thinking, strong brand points of view and clear guidance for customers in the chaotic, fast-changing worlds of technology and media.

Consider that we operate in a world where the barrier to entry is low for starting a company and bringing it to market. It’s a world where 7,000-plus vendors compete for a share of the CMO’s wallet while thousands more compete in the worlds of accounting, financial tech, HR technology and every other function-based technology landscape you can imagine.

There’s simply more competition for B2B buyers’ attention than ever.

Also consider that our efforts in marketing to differentiate through content are falling flat. Where content marketing was once the future of the industry (“content is king” and all that) we’re waking up to the realities of its economics.

The vast majority of B2B organizations (91 percent) use content marketing, while 60-70 percent of B2B content goes unused by our sales counterparts. Only 14 percent of buyers think the quality of the thought leadership they read is “very good” or “excellent.”

That’s terrible.

If we can’t lead with our ideas, how do we expect to break through to buyers? You can’t afford to play a passive role in the narratives affecting your industry.

What’s the Difference Between Journalism and Marketing?

Here’s the heart of the issue for me: Journalism is objective. Marketing is not.

The ultimate goal of marketing is to create change. Having an agenda is part of our purview.

Without one we’re doing nothing more in our content than reporting on the way things are — and adding to the noise. Reporting on the way things are is only half the battle. Marketing is meant to provide a prescriptive set of insights about what to do next.

Content should help a buyer see their world differently. It should move them toward the reality created in part by our products. Each piece should play a clear role in helping them make a decision.

Anything else is purely adding to the noise of a buying experience inundated and overwhelmed by information.

Clarify Your Point of View

Some of the most effective marketing distinctly aligns itself with customers on the basis of what both company and customer believe.

Look at consumer brands like Nike, with its well-targeted Colin Kaepernick campaign, and Gillettewith its recent “We Believe” campaign. Look at what was able to achieve by taking a stance against on-premises software. Look at the success of Moz in railing against black-hat SEO techniques and moving an entire industry toward a better future.

Yes, brands may receive some backlash for having a point of view and taking a stand. But, to quote the creative director Bill Bernbach, “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you.”

Nike’s value went up by about $6 billion in the first three weeks after launching the Kaepernick campaign. It’s an example of the reality that 76 percent of buyers say CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it. Many consumers in fact are looking to brands to be stewards in society, to use their influence to move industries in one direction or another.

And that’s where content born of a journalistic mindset tends to fall short. It carries no agenda, brings no North Star, and gives buyers nowhere to go.

The mattress brand Casper found out the hard way that brand journalism isn’t always a viable model. In 2015 the company launched a standalone online publication, Van Winkle’s. It was lauded by industry awards as “the second-best content marketing effort of 2015” and the “best branded editorial experience” in 2016. Two years later Van Winkle’s was gone.

Per Digiday:

“… despite the accolades, Van Winkle’s had no monetization strategy, and Casper’s senior management started questioning why they were producing the publication a few months after its launch.”

“At the end of the day, brands are performance marketers. If you don’t deliver business results they will let you go,” Van Winkle’s former editor-in-chief said.

In other words, we can’t be successful with content marketing if we’re opposed to the ultimate responsibility of driving business. If driving sales feels “icky” you need to re-examine your priorities as a marketer (and possibly your career choice).

Journalistic Content with an Agenda

I’m sure I’ve now riled up everyone who sees their job as a mix of journalism and marketing. You’re not wrong!

There are brands that are killing it with journalistic content at the top of the funnel. Look at WeWork’s site, Creator, dedicated to “covering all of the things that make WeWork’s community tick.”


Originally “WeWork Magazine,” this site tells the WeWork story and builds brand awareness through stories of its members and related values. Traffic brings brand awareness and new tenant leads, and it serves as a powerful differentiator (show me another commercial real estate firm dedicated to journalistic endeavors like this!).

It is also 100 percent aligned to the company’s core offering:

“Our product is community and the magazine is a digital extension of our community,” says Christina Choi, former editorial director (now in brand marketing for the firm).

This is content with an agenda that looks and feels like journalism.

3 Things to Steal from Journalism

At the risk of Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde-ing this entire narrative, I do believe there’s a lot about good journalism that marketers can learn from.

Note that I said “good journalism.”

“There is good and bad everything — movies, film, food and especially journalism,” says Melanie Deziel, someone who has taught me a lot about native advertising and branded content.

Melanie helped me clarify an important point:

“Bad journalism is a bad model for content marketing.”

As she explained, great journalism provides a framework for the content people trust, what they’re interested in sharing and what kind of relationship they expect with an organization (like a publisher) that’s worth subscribing to.

For us to get content right, we need to follow certain tenets of great journalism, specifically:

Sourcing. The point of view of your CEO/CMO/CTO must be balanced by outside perspectives, namely research studies, customers and other industry experts.

Newsworthiness. Ask “why does our reader care, and what makes this story special?” There’s an inherent challenge here to say something different, to come at it from a different angle or to present it in a new way that’s valuable for your audience.

Face case. News stories often open with a personal story — an immigrant or federal employee affected by policy, for example. That allows the audience to instantly relate before they go into the broader story. It’s hard for humans to relate to macro trends, charts and big numbers (as important as those are for credibility). Content marketers must, like journalists, find a face in the story. It could be a customer, employee, community partner or vendor. If your story doesn’t have a person in it, readers can’t put themselves in that story.

Caught in the Middle

As I mentioned, this issue is nuanced. Like most business advice, there’s no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all guidance to give every brand, especially in B2B.

Customers need to fall in love with our brand and our ideas through our content. But marketers who operate like bad journalists, adding to the noise and ultimately abdicating the responsibility of driving business results, will find their tenure cut short.

Strike a balance. Find a happy medium between hype-filled product content and objective journalism meant to inform, not persuade.

Let’s meet somewhere in the middle.

Note: This post originally appeared on Managing Editor Magazine.


Hear more of my POV on content in my session at this year's Content Marketing World 2019 -- I have a lot to say (and a discount code!)

Every week I send a newsletter on marketing, business, and life. It's free and curated by me. Are you on the list?


“Super Pumped:” Taken to Marketing Church at Adobe/Marketo Summit 2019


“Super Pumped:” Taken to Marketing Church at Adobe/Marketo Summit 2019

It was part reality check, part call-to-arms, part sermon for marketers from Marketo CMO, Sarah Kennedy at last week’s Marketo Summit @ Adobe Summit keynote, where she said:


“You don’t have to be in sales to talk to prospects. You don't have to be in customer success to advocate for the customer. You don’t need to be a CIO to advocate for better technology."


Ultimately it was a mandate; step up and lead.

“Do it,” Kennedy said, “even if you’re scared.”

Kennedy stepped into the role of CMO at Marketo one year prior to its acquisition by Adobe (the largest to-date from Adobe), and just 18 months before this keynote, in which she bluntly admitted her own fear: 

“If you don’t feel ready, I hear you. I didn’t either.”

Vulnerability on a keynote stage is rare - when it happens it’s like a fleeting glimpse of humanity in an otherwise scripted, highly-produced (note: beautifully designed, Sergio) performance that audiences come to expect from a major tech keynote presented to a room holding 17,000 chairs.

Did all 17,000 attendees stay to watch this Marketing Nation Summit keynote, held on day three of the broader Adobe Summit? No.

Boy, do I wish they did. 

Maybe you opted out of the event this year as well, couldn’t make it, or found yourself elsewhere. Whichever camp you were in, hungover or hung up on other responsibilities, here’s what you missed, through my eyes.

Note: My travel and ticket were covered by Adobe, but my POV is 100% my own.

(Thank GOD she remembered the disclosure, says their PR team with a sigh of relief.)

Carrying the heavy torch of marketing to marketers

I’m of the mindset that great leaders make no secret what they believe. 

Nowhere is this practice more important than in the weird world I’ve found myself in for the last decade: marketing to marketers.

Marketo was always heralded for its ability to teach, guide, and relate to marketers. “Marketing is hard” became a simple, but effective hook back in the days of the earliest Marketo Summit. 

Simple, but damn powerful. An exceptional truth.

Starting a decade+ ago, Jon Miller (one of Marketo’s original founders) executed a content marketing strategy full of “definitive guides” and step-by-step instructions on how to navigate the changing waters of marketing in the digital age. The company educated its buyers, a move wildly appreciated by marketers just trying to figure it all out, and a fine example of what happens when you get buyers to think of their world in your terms.

It was one of many reasons Marketo succeeded in becoming a beloved brand. (Its rivals, Eloqua and, downmarket, Hubspot, saw similar success with a comparable content strategies.)

A major part of the brand’s ability to support the evolving role of marketing operations was Marketing Nation, a community of marketers helping marketers through user groups and peer-led champions.

“We get you” the brand seemed to say, in a kind of Oprah-like delivery. We see you, you’re doing okay. You’ve got this.


That sense of confidence instilled was as important to signing the dotted line to buy Marketo as the quality of its cloud technology. 

What will happen to Marketo?

To me, this is what made Sarah Kennedy's keynote so powerful in this particular moment in the company’s history.

Uncertainty abounded before - and during - the show, as myself and many others asked: What will come of Marketo and the Marketing Nation now that it had been scooped up by Adobe?

To be fair, it’s early yet, the acquisition only six months old.

But, at the Summit, positive signs emerged early-on from Adobe itself: CMO Ann Lewnes was asked “What excites you most about adding Marketo to the portfolio?” 

She responded, exuberantly, “Using Marketo! We are customer zero. This is the best B2B marketing solution, bar none.”

 At a broader level, the acquisition was framed within Adobe CEO, Shantanu Narayen’s opening statement “we aim to change the world through digital experiences.”


He explained Adobe’s creative cloud empowered people to create (with a belief that everyone has a story to tell), that their document cloud activated all digital documents, while their experience cloud (of which Marketo is now part) would “transform how businesses compete in the digital era.”

A shared vision to help companies make digital a headwind, or a tailwind.

As Steve Lucas bounded on stage with his trademark energy and “SUPER PUMPED” mantra (it’s infectious), it was comforting to realize some things would never change.

He delivered some expected lines (“with Marketo now part of the experience cloud, it unlocks new capabilities across advertising, analytics, and commerce”) and some B2B surprises like ABX - a new account-based experience that is still vague but will somehow incorporate Adobe’s capabilities with Microsoft and its Dynamics CRM and LinkedIn (owned by MSFT.)


The promise (to be fulfilled): “With addition of Marketo, Adobe Marketing Cloud enables you to personalize, optimize, and orchestrate cross-channel campaigns across B2B and B2C, enable end to end marketing for B2E (business to everyone.)”

B2E, clever.

This was all in line with the messaging coming out of the initial acquisition.


A powerful example of leadership.

But it was Kennedy who left me reeling.

Her keynote ended the morning’s talks, but it did so with a bang.

 It gave me, someone who has grown up with the company as a customer, technology partner, sponsor, and now contractor, the confidence that this brand was still by and for the marketer. 

Kennedy chose to share three “forever truths” that guided her as CMO; revealing, as she put it, what “a little more time in the chair” taught her:

  1. The customer (in moments of doubt, lean into the voice of the customer.)

  2. The community (we’re not going through this alone. Never forget whose brand this really is.)

  3. The calling (your time to lead is now.)

She spoke to the emotional state of nearly every marketing leader in that room:

 “If you don’t feel ready, I hear you. I didn’t either. The calling is for us to jump, find that parachute on the way down, and step into that divide. Lead your companies from the front without fear, and do so with [Marketo/Adobe] as a partner. You have a passionate and powerful nation behind you.”


In one fell swoop, Sarah broke down that enormous barrier that exists between a speaker standing in front of a football-field-length keynote screen, and the audience they are there to connect with. 

She reminded marketers that she, like us, was in the same strange boat of digital transformation amid choppy waters. She had been asked to lead transformation when she joined just 18 months prior, rebuild a team, rearchitect their go-to-market. She was asked to lead change, doing whatever it took to guide the organization through transformation.

It was the same charter laid before any marketer at any high-growth firm, in any industry.

(All the while with the reminder of that short, average-CMO-tenure hovering overhead like a personal storm cloud.)

This was personal, powerful marketer-to-marketer messaging that I connected with stronger than any other given through the duration of the Summit. This was what I had worried would be lost in this acquisition. This is what attracted so many to the Marketo brand and why, as Narayen said in his opening talk “Marketo’s empathy for its customers” was a major factor in its acquisition.


Recognizing Marketo’s role as career catalyst

What her personal, vulnerable story indicated was that Marketo, with her as a brand steward, still understood its chief role for many of their strongest customer advocates, that of “career catalyst.” 50,000 individuals have "Marketo" in their profile on LinkedIn. It has accelerated and carved a path of success for many in the marketing operations field.

Later in the event, I sat down with two Marketo customers, Sydney Mulligan + Amy Connors, who each agreed Marketo changed their careers (and lives) for the better.

(I’ll update the post with videos once they’re live, for now here's a behind-the-scenes shot. Oprah for hire, here.)


Marketo is now part of the larger, broader, more substantial behemoth that is Adobe, which is also undergoing its own digital transformation, brilliantly led by Narayen who has pushed through major shifts to its business model (from creative software in a box to a subscription model,) expanding their focus (squarely a marketing company now with its acquisition of Magento’s eCommerce capabilities and Marketo with it’s end-to-end lead management engine), while maintaining its dedication to a community of creators and designers.

Ultimately what left me feeling super pumped (thanks Steve) was this final point that Kennedy made: the calling.

“Each of you needs to be ready to lead. To be a catalyst for growth, to take ownership over every step of your customers’ journey. Transform teams into marketing growth engines by making engagement your top priority. Make every experience epic.

It’s marketing’s time to lead. Your company, customers, and communities need you to do so.”

Here was a rallying cry for marketers amid a chaotic world of change.

Here was earnest confidence from one of our own.

Here was a stage featuring two admirable CMOs (Kennedy and Lewnes) who were both shining examples of what each marketer was not only tasked to do, but could do within our own organizations.

And there was a shiver going through my spine as I felt something sitting in that audience. Please note this was the final of seven, yes seven events I had attended this month alone (not complaining. Just putting it in context.)

That’s what a great keynote should do. That’s what a powerful leader should do. That’s what a brand must be in an age of confusion, noise, and change.

For overwhelmed buyers, clarity amid the ambiguity, confidence amid the change, a vision for the future, and honesty about the challenges faced is like cold-as-ice lemonade on a hot Vegas day. (OK, gin and tonic, let’s be real.)

I don’t envy anyone who has, like me, chosen to market to marketers. It’s a thankless job full of skeptical eyes, with buyers well aware of the moves being made (for the most part) and setting the bar sky high as a result.

Ultimately, what a brand like Marketo must do is inspire its marketing buyers to see themselves in that brand. Customers need to relate to brand leaders who serve as spokespersons for their technology, and shepherds for their flock.

How refreshing to see exactly this, last week, from Kennedy.

Forgive all the church references, Easter is coming soon and my recovering-Catholic self is feeling the optimism of springtime, but for all intents and purposes this was a beautiful example of evangelism on-stage.

We were taken back to marketing church. 

And I, for one, was converted.



Thank you, Adobe, for having me as one of your 65 Adobe Summit insiders from around the globe. While I will always bristle at being called an "influencer," I was grateful for the chance to be part of this year's event.

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3 Takeaways and Action Items for Marketers from Modern CX 2019


3 Takeaways and Action Items for Marketers from Modern CX 2019

The question that was proposed by the Oracle Marketing Cloud team ahead of this year's event was simple:

“What does it take to be a great marketer in the age of the customer?” 

Modern CX 2019 tried to answer it for attendees from 37 countries, with 323 sessions and 424 speakers across 3 very busy days.

I was part of this year’s event as a speaker, correspondent (follow me on Twitter) and researcher (if you haven’t taken my 7-minute survey, please do!)

My POV comes as a marketer who was part of Eloqua Experience for years as a sponsor and partner, then a speaker and attendee at Modern Marketing Experience after the acquisition by Oracle, and now as a freelance consultant and observer at Modern Customer Experience. 

Here are my top three takeaways + action items (with bonus one-liners at the end) for marketers:

1. Oracle wants to help you outsmart time.

New EVP and GM of Oracle CX Cloud, Rob Tarkoff, first asked if there were any clocks visible in Las Vegas.

His point:

“Time is the currency of the Experience Economy."

"It’s now. It’s urgent. CX is a race against time… It’s about looking at the world through your customers’ eyes and asking yourself: Is every experience that my brand delivers worth the time a customer invests with me?”

This focus on time was a common thread of the main stage talks. 

New updates to the Oracle Marketing Cloud reflect this focus, allowing marketers to make the most of the limited time they do have with prospects, and optimize the “micro-moments” that occur in the process of a buyer engaging with a company. 

The best place to read about those is within Ginger Conlon's thorough piece for The Drum:

Updates to Oracle Infinity and Oracle Maxymiser include an integration between the two designed to provide marketers with the ability to visualize user behaviors with heat and zone maps — allowing them to improve the customer experience on their website. [Maximizing their time on-site.]

Additionally, the new Oracle Infinity Action Center provides insight into behavioral data from across touchpoints that marketers can use to improve segmentation and better personalize communications in real time. And a new Recommender engine uses that behavioral data to support one-to-one targeting at scale.

Collectively, these updates aim to provide marketers real-time intelligence so they can respond to customers’ nearly unpredictable actions in the moments that matter.

For B2B, a new Oracle Eloqua integration with Oracle Data Cloud + Oracle DataFox (purchased in October 2018) lends new insight into intent and account behaviors. It allows teams to know the best, most relevant time to engage with target accounts based on their noteworthy behavior across 5M digital properties, 70k daily news articles, and other “growth signals” across the web. 

Is every experience worth their time?


Marketers need to remove our rose-colored glasses, take a hard look at the current experience a buyer has with our brand, and ask (as Tarkoff recommends): “Is every experience that my brand delivers worth the time a customer invests with me?”

2. New UX for sales raises the stakes for marketing’s thought leadership.

From the main stage, Hillel Cooperman, SVP of User Experience Design at Oracle, shared a peek of what is to come within the Oracle Sales Cloud. 

He walked through a beautifully designed experience for a sales rep: A Facebook newsfeed-esque layout shows a history of a prospect’s behavior (what they read, downloaded, or what Marketing sent), while AI transcribes their call, conducts a sentiment analysis, and recommends what to say next to move the deal forward.

These contextual insights were instant, prescriptive, and powerful. Oracle’s vision is that more time can be spent “focusing on sales priorities, and less time spent on non-selling, administrative tasks.” 

I was impressed by this demo, and felt it looked beautifully constructed for the reality of a sales rep day-to-day. 


From a marketing perspective, none of this very cool tech matters unless we’re able to equip the sales team with original, prescriptive, and relevant insights to help that buyer move forward, and see their world differently. 

Tarkoff echoed this sentiment later, saying "If the majority of buying journey happens before a customer talks to sales, how do we ensure they are prepared as experts?” 

3. In the experience economy, Marketing must learn from UX

Cooperman’s talk demonstrated a renewed commitment from Oracle on the user experience of their applications.

“Good enough is not good enough anymore. We're reconnecting with design and want to be the best at user experience. Not functional, not just helpful but delightful. We want you to fall in love with it," he said.

His POV is excellent advice for anyone designing or marketing products. We can’t dream about creating a great customer experience without working to improve the process post-sale. A beautiful user experience for our tools is paramount to keeping customers loyal. 

It's also what makes or breaks the adoption and success of any tool, a sentiment echo’d by Motorola Solutions’ Andrew Sinclair later on the main stage as he described how Oracle helps them to provide contextual, just-in-time insights to workers in a 911 call center, who daily deal with "moments of terror":

“A dashboard filled with information during a moment of terror helps nobody.”

Here, Motorola Solutions puts the user first, giving them clear guidance on "what to do next."

In a similar vein, marketers need to take a page from the book of UX when we consider what kind of experience we’re creating for buyers pre-sale. 

As I shared in a 15-minute talk at this year's show, CEB found that the majority of B2B buyers are well-informed, but overwhelmed and uncertain.

Much of this is because marketing overloads them with information, instead of making the buying process clear, simple, or easy. 

Some quick tips here:

1. Make it clear in your content about why change matters in the first place. Your buyer will come back to this point more than any other during the long sales process. 

2. Be prescriptive about what their process will be to change. Get ahead of their concerns. 

3. Help a buyer sell the vision internally by equipping them with answers for the questions and priorities that all stakeholders will have in the deal (yes, in your marketing content.)

4. Audit your resource library of content every single freaking year. 60-70% of all content churned out by B2B marketing departments sits unused by Sales (SiriusDecisions.) Less is more.

5. Start with the buyer. I know this is old news but I will never stop beating this drum. In a time when all vendors have access to the same tools, the team that knows their buyers best will win. Challenge your assumptions about the people you’re selling to, and ensure every piece of content you produce answers one of their hard-pressing questions.

This is what vendors like Oracle mean when they make big bets to re-focus their products/conferences on the “customer experience.” 

We’re being asked to design an experience. That means great marketers are already thinking like their UX counterparts. After all, we have the same goal; make a product as desirable to a customer as possible.


Marketers, think like UX designers do. Remove what’s unnecessary. Make it beautiful. More is not better. Clear is better. Intentional is better. Customer-centric is better. 

My favorite one-liners from the show.

“It takes 80 touches to sell an app to a customer at Oracle. The first 20 are the hardest.”

-- CEO Mark Hurd speaking truth to the need for strong, bold early-stage messaging and content. Amen.

“If asked to lead, do so with empathy, thick skin, and a great team.”

-- Donna Epps at Ricoh

“NO to me are the first two letters of ‘not now’”

-- Mick Ebeling, CEO of Not Impossible

“The Olympics is about people who go from ordinary to extraordinary”

-- Jennifer Storms, CMO of NBC Sports, as she explained the company’s “persona plans” which highlight the amazing stories of athletes. We fall in love with them. Who are your olympic athletes? What are their stories?

BONUS TAKEAWAY: There’s no such thing as TOO dressed up for the Markies. 

Thanks to Oracle Marketing Cloud for having me! You can see more in my Twitter momentwatch the keynotes on-demand here, and learn more about their 2020 event here.

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Pay Attention, Be Astonished: Thoughts On That Gillette Ad


Pay Attention, Be Astonished: Thoughts On That Gillette Ad

Mary Oliver died this week.

The beloved poet once wrote:

“Instructions for living a life: / Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.”

Also this week, Gillette launched its campaign, “We Believe” and many friends and colleagues shared it with me, asking for my POV.

Taking a cue from Mary Oliver, I am paying attention. I am (a bit) astonished. And, so here I am telling about it.

Like I’ve done in the past, I want to address this campaign with a question:

“How should we respond?”

The ad shows men and boys acting a fool - sexual harassment, bullying, and setting poor examples for their children. The spot ends with a question of whether this is indeed “the best a man could be” (a riff on its now 30-year-old tagline “Best a Man Can Get”) and encouraging men to “strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.”

Here’s how some consumers have responded:

In a world where media outlets profit from sensational stories, publications like Business Insider have made it seem like a barrage of angry men (with pitchforks, no doubt) are boycotting the ad.

Certainly, some loud voices like this guy with guns in a field (.......WHAT……) are stomping their feet, throwing their razors into the toilet in “protest” and generally being angry on social media. The reactions on the video's Youtube are overwhelmingly negative (trolls will be trolls.)

But, a survey this week of over 2,000 adults by Morning Consult found that the “backlash may be overblown — most people surveyed said they had a positive opinion of the ad after watching it.” FastCompany found the online response to the ad has been mostly positive.

How P&G has responded:

P&G has no plans to pull the spot despite the backlash.

“We recognize it’s sparking a lot of passionate dialogue — at the same time, it’s getting people to stop and think about what it means to be our best selves, which is the point of the spot,” said Pankaj Bhalla, Gillette brand director for North America via MarketWatch

That's in line with the microsite for the campaign on Gillette’s site, which explicitly states:

“It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture… From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette.”

WIRED found that the campaign came out of “the wake of #MeToo and a national conversation about the behavior of some of the country’s most powerful men.” The company conducted focus groups with men and women asking them how to define being a great man.

“...we asked ourselves the same question as a brand. How can we be a better version of ourselves?” said Bhalla.

Though some have rightfully highlighted some pretty sexist marketing moves by the brand, the statement above indicates the company is looking to admit it’s got to do better, and pledge that it will. (We should all pay attention to see if that’s the case.)

In addition, there seems to be far more to the campaign that simply this video. This particular spot is getting far more attention than the whole of the campaign, which features more positive stories in other spots. Via FastCompany:

“The idea of giving more meaning, depth, and accountability to Gillette’s decades-old slogan led the brand to create a series of ads exemplifying what it’s dubbed “bestness” from every conceivable angle. There’s the NFL spot with Shaquem Griffin, exploring how the one-handed Seahawks linebacker has achieved bestness against adversity, and there’s the YouTube ad for Gillette’s Treo razor, which showcases a middle-aged man taking care of his father (partly by shaving him). In the coming weeks, these ads will be joined by a new installment revealing what firefighters have to do to save lives.”

Was this a good move from Gillette?

From a marketing perspective -- Gillette is facing increasing noise from insurgent brands such as Dollar Shave Club (now owned by Unilever) and Harry’s shaving club (which recently netted $112M in new financing). The advent of contract manufacturing has made it easier for these brands to enter the space, and consumers are far more familiar with the subscription-style purchase that underpins their business model.

Harry’s is taking advantage of the buzz to deploy ads like this one below, which links to their mantra that “big razor brands have lured consumers into paying higher prices for razor models with new features.”


But, even though they’re loud, these brands only capture 8% and 2% of the $2.8 billion market, respectively. Gillette is still the big dog, competing mostly with Schick.

My take: I think this campaign was launched to make a very stark point -- we are not going to compete with any longer only on accessibility (delivered to your door) or blade quality and technological innovation. Now, it’s going to be a battle over values and cultural relevance.

As Scott Mautz, who used to work for Gillette’s parent company for 20+ years, said,

“At least it makes me feel something… I successfully ran the marketing for multiple billion-dollar brands at P&G and evaluated more advertising than I can remember. The criteria I always started with when reviewing a new ad was, does it make me feel something? Does it make me think? Laugh? Cry? Make me angry?”

Looking back, a decade ago, Gillette controlled 70% of the U.S. Market. Last year, its market share dropped to below 50%, forcing it to slash razor prices by 12%. (Note, it claims to have 70% of the market share on online retailers like Amazon and

This was a bold move from a brand that needed to create a bold, emotional reaction - and with 20M views on Youtube and a slew of press coverage, that’s exactly what was created.

This move is not totally radical for Gillette.

The company has a long history of associating their razors with values like virtue, potential, and mastery.

Salesman King C. Gillette invented the disposable safety razor at the turn of the last century, according to this CNBC piece.

“Clean-shaven faces were synonymous with virtue and manliness, a Western preoccupation that dates back to when Alexander the Great ordered his men to scrape off their beards before battling the Persian armies in 331 B.C., according to Christopher Oldstone-Moore, historian and author of the book, "Beards and Men."

"The country's future is written in the faces of young men," one blurb from 1910 declared, continuing, "The Gillette is a builder of regular habits. Own a Gillette—be a master of your time—shave in three minutes."  

Another ad from the same year indicated that Gillette's razors separated independent, civilized men from brutes and effeminate males: "Woman is the great civilizer. If it were not for her, man would revert to whiskers and carry a club. . . . "


So, why the backlash?

Truthfully, this particular ad felt like a patronizing PSA. It also inflamed tensions between genders further at a time when we are at our most polarized in the US, and when movements like feminism and #metoo are villainized by some as a threat.

“When we talk politics today, our voices are loud and fractious, always passionate and often divisive. Our conversations are rarely rational debates; they either become therapy sessions with like-minded partisans or devolve into shouting matches against the other side.”

- Thad Kousser, professor of political science and department chair at UC San Diego.

Part of me was astonished at the backlash.

How hard is it to support the idea that men should set good examples for their children, stand up for women, and refrain from sexually harassing anyone on the street or at work?

But let’s be real - it’s human nature to double-down on our identities and convictions when challenged.

(Anyone who’s had to suffer through a political discussion with family at the dinner table, or *shudder* in the comments section of a heated Facebook post knows the feeling.)

When confronted with our worst habits, or assumed stereotypes about us, we naturally bristle with defensiveness. It feels like a personal attack. When it happens in such a one-way medium as an advertisement, it can feel like we are not being given a chance to defend ourselves.

We feel voiceless.

And so, off to Twitter we go, to say f*ck you, Gillette, f*ck you for supporting “anti-men” sentiments. Not all men are this bad. Not all men are assholes. Not all men. Not all men. Not all men. On and on with this chorus until we feel justified in our anger.

When challenged directly in this fashion, asked to confront the worst of their behavior, many men (and some women) responded, as social media allows us to do, instantly and in an emotionally-charged, defensive, reactive way.

Proving the point.

Unfortunately, lacking much critical thought or empathy, these responses exhibited exactly why the #metoo movement exists: to call attention to real and uncomfortable instances of dangerous, toxic behavior in a world where few are held accountable for it.



These individuals who spoke up in anger demonstrated an incredible lack of self-awareness or integrity to admit that maybe, just maybe, the depiction of men in the ad was not entirely made-up.

That just maybe there was some accountability to be had.

How does it feel?

Now, I have to laugh, because the crux of the backlash, from where I sit, is that these men feel uncomfortable being shamed by an ad.

Yet, ads for decades have shamed women. We’re used to it.

What these men are feeling is an experience women have had viewing advertisements for much of our lives. See Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly for hundreds of examples.

Screen Shot 2019-01-18 at 5.39.57 PM.png

Our new normal

Part of me is resigned to the fate that we now exist in a world of marketing corporate morality, where brands in commoditized industries like razor blades for men feel that the only frontier left to compete on is that made up of the values they portray through their marketing, in an attempt to connect with consumers on a deeper level.

They know that many consumers won’t ever see the ad live, say, on a TV media buy — but look how many are talking about it. The viral nature of these ads means if brands take a position, the benefit of exposure is there.

Part of me is glad Gillette is using its reach for good - elevating an important message to millions. Another part of me is rolling my eyes that a razor company is advising anyone how to live their lives. Alas, this is the time in which we live. Lines are blurred between CEO and activist. (See Patagonia and Nike.)

I’ve written in the past about the danger of making it seem like the world is more ready to embrace progress than it really is (I call it an illusion of progress).

As an example of where we actually are in the real world, just heed the end of Gillette’s microsite, which presents us with an ironic call-to action.

“Follow how men are taking action!”

Screen Shot 2019-01-18 at 6.05.44 PM.png

Unfortunately, the action taken by many men in response to this campaign serves to remind us how far we have to go to combat the very real issue of toxic masculinity.

The Good Men Projects defines toxic masculinity as:

"a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away."

Personally, I’m not convinced corporate morality is the best solution to this very real problem. But, ads like this are certainly better than the alternative.

Now, gird up your loins, boys, for International Women’s Day is only 49 days away.  


Every week I send out new ideas, writings, and interesting links on marketing, business, and life. It’s free & curated by me.

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Why I Brought a Magician to a Marketing Conference


Why I Brought a Magician to a Marketing Conference

Buzzfeed once called Dan Chan “Silicon Valley’s favorite magician.

He’s performed at events for Google, Apple, Airbnb, and last month I invited this Master Magician to accompany me at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum.

Now, I had pulled a similar stunt at this show a few years ago as a sponsor, using a marching band in 2015 to bring attention to a startup I had co-founded the year prior.

But this time, my goal was twofold. First: get butts in the seats at my session. So, prior to my talk, we canvassed the halls of the event, giving people an impromptu magic show.

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Watch as Dan finishes a trick with Rob and Stephan:

Here he is successfully guessing the code to break into Samantha’s iPhone:

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(He’s done that same trick for Apple employees, something they’ve understandably described as “a little scary.”)

Here’s Dan making Jon suspend disbelief for a brief display of magic rings:

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Each time, Dan would promote my talk and encourage attendees to come to my session.

Goal, achieved.

Butts were in seats, enough for a standing-room-only situation at the back of the room. Someone sat cross-legged in front of the stage.

Now, to kick-start the session, Dan invited an audience member on-stage, asking her to pick 10 cards from a deck. At her direction, he shuffled the numbers randomly and asked her to phone dial the resulting digits shown on the cards.

My phone rang loudly from the back of the room as heads swiveled around, revealing that the 10 random cards were actually perfectly arranged to make up my phone number. It was awesome.

I thanked Dan, our audience member, and started my talk with one simple question: Do I have your attention?

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Of course I did.

(By the way - no, I still don’t know how Dan did any of his tricks. Yes, I’m still freaked out by it.)

So, what’s the big reveal here? Why did I spend my own hard-earned cash to hire a magician in addition to the cost of coming across the country from Boston?

What was the reason behind using magic tricks to capture the attention of those in the event hallways and that of my audience in the room?

What does it mean?

Nothing at all.

That’s the point.

Attention, by itself, is meaningless.

Magicians are a great metaphor for what many misunderstand about the charter of marketing. We’re not here simply to get attention for our businesses.

Magicians know how to distract your attention to suit their goals.

For example, those rings? Some magicians perform the trick by covering up holes that exist where their hands are, or by opening holes with pressure. You’re shielded by their showmanship and the glean and DING of the metal as it smacks together.

(Note: This may not be how Dan does his tricks. It’s one common explanation.)

Some magicians, like some marketers, would like you to suspend belief in the world you know, and live in their fantasy world -- for example, one in which they can cut a woman in half. In reality, the trick is done with ample space and agile women.

It's a game of distraction and manipulation, nothing long-lasting, nor meaningful.

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It is time to change.

Val Valentino, the Masked Magician who exposed long-guarded trade secrets on a special Fox series (available on Netflix) caught a lot of flack for telling such exceptional truths. Part of the magician's code dictates never to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician.

Valentino’s rationale was admirable:

"It is time to change. The audience wants something new. Magicians need to think, not rely on illusions that other magicians have created many years ago.”

In a way the marketing industry operates under similar parameters.

We like to pretend our stunts somewhere between magic and timeless, while, in reality, the world is moving on with or without us and our “closely-guarded trade secrets.”

In fact, buyers are rebelling against these trade practices we accept as the norm.

70% of consumers don’t trust advertising and 42% distrust brands, calling them “remote, unreachable, abstract and self-serving” according to a study by Trinity Mirror.

Ouch. But something we undoubtedly deserve.

Meanwhile, Forrester called 2018 a “year of reckoning” for many brand as consumer trust is at an all-time low.

The stunts we pull are getting old.

Attention itself is meaningless without trust.

The science of capturing attention in marketing is well-worn, but it becomes a dangerously shallow practice if it’s all we focus on.

Recently, Lee Odden called me irreverent in his recent list of top women in digital marketing. (Thank you - I am in incredible company.)

Irreverence is the art of showing a lack of respect for things that are generally taken seriously. And, truthfully, I believe revering marketing the way we do is somewhat silly.

See stats above about our buyers’ rebellion.

NOW WAIT, before you blow up the comments, I have enormous respect for legitimate business leaders in marketing who drive real change among buyers in-market, who can help their brands be seen as leaders within crowded industries, and who can create the meaningful kind of growth that makes us invaluable to the world of business. Some marketing even affects positive change in the world beyond business growth.

That’s the kind of marketing I admire.

I have very little respect for hucksterism.

The kind of marketing that is often followed by the word “ploy.” The kind that is manipulative and shady (like magic), instead of honest and persuasive.

The kind that deploys jargon-filled nonsense and calls it thought leadership. The kind that looks, smells, sounds, and feels like everyone else. The kind that feels “generic.” Propaganda. Hyperbole. The kind that adds to the noise. Deafening noise.

The kind that over-promises but under delivers in the reality of the buying or user experience.

The kind that reduces the importance of social movements like feminism down to a tagline. That kind that sets unrealistic standards.

This is the kind of marketing that has led 42% of buyers to say “I don’t know what companies I can trust” according to Edelman.

That same study also found that the vast majority (69%) of CEOs said their #1 priority is now to ensure their company is trusted.

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The bottom line is this: We’ve got a major trust deficit to crawl back from - and if attention by itself is truly meaningless today without trust, then the whole damn paradigm of marketing as we define it needs to change.

This is an incredible opportunity for marketing.

I know - you may be thinking this picture of doom and gloom I’ve painted is anything but hopeful. But there is plenty of hope for our misguided profession in light of these factors.

Marketers, we can see this current world of chaos as either a threat, or an opportunity. The truth is - these are the perfect conditions from which to lead.

Think about it, every brand is struggling with these same parameters - the playing field is somewhat leveled. No longer does simply the loudest brand win - or that with the biggest marketing technology stack.

Today, wins belongs to those brands who can help lead buyers through this chaos, and those who approach their roles a bit differently than our past may dictate.

I brought a magician to a marketing conference in order to prove a point. Nothing he did on stage helped anyone in that room trust me. What got them to give me such glowing reviews (thanks guys) was the quality of everything I said following that stunt.

My audience’s attention didn’t mean anything until I gave them a reason to trust me, follow me, and believe me.

What to do.

For B2B content marketers, sales enablement, field marketers, and demand gen pros:

Our marketing content can be a vehicle for trust if it includes:

  • Original insights and fresh ideas that challenge how buyers currently see their worlds.

  • Transparency into our expertise and honest clarity about the industries in which we operate.

  • Actionable, contextual ideas to help customers advance their business.

Anything other than this isn’t helpful - it’s just adding to the noise.

For CMOs:

If trust is a strategic C-level priority, then every CMO now has something incredibly valuable to drive towards in 2019. If the #1 priority of your CEO is to ensure the company is trusted, what can you do to align with that strategic goal?

(Let’s be honest, with the shortest tenure in the C-suite, uncertainty over the value of marketing, and confusion around what it is we really do, the CMO of 2019 really needs a win.)

Trust is something marketing can directly create, protect, or destroy in-market. After all, it is perception. That means the ball is in your court.

How to make trust a part of your marketing plan in 2019:

I recommend auditing the pieces of your business that either create, or destroy trust:

1. Your transparency in the B2B buying process. Close these gaps, and reap the rewards. 99% of IT buyers want product reviews. Only 59% of marketers provide them. 95% want technical spec sheets. Only 72% of marketers provide them. 90% of IT buyers want a product trial to get their hands on the goods before buying. Only 57% of marketers provide it. (Spiceworks study.)

2. Clarity on your values. Don't just give them lip service, but examine with a critical eye how you live them. Buffer doesn’t just say they are transparent, they show it. Patagonia doesn’t just say they are environmentally conscious, they donated $10M in tax savings (due to the recent tax changes in the US) to climate change prevention initiatives.

3. Practice insane honesty. Even when it positions you at a deficit, insane honesty can be a differentiator. See Doug Kessler’s thoughts on this topic.

4. Tell extraordinary truths. What is everyone in your market thinking, but nobody is saying? Rand Fishkin of Moz found great success with his Whiteboard Friday series, revealing the truths of the SEO industry in a time when many service providers would prefer they stay secretive to protect their profits.

As he says in his excellent book, Lost and Founder:

“We were called crazy and foolish for oversharing so much about the mechanics of the business. But we also became trusted, and, especially because the field of SEO and the broader world of tech startups are so often impenetrably secretive, it paid off.”

5. Prioritize relevance - prove to buyers you’ve done the legwork to understand them. We kind of suck at this today. 60% of B2B companies fully admit they don’t understand their buyers (SiriusDecisions). 70% of B2B buyers feel brands don’t understand their business. (

Nothing we do can be trusted if it’s glaringly obvious we don’t understand the people we’re tasked with serving.


The greatest job of marketing was never simply to create noise, stunts, promotions or deals. It has always been to create change - to change buyers from apathy to giving a damn about us, and our ideas as a business.

My friends at Yesler kindly arranged that thought into an easy-to-share Twitter graphic (high five for real time marketing):

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I hope my magician was not only entertaining (hey, I had fun), but reminded us all that attention is not our endgame.

This difficult charter takes so much more than simply capturing attention. We’ve got to prioritize strategies that earn trust in equal measure.


Every week I send out new ideas, writings, and interesting links on marketing, business, and life. It’s free & curated by me. Subscribe to The World's Best Newsletter here

Thanks to all who came to my talk. Email me for a copy of the slides.


How to Escape the Curse of the B2B Consideration Set


How to Escape the Curse of the B2B Consideration Set

Last week I had the opportunity to keynote the marketing track at Spiceworld 2018 -- an event that brought together 1,500+ IT pros and the marketers who aim to reach them.

Note: This event had no relation to Spice World, the movie.


Which, by the way, is truly an underrated artistic achievement of our time.

I digress.

On stage, I asked the audience of IT marketers, are you cursed

If you market or sell software, technology, or hardware to a business buyer — chances are, the answer is yes. 

Competition is growing in every sector as B2B offerings become increasingly commoditized. Just look at three tech verticals in from 2017:


Source: ChiefMarTec

More options for the buyer means a tougher fight for vendors. 

Most B2B products and services face this common challenge: we're grouped with our competition as the buyer makes their decision. 

This is the curse of the B2B consideration set. 

As competing vendors go to market, they are categorized into in a hard-to-escape rank and classification in the mind of the buyer. The more competition you have — the more crowded that group becomes, and the harder it becomes to differentiate and win the deal. 

You’ve experienced this with slow deal cycles or maybe a price war with your rival. 

How do you break free from the pack when the pack looks the same to the buyer? 

Sometimes, the criteria and options at play are explicit in the RFP and procurement process. Other times, this grouping happens more passively and anonymously as the buyer conducts research well in advance of a formal sales process. In both cases, it’s a difficult place from which to control the sale or win.

But it’s a fantastic area of opportunity for marketers and our counterparts in sales. 

We often forget the consideration set is created by a buyer’s own perception. 

And perception is an awful thing to waste. 

The more you look like your competition, the harder it becomes for your sales team to close the deal. The less you influence the buyer’s perception, the more likely your competition is to persuade their decision. 

Today, different factors impact how your buyer constructs the consideration set — more research is done around ideas and issues, more word of mouth is at play, and more changes are occurring across all industries — leaving B2B buyers looking for clarity and guidance.

These are excellent conditions from which to affect change in buyer perception — and finally, break the curse of the B2B consideration set. 

Here are five ways to escape the curse:

1. Move first and add value

Inbound marketing taught B2B firms to set up their web properties to capture prospects in-market, searching for solutions to their problems. 

Now, account-based marketing is creating a renaissance for outbound prospecting, as more B2B firms recognize the limitations of an inbound-only approach. They're opting instead to proactively target high-value, good-fit accounts (something sales teams have always done organically).  

One way to break free from the confines of a consideration set is to be the first. 

You may know this as a first-mover advantage. But, for truly high-value accounts, you’re likely not the first vendor to contact them from your space. So, you need to be the first to frame a business challenge in a new way, offer an unexpected source of insight about their unique company situation, or address a previously unexplored problem. 

Perhaps we should call this "first-thinker" advantage. 

According to an ITSMA survey, the three most important factors in shortlisting and making a final decision on an enterprise sale are: 

  1. Knowledge and understanding of unique business issues 

  2. Knowledge and understanding of industry 

  3. Fresh ideas to advance business 

(Source: Engagio

Our account-based messaging and what we equip sales with needs to help them work with prospects to uncover a business challenge or opportunity — and frame it in a new way. First-thinker advantage is critical in escaping the crowd, especially as inbound hits mass adoption, content heats up, and search competition is noisier than ever. 

2. Address personal value

“As B2B offerings become ever more commoditized, the subjective, sometimes quite personal concerns that business customers bring to the purchase process are increasingly important...” 

...says new research from Bain and Company

What B2B buyers find valuable is shifting, becoming defined by more individual and inspirational parameters.

Yesterday, we competed on our ability to meet specifications, price, regulatory compliance, and ethical standards. Today, if you can’t meet those value dimensions, you have no right winning a deal. 

Most B2B messaging focuses on functional elements such as cost reduction, scalability, innovation, and product quality. But these are also becoming table stakes in today’s highly competitive business environment. 

Researchers found new levels of B2B value are impacting purchases — and they’re far more personal: cultural fit, a seller’s commitment to the customer’s organization, reduced anxiety, appealing design and aesthetics, or the buyer’s marketability. 

Your job as a marketer is to ensure you hit on each of these new, emotional, personal value components if you truly want to position your brand as differentiated and trustworthy. 

3. Double down on brand

“Brands win in commoditized spaces (think about the bottled water industry)”

— Steven Forth, Co-Founder at TeamFit & Partner at Ibbaka

If you use any modern workplace app (e.g., Slack), you’ve surely noticed a kind of resurgence of B2B software branding to look more like consumer branding, with a renewed focus on experiences. This shift prioritizes the user and changes the nature of competition. 

And this shift makes me wildly optimistic about the charter ahead for B2B marketing. Branding is about the human being behind the purchase. It forces us to think and act like human beings (go figure) and creates a new playing field for differentiation, influence, persuasion, and ultimately breaking the curse. 

I'm not the only one on stage evangelizing the importance of brand in B2B. As DG from Drift so eloquently put it:

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Yup. And it's not going away.

If your firm has relegated branding to be “something only consumer products need to worry about” it’s time to re-visit that mentality. We operate in a world where B2B buyers shop and decide — like consumers.

What endures after a marketing stunt, after a product demo, and through the long B2B sales cycle is your brand. It's what reminds the committee they made a good decision, and keeps them going down the long journey towards doing business with you.

4. Lead with your expertise

A buyer who has engaged with, and been influenced by, your ideas before they’ve ever seen your sales pitch is a much stronger prospect when they’re ultimately faced with the decision of which vendor to choose. 

Forrester found, by a factor of 3 to 1, B2B buyers want to self-educate themselves by going to sellers’ websites to learn about offerings.

As they’re on your site looking for product details, are you providing them new and challenging ways to look at their industry and problems? 

Give it away: your expertise, your point of view on the market, benchmark trends across your customer base, recommendations for navigating the changing waters of your industry, actionable ways for your buyer to look and sound smarter, a way for your buyer to score and measure their own current situation. 

Your expertise on display early in the buying process just may seal the deal down the line, as evidenced in this study of IT infrastructure buyers (emphasis added by me):


Of course, product quality comes first — that’s a given.

(Nothing kills a bad product faster than good marketing.)

But as this study shows, expertise matters, as does a brand’s ability to give the buyer HOPE and a VISION for the road ahead.

5. Know your herd

Finally, break the curse in context. This is a lesson in knowing the herd before you break from the herd. 

A recent study found 11 out of 19 business intelligence (BI) vendors rely on the same positioning — “insights.” The author puts it nicely: 

"You can’t claim a position in your market if you are making the same claim as one of your competitors, let alone the same claim as most of them."

— Lawson Abinanti, founder of Messages That Matter

Prospects are attracted to powerful, unique claims. Our tendency to follow the herd does not serve us well in the long run. 

We need to stay remarkably in-touch with our market. But what do we do once we find we’ve been surrounded, in a sense, by competition? What happens when everyone in our space is talking the same language? 

That's the beauty of marketing — it’s an opportunity to recalibrate, and to stimulate change. 

Be sure your positioning actually stands out — as “unique claims highlight the difference, gap, or disruption that the brain seeks in order to justify a decision”(Abinati). You need to create contrast in the mind of the buyer. 

Breaking the B2B consideration set requires us to be agile as marketers and sales teams, and be hyper-aware of the sentiment, narratives, and messaging swirling around our buyers and industry.

Most importantly, if we hope to break free from the clutter, we need to tap into our internal expertise and boldly lay claim to unique points of view on our markets, truthfully, and in context with the elements of value our buyers need from us today. 


Note: This content originally appeared on Spiceworks. Spice up your life.

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Dear Woman with a Microphone


Dear Woman with a Microphone

You made it, girl.

You are on stage at a time when many business events feature an overwhelming majority of male voices.

This past week, INBOUND 2018 made waves for progressive diversity stats in their speaker lineup. 57% men / 43% women keynoters, 67% of whom were women of color, to boot. Read how they did it.

It was a beautifully diverse island of exception in vast sea of “stale, male, and pale” business speaker lineups.

Thank you GenderAvenger for tracking diversity ratios around the world, and for providing tools to help attendees take action when confronted with too many “manels,” a “Him-posium,” or a “manference.”

But, back to you, woman with a microphone. You have overcome a lot to be here.

You’ve leaped bravely over the terrible excuses conference organizers make for booking only male speakers:

  1. We don’t know enough women to speak
  2. We didn’t even notice we had all men
  3. Last year we had women so we’re good right?
  4. Women are a minority in the workforce
  5. We have a women’s panel! (gag)

Woman with a microphone, you’ve somehow made it through that obstacle course of bad alibis.

After all, you know the REAL culprits are similar to what holds women back from C-level roles (women make up only 5% of S&P 500 CEOs) and from receiving VC funding (2% of VC funding last year went to female founders). Those culprits have been hypothesized to be largely based in pattern recognition: investors (majority of whom are male) fund, support, and hire people who look like them. There is comfort in the familiar. Some have admitted it outright. Others agree it doesn’t work.

These entrepreneurs and managers become investors and executives, continuing this shameful cycle of prejudiced nonsense.

So, woman with a microphone, you’ve defeated those enemies. But, you’ve also overcome a very real personal hurdle.

I’m proud of you! You’ve beat imposter syndrome: that sense that you’re not qualified to be here, you’re not ready to humiliate yourself on stage in front of your peers, and after all you’ve just got nothing of value to say to the world, right?

You know better.

You’ve probably read those studies that show women are less self-assured than men: we don’t put our names into the hat as often, just as we don’t apply for jobs as readily.

You know confidence is a skill, and to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence.

The point is — you’ve made it here.

Fist bump. Nice work.

Woman with a microphone, you may, from time to time, find yourself speaking to a room full of women.

Perhaps it’s a “women in business” breakfast, or that token women’s panel at a technology event. Perhaps it’s a conference from a group like Women in Digital founded to create a response to the “boys club” of business. It could be a woman-focused pop-up like the Female Quotient within major events.

If you’re on stage — listen. Your visibility comes with some responsibility.

If you’re booking a women’s panel — your event carries some additional obligations.

My plea, for both of you:

1. Don’t put the burden of fixing discrimination only on other women.

There’s a misconception that the problems facing women in the workplace can only be solved by women working a bit harder. Our experience at work is defined by our dynamic with men, and there’s no avoiding that truth.

But, a recent panel I attended reminded me of this oft-ignored phenomenon where women’s events seem scared to address the elephant in the room: men!

More specifically, they avoid bringing up men, scared to implicate our counterparts in any way of having a role in creating or perpetuating unequal dynamics at work. As if, somehow, they have nothing to do with it. As if they’d be offended by the suggestion.

As if, somehow, women can simply lean in a bit harder and fix a two-sided problem from one side of the table.

Let’s call a spade a spade.

This most recent panel, in particular, did not at any point bring up men. And there were even some in attendance!

What a missed opportunity to discuss what our male peers could do to help their organizations overcome issues like pay inequality, representation of women on the C-suite, or, god forbid, sexual harassment (where men play a PRETTY SIGNIFICANT ROLE.)

McKinsey found that:

“Many men don’t fully grasp the barriers that hold women back at work. As a result, they are less committed to gender diversity, and we can’t get there without them.”

Bottom line: Men play a role in the fixing the problems facing women at work. Call them allies, or, like me, call them decent. Don’t be scared to bring them up at your next women’s event — talk about them, and identify the specific ways they can help turn the tide.

2. Don’t sugarcoat the issues women face. Don’t patronize female CEOs.

The truth is, we can’t fix problems we don’t see or understand clearly.

So why do so many women’s panels sugarcoat the real issues?

At the panel event that inspired this post, the conversation rarely strayed beyond topics like “finding your superpower” and juggling job and kids. There were some great nuggets of insight, don’t get me wrong. But I found the cutesy line of questioning a bit nauseating.

Men aren’t subjected to these cute inquiries.

At Dreamforce three years ago, the well meaning organizers had a women’s innovation panel. The well meaning moderator, Gayle King, interviewed YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. Susan at the time was the only female CEO within the Alphabet umbrella, overseeing YouTube’s multi-billion dollar business with a net worth of more than $300 million.

Bad. Ass.

The Next Web wrote:

“Susan, you know something about babies,” King said during the panel. “This is what I love about Susan: she has five children.”

Wojcicki smiled, and confirmed King’s statement. When pressed, Wojcicki said that her eldest is turning 16, while her youngest is 8 months.

“By the same husband?” King inquired.

15 minutes into the panel, and Gayle King had asked one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley if all of her children have the same father.

This happened on the same stage where Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella demonstrated his company’s products and at the same conference where Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick merited the values of maintaining a philanthropic arm to multi-billion dollar businesses…

Wojcicki fielded questions about maternity leave, how she remains in her family’s life, and whether anyone could invent a stylish shoe that doesn’t hurt your feet at the end of the day.”


Pause for eye roll.

Go ahead, that deserves two.

I’ll be honest. I’m starting to really dislike women’s panels.

I have been part of a few, and love the chance to speak to a room of young women, as I do with any audience who I believe could benefit from my experiences.

Recently, I’ve actually turned a speaking request down for a women’s panel when I realized the organizers had filled the lineup (for an event in my field of expertise) with mostly male speakers.

In those cases, women should be part of the main agenda, not be relegated to the women’s-only panel to talk about, who knows, tampons?

Let’s shoot for 50% women on stage talking about their areas of expertise, rather than a panel of them talking about women issues.

But back to you, woman with a microphone (or the organizer who brought her there).

When you are given the chance to teach / inspire a group of women — it can be this great opportunity to create an environment that challenges the locker room conversations women will never be part of.

Take that responsibility seriously. It’s a safe space to GET REAL and talk about things like:

  • Pay negotiation — how to get a freaking raise. At another event I recently attended,Katie Donovan (equal pay negotiation expert) shared advice on how to negotiate a 50% raise so women are asking for the same amount that the “white guy going for the same job” is going to ask for, overcoming the 20% less they’re currently making. That was some real talk.
  • Rights under equal pay laws — MA has a brand new law requiring equal pay for equal work, (thanks in part to the hard work of people like Katie!)
  • Sexual harassment — What to do about creepy bosses. (Reminder that one in three women report that they’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace!)
  • Mansplaining — What to do when it happens to you, and how to deal with it professionally.

Those are just some ideas.

Inspiration is important. Platitudes like “know your worth” have their place, but the women I know are hungry for actionable advice to advance their careers.

3. Speak for those without a voice

Perhaps most infuriating at this most recent panel was one executive who was asked by a young woman in the audience for advice on how to handle situations of discrimination at work.

I remember the girl who asked the question. She looked hopeful, holding the microphone given to the audience for Q&A in her hand, eagerly asking for advice.

The power had momentarily been transferred from stage to audience.

Clearly something had occurred in this woman’s work experience, and she likely lacked a strong female leader at work to approach. This was such a great chance to help.

The response from this C-level female executive was:

“I dunno. It never happened to me. I don’t use discrimination as an excuse. I’ve worked hard to be here.”

I remember the audience member who asked the question looking disheartened. Her eyes dropped, she sat down.

I sat there, mouth agape. I couldn’t stop thinking about this exchange. This dismissal.

I get it. Some women believe “feminism” is a dirty word. They don’t want to be associated with the ridiculous stereotypes. They likely don’t want to be a victim. They want to feel empowered.

Related: You are not equal.

They want to be recognized for their contributions and their skills — which, incidentally, is what the women’s rights movement is striving for.

PS: To this particular executive, I completely agree that women should not use discrimination as a way of excusing their failures. If you’re terrible at your job you should be fired. That’s not discrimination, it’s reality.

But, it’s a disservice to those who don’t have a voice to sit in front of a room of young women and claim discrimination must not be real because it didn’t happen to you.

You have a responsibility as that rare, visible woman in business, when you get called up on stage, just as you do in your organization, to cultivate young women. They look up to you to be well-versed in their potential barriers to success in order to truly help things change for their generation.

If it didn’t happen to you, consider yourself lucky. But you are not absolved from the responsibility to listen and learn from their experiences.

If you won’t — who will?

And if you’re one of four white women on a panel — educate yourself on the realities of women of color, or LGBT women, who face the greatest obstacles and receive the least support, who make less than white women in the struggle for pay equality, and who are often left behind in feminism.

It’s they who need the strength of your voice more than ever.

4. Recognize your role in creating change

At this particular panel, the moderator asked each panelist what they want for the next generation. All of them said a different version of the same thing:

“We wish we could stop having this conversation.”

Each woman wanted the conversation to change — but seemed to lose sight of the fact that for that to happen, each of us has to play a role in changing the dynamics at work.

As I said, woman with the microphone, I know you want to be recognized for your talent, contributions, hard work. But you can’t operate within our current business dynamic, and wish it was different, without recognizing your role in changing things.

If you want things to change, you’ve got to be part of the change — not complaining about the fact that we are all talking about it.

Dear all women with a microphone — that is a powerful tool, use it wisely.

Because nothing changes unless we start getting real.

— -

Every week I send a newsletter on marketing, business, and (like this one) opinionated pieces about life. It’s free and curated by me. Get on the list right here.

Thank you to Innovation Women, a speakers bureau for women, for inviting me to speak at INBOUND& this year, where a very raw version of this original rant had its world premiere.


Will 1M Sales Reps Lose Their Job in 2020? Let’s Clarify this Bombshell for B2B

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Will 1M Sales Reps Lose Their Job in 2020? Let’s Clarify this Bombshell for B2B

It was an inflammatory prediction:

1 million sales reps will lose their jobs by 2020

The originating study, "Death of a (B2B) Salesman," by then-Forrester analyst Andy Hoar in 2015, projected that 22% of the 4.5M B2B sales agents in the US that year would lose their jobs to eCommerce by 2020. The follow-on report two years later continued the narrative.

The stat was recently unearthed this past week at the 2018 FlipMyFunnel event in Boston by sales industry revivalist Jill Rowley, Chief Growth Officer at Marketo, during her closing keynote.




I shared the slide on Twitter, and the responses were swift:

  • "I don't believe that for a second."
  • "Reps are not going away."
  • "Number replaced so far =0" (Quick note: This one came from Tom Goodwin, who I absolutely adore for his contrarian ways, so to have him part of this thread put a big smile on my face.)
  • "I'm guessing this won't be accurate in 2020."


Now, social media "conversations" are often just reactionary comments back and forth. The rise of angsty political arguments is a great example.

I felt it was important to clarify this report, what it's truly saying, and what B2B teams need to do about it, especially in light of the rise of ABM.

Clarifying the statement

First of all - Forrester is saying those most likely to lose their jobs are those who currently take orders for commodity products. Here's a breakdown (source):

  • "Order takers,” who generally process orders that customers could easily place through online self-service. Job loss: 33%, or close to 550,000 out of 1.6 million jobs;
  • "Explainers,” who provide buyers with more information about complex products. Job loss: 25%, or close to 400,000 out of 1.5 million jobs;
  • Navigators,” who help buyers understand what their own companies need to purchase. Job loss: 15%, or close to 150,000 out of 900,000 jobs;
  • Consultants,” who have extensive knowledge about the buyer’s company to help the buyer understand what her company needs to purchase. Job gain: 10%, to 550,000 from 500,000.

From the author of the report:

“Order takers are the ones in trouble,” he says. “ It all comes down to value in the ordering process—whether sales reps add value or not.”

Not so unreasonable

The study found that by a factor of 3 to 1, B2B buyers want to self-educate themselves by going to sellers’ websites to learn about offerings, and a majority of buyers prefer to make purchases online.

That’s a truth every marketer I know has accepted. Is it really so hard to believe the antiquated role of salesperson-as-information-dealer is gone? 

The report makes it clear that B2B sales reps are still preferred by buyers in certain situations, such as for large, complex products procured for and across large enterprises.

Yet even these situations, communications are turning digital:

“They’re increasingly conducting those negotiations with salespeople by way of digital means such as email, [live] chat, and collaborative software as opposed to via a traditional phone call."

Aligned to the rise of B2B eCommerce:

Andy Hoar is no longer with Forrester, but is still evangelizing the rise of B2B eCommerce. Backed by major industry indications, like Adobe's acquisition of Magento four months ago for $1.68B, this is no passing fad.

By 2020, the global B2B eCommerce market will be 2X as large as the B2C market — $6.7 trillion vs. $3.2 trillion — according to Frost & Sullivan.

My friends at Mirakl produced a helpful glance at where Amazon is disrupting the B2B purchase process for many types of products:

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 12.30.18 PM.png


In many cases, B2B brand manufacturers do not know how to apply the tenants of this emerging digital opportunity to their business. But those that do see massive gains in revenue, profitability, and customer engagement.

All this indicates is the undeniable evolution of B2B selling...

The salesperson is not going away.

The salesperson is not going away.

The salesperson is not going away.

The salesperson is not going away.

The point of this report, Jill’s talk, and my article here is that we must accept the new role of salespeople as value-drivers, relationship managers, and catalysts of change. 

From HBR:

For 50 years, pundits have repeatedly proclaimed that salespeople would soon be rendered obsolete by the emerging media or technologies of the day: catalogs, telemarketing, dot-coms, online reverse auctions, and now digital search. Each time, salespeople survived. How? They evolved.

Truly, it’s a turning point in our industry. 

Following the hype, for better or for worse, many organizations are adopting ABM. 1,000 showed up at this most recent ABM conference. According to SiriusDecisions, 92% of B2B marketers consider ABM “extremely” or “very” important to their marketing efforts. 

On stage, the team at LogMeIn admitted the hype got them thinking about it – and they've invested well over a year in making the switch from lead-based demand generation. (And seeing great results with 71% account penetration, 17% account-to-opportunity conversion, and Marketing attributed for driving 20% of the company’s overall pipeline.)

As the community of B2B shifts further towards adoption of ABM, many orgs are wondering how best to equip their sales teams to be effective. 

The right kind of salesperson for a world of commoditization and ABM

For complex deals, I like how this HBR post describes today's field salesperson:

...educator, negotiator, consultant, solution configurator, service provider, and relationship manager. They are integral to discovering the  “something more” that customers want. As customers will tell you, a salesperson must add value by becoming part of the product or solution.

B2B purchases are made based on the perceived value – not only cost, but total worth of an offering. Simply put - salespeople must be part of that perceived value.

David Skok says: “Customers hate being sold to. They don’t mind getting expert help when they want to buy something. But much of the time they are not ready to buy, and one of the most irritating things is to have a salesperson try to get them to buy when they aren’t ready."

Marketing's role in this evolution.

Modern sales teams need partnership from marketers in two areas: Messaging and sales enablement.

Sales enablement has never been more important. What makes a salesperson great today is her ability to utilize insight and tools from a customer-focused, sales-empathetic marketing team.

We must help our sales counterparts understand what kind of message breaks through to accounts and prospects. This is an joint adapt-or-die situation.

According to an ITSMA survey, the three most important factors in shortlisting and making a final decision on an enterprise sale are:

1. Knowledge and understanding of unique business issues 

2. Knowledge and understanding of industry 

3. Fresh ideas to advance business 

(Source: Engagio)

Marketers, are you helping your sales team look - and sound - like experts? Are they equipped to utilize the company's thought leadership in the sales process? Do they even know where to find it?

“Deals move when the rep translates the broad insights into value that is specific for that account.“ Jon Miller, CEO, Engagio 

Our account-based messaging and what we equip sales with needs to help them work with prospects to uncover a business challenge or opportunity - and frame it in a new way.

During this week's event, Craig Rosenberg of TOPO shared four keys to a relevant message:

  1. Educate on the space
  2. Contextualize to my business
  3. Prescribe a plan of action
  4. Experience the process and outcome

Marketers, does your ABM content match the above? Is it more of the same? Are you providing sales with original POV on the market? Can you help them concisely navigate changing industry waters? Do you understand your buyer well enough to stay ahead of the curve?

Most importantly: Does your brand deliver on these promises - before a prospect ever makes contact with your team?


Salespeople aren't going away. For smaller B2B goods, we can't deny the shift to B2B eCommerce. But ABM is raising the bar for companies bringing complex deals to market - fundamentally changing both the role of sales and marketing in the joint battle to remain relevant and drive growth.


Thanks to the team at FlipMyFunnel for having me at this week's event. I would hate to miss this opportunity to expose the brilliance of Matt Heinz dressed as Steve Harvey for our "Family Feud: Sales vs Marketing" keynote:




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Truth, Lies and Marketing: 5 Facts in a Time of Chaos


Truth, Lies and Marketing: 5 Facts in a Time of Chaos

It was the simplest of questions, and one that I was expecting.

“You refer to yourself as an "unapologetic marketing truth teller." What truths are you questioning?”

The query came from Britta Schellenberg, VP of Corporate Marketing at BrightCove, and the kind of woman you’d follow into battle if the opportunity ever arose.

The team had invited me to speak earlier that day at PLAY 2018, and our conversation was meant to focus on social media, digital marketing, and the use of video. But, as I am prone to do, we took the discussion a bit off-topic.

(I could blame the scotch they kindly brought to me mid-interview, but I’ll blame it instead on the fact that Britta is one of the smartest and most provocative business leaders I know.)



Check out video of our full conversation here.

And thank you, Britta, because after your question, I found myself pondering the role of truth more and more.

Truth is at the core of every major movement in history. The #MeToo movement, for example, is simply about exposing the truth, one story at a time.

As Jon Rosta says:

“It's truth that has set into motion many marketplace effects that have crushed that status quo.” 

And now is the time for a discussion about truth, more so than ever. From where I sit, here are five facts we are all now contending with:

1. Assertive truth brings growth

Truth often challenges us. It’s uncomfortable. But within that tension comes growth.

This idea of using assertive truth in the B2B purchase process has always been the most appealing aspect of The Challenger Sale to me.

In the Challenger Sale model, teams who can confidently educate prospects with new insights about their own business situation successfully reframe that customer’s POV. They don’t “bludgeon customers with endless facts and features about their company and products.”

(That’s quite a visual.)

They provide customers a credible, surprising way to operate more effectively. This leads to higher levels of loyalty, and ultimately, greater growth.

“Winning organizations lead with insight and challenge customer assumptions to mobilize customers around a purchase.”
CEB Global


That’s immense power grounded in truth and insight, rather than hyperbole, or spin.


2. The current state of truth is: decaying

But, this is not simply an issue that's important to our modern marketing and sales climate. Today's Guardian article demonstrates the current state of truth in our world.

“The term “truth decay” has joined the post-truth lexicon that includes such now familiar phrases as “fake news” and “alternative facts”. And it’s not just fake news either: it’s also fake science (manufactured by climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, who oppose vaccination), fake history (promoted by Holocaust revisionists and white supremacists), fake Americans on Facebook (created by Russian trolls), and fake followers and “likes” on social media (generated by bots).”

“Around the world, waves of populism and fundamentalism are elevating appeals to fear and anger over reasoned debate, eroding democratic institutions, andreplacing expertise with the wisdom of the crowd. False claims about the UK’s financial relationship with the EU helped swing the vote in favour of Brexit, and Russia ramped up its sowing of dezinformatsiya in the runup to elections in France, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries in concerted propaganda efforts to discredit and destabilise democracies.”

For me, this is one of those “if you’re not worried/outraged, you’re not paying attention” moments.

Lying and dishonesty are becoming commonplace, though they are fundamentally opposed to the tenets of a free society. The majority (more than three in four) of Americans do not believe lying is “the American way,” yet two-thirds of U.S. residents say people lie to them, at least, some of the time.

“66% of Americans, in general, think they are lied to, at least, some of the time, up from 45% thirty years ago when USA Today asked the same question.” PBS

It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit – Noël Coward


3. Buyers, and citizens, are more stressed out than ever before

What’s the impact of this post-truth world?

We need to be honest about the role of the noise being created today by the endless barrage of information we are subjected to. A constant news cycle dominates our attention, and both media sites and social media platforms incentivize outrage and extremism. It’s overwhelming.

Pew Research Center describes ours as “a culture of volume of info and spin,” and warns succinctly that “an environment of total noise spreads confusion and mistrust.”

42% of consumers in a recent study said “I don’t know which companies to trust.”

(And how could they, in such a climate?)

American Psychological Association Stress in America™ Survey found that more than half of Americans (59 percent) said they consider this the lowest point in U.S. history that they can remember — a figure spanning every generation, including those who lived through World War II and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.


4. This is both an opportunity and a threat.

Speaking on behalf of anyone in business, especially marketing, or the media, we can look at this in one of two ways: as a threat, or an opportunity. It certainly poses a threat to democracy.

But here’s the thing for marketers. Every business now operates within these parameters.

I continually advocate for brands who tell the truth (see my work on femvertising), question the way things are, and spark dialogue about what they could and should be. It creates real human interaction - and grants us the elusive prize of attention.

But not ONLY is truth the surest way to cut through the noise; not ONLY is it the first step towards earning trust with buyers; not ONLY might it contribute to a better perception of our industry; but it's psychologically, downright, without a doubt more effective.

Telling the truth works. It also just happens to be f*cking radical today.

Heck, our buyers are so sick of marketing hyperbole, it’s innovative just to be honest and straightforward. Doug Kessler coined the phrase of using “insane honesty” in content marketing, and shows in his excellent presentation the surprising power of showcasing a brand’s weaker points.

I especially wanted to highlight his explanation of why truth works so well against a backdrop of BS:

“When your target audience is any subset of homo sapiens, anything less than total honesty is the insane thing. Why? Because we like people we trust.”
“It makes your marketing less like marketing. It signals confidence. Attracts your ideal prospects. Focuses you on battles you can win.”


5. Truth-telling requires us to evolve.

Truth-telling requires a departure from what we were. It’s an opportunity for us to re-think what marketing is, and should be.

Truth-tellers have three things in common:

  1. Conviction
  2. Respect
  3. Bravery

(Be honest, are those words you would normally ascribe to a business? To a marketer?)

Conviction: Honesty and truth-telling take conviction, especially when these values run counterintuitive to the role marketing has traditionally played.

This is a long-term play, not a short-term mindset. It’s not something you can back away from once you’ve made the decision to own it as a brand.

As Seth Godin recently wrote:

“Organizations and systems are more reliable, more efficient and more professional when they’re operated on principles that are actually true.”

Respect: Unlike most marketing, truth-telling requires us to respect buyers.

(For an example of traditional marketing treating buyers like sheep, see my history of how women started smoking cigarettes due to the sociopathic nephew of Sigmund Freud.)

Consider the fundamental difference between persuasion and manipulation. Persuasion is done with people, manipulation done to them. Truth-telling puts the buyer on the same playing field.

Manipulation inevitably underestimates those being coerced - and that’s how brands and leaders get in trouble when exposed. 

Bravery: Whether an individual or a brand, it takes courage, bravery, and chutzpah to put unspoken truths to words, take a strong POV, and defend it both internally and in the market.

Some truth-tellers, like Kenyan activist Boniface Mwangi, (that graffiti at the top of this piece is part of his activism) risk their lives to tell the truth.

“His images of the 2007–08 postelection violence brought the political class face to face with the consequences of their rhetoric, and almost ever since, he’s been campaigning to bring to light Kenya’s most uncomfortable truths, from widespread corruption to dangerous tribalism.” - Source

Mwangi's truth focused on the impunity of politicians in the face of over 1000 dead and half a million people displaced as a result of the violence they caused.

And his TED talk reveals how radical it is to expose the truth in Kenya:

“In my childhood, they taught me silence. Don't argue, do as you're told. In Sunday school, they taught me don't confront, don't argue, even if you're right, turn the other cheek.”

“We used to be told that a coward goes home to his mother. What that meant: that if you stayed out of trouble you're going to stay alive.”

Now, that’s Kenya, ruled by a near-dictator. In our system in the US of Democratic capitalism, I’d like to think, the rules are different. (For now, at least.) The wins belong to the smart and the brave and the bold. We can't afford not to stay quiet - both in marketing, and in activism. We need to hone our voice.

“In spite of being arrested, beaten up, threatened, the moment I discovered my voice, that I could actually stand up for what I really believed in, I'm no longer afraid.” - Mwangi.

Our new charter.

Today’s climate provides an opportunity for brands to lead buyers through chaos using truth as a radical North Star. To manifest this POV and win in this environment:

  1. Understand where buyers are in within the turmoil of your industry
  2. Take a bold stance in-market grounded by your unique expertise
  3. Have conviction in that POV over the long-haul
  4. Galvanize your teams to rally behind it
  5. Seek to lead customers through a time of chaos

And throughout it all, tell the truth.

Marketers, welcome to our new charter. After all, the truth will set you free.




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Watch my full interview with Britta at Brightcove.




The New Rules of Using Feminism in Marketing


The New Rules of Using Feminism in Marketing

This post originally appeared at

The international movement against sexual harassment and assault, #MeToo, has increased visibility for the challenges women face around the world. It’s also raised the stakes for brands who want to engage female consumers.


In the past two decades, the use of “femvertising,” marketing to women with themes of feminism has risen sharply as the modern-day women’s rights movement gains huge popularity. Watershed moments like the Women’s March have left brands eager to capitalize on the supercharged consumer sentiment surrounding this topic.


However, feminism (the belief that women should be treated equally to men) isn’t a tagline. It’s a mindset that has sustained an ongoing, and very real battle for women’s equality since the first-wave feminists of the 19th and early 20th century.


Profiting from these ideals while embodying the opposite is not clever, it’s exploitation.


An early example of femvertising is Dove’s Evolution spot, which earned millions of views for the provocative and unexpected way it used advertising to question society’s standards of beauty. The sentiment became the basis for Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, garnering buzz that provided 30X the exposure compared to the paid-for media space, and helping to sharply increase sales at Dove in the decade after the campaign launched.


Perhaps hoping for a similar outcome, many brands have since jumped on the femvertising bandwagon, seeking to attract not only female buyers, but millennial consumers (and their $30T of spending power). More than nine in ten millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause, according to research conducted at the HaaS School of Business at Berkeley. 


Brands also seek the added exposure offered by these feel-good campaigns, which have the right formula to be shared widely on social channels (they’re often highly emotional and contain messages and stories empowering to women.)


The sobering side of femvertising


To-date, many brands have pumped millions of marketing budget dollars into femvertising campaigns. On the positive side, they’ve helped to insert positive, empowering messages into the public narrative. Whereas historically, many ads have created new insecurities, these reflect ideals of equality.


However, these story arcs are often only used when convenient, and are too frequently only deployed as lip-service by companies who exhibit less-than-ideal behavior internally.


Some examples:


Dove’s parent company, Unilever, also owns Axe body spray, a brand known for a history of wildly misogynistic campaigns. The disconnect between intention and action becomes clear when a consumer considers brands with such conflicting messages (Dove and Axe) side by side.


Fearless Girl, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors, was intended to raise awareness about gender diversity in corporate leadership. A noble cause! However, State Street recently settled allegations to the tune of $5M that it paid female and black executives at the firm less than their white, male counterparts.


KPMG’s uplifting video spot about women breaking the glass ceiling stands in stark contrast to its $400M class-action lawsuit alleging a pattern of gender discrimination, including denying promotions to women and penalizing them for taking maternity leave.


On the surface, Pantene’s ad encouraging women to stop apologizing should be celebrated for its empowering message. However, in context, there’s inherent conflict in a beauty product’s use of femvertising: women spend $426B a year on beauty products designed to conceal blemishes, stop aging, lighten their skin tone, and in so many ways change appearances to fit ideals. And, in a business context, they spend $141B more than their male colleagues, while earning less - an average of 79 cents to their dollar (if they’re white.)


Audi’s Superbowl ad focused on daughters (an expensive bet on femvertising) centered on the importance of gender equality as it relates to our daughters. But, consumers responded with criticism, many arguing that this was a disingenuous move as the brand hadn’t taken a public stance on the issue of gender equality previously in its marketing. In addition, Audi has no female board members to stand behind its rallying cry.


All this is not to say that these organizations must be perfect examples of gender equality in order to continue to be successful, however they invite criticism when they leverage ideals of feminism to profit without consideration for the responsibility they adopt by doing so.


When their own behavior does not stand up to feminism’s ideals, it creates a disconnect between a brand’s intentions, and its actions – and consumers are increasingly wary of that gap. It’s lip service, and nothing more.


High-risk of exploiting the women’s rights movement


Perhaps most importantly, when brands claim to be stewards of feminist ideals in their advertising, but do not live up to those ideals in practice, it has a direct impact on the women’s rights movement. There is a very real danger in companies exploiting feminism’s message without taking action to further the movement by diminishing feminism to a tagline, or a hashtag, instead of a mechanism to engage in the real, hard work of promoting true equality.


I call this trend in marketing to women “faux-feminism” and it contributes to an illusion of progress. It allows the millions of consumers who see these ads to believe equality is closer than it actually is, creating a diversity blind spot and obstructing the progress being made.

When those who have not experienced sexism see these ads, they mistakenly believe the challenges facing women in the workplace are fixed (or not real in the first place.) A study by McKinsey & Company found that men are more likely to think the workplace is equitable; women see a workplace that is less fair and offers less support.  We cannot solve problems we cannot see clearly.


The new rules of marketing to women on a feminist platform


So, in this new era of #metoo and femvertising, there are new rules for marketing to women using the ideals of feminism.


The reasons are two-fold: first, to avoid creating disillusioned consumers who will react strongly against a brand for acts of faux-feminism, and second, to protect the progress made to-date in the feminist movement, in a time when women’s rights remain under attack.


I’m not an advocate for all brands to use feminism in their advertising. But, if you’re going to capitalize on the movement, consider your responsibility first. There are three preliminary guidelines:


1.     Think twice – Taking any stance as an organization on a politically charged or hot button issue is a risk, which will invite criticism from both supporters and opponents of the issue. But, it’s more common than ever, as many CEOs are adopting their platform as activists.

As content marketing expert Doug Kessler said, “Think hard about attaching your brand to things that matter way more than your brand ever could.” There are many avenues your marketing can take. Think twice, maybe three times, as to whether gender equality is the direction that makes the most sense for you.

Is your product is truly prepared to be a steward for the message you’re promoting? One recent example is Lean Cuisine, whose campaign surrounding women “having it all” invited loads of social media backlash due to the history of the brand’s low-fat frozen meal products perpetuating beauty standards. Ironically, it’s those standards that contribute to the pressure on women to, indeed, “have it all” in the first place.


2.     Practice what you preach – don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Ask the hard questions about how your organization manifests feminism’s ideals before you stand on this platform. That means transparently pay women equally to men, demonstrate women leadership at the highest levels of the organization and throughout the ranks, mandate supplier diversity, make unconscious bias training available to employees, provide strong family leave programs, deploy inclusive hiring practices, and most importantly, stop objectifying women in the marketing of other product lines or business units.

Before you approve this risky move to join the red-hot topic of women’s rights, honestly hold your company up to the ideals of feminism for scrutiny before you exploit the narrative for your own publicity.

3.     Think beyond the hashtag – If you determine that your organization practices what it preaches, consider what else you can do to support women beyond the feel-good message of your hashtag. One recent example is Jane Walker, a campaign from Diageo on International Women’s Day that temporarily changed the Johnnie Walker icon to a female version (Jane).

On the surface it first seemed like lip-service (like McDonalds flipping its Golden Arches,) but digging deeper, the company’s dedication to women went far beyond Jane. The company donated portions of the sales to organizations supporting women’s progress, they joined the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, they boast a vocal, female CFO who is clear about the importance of inclusion at the organization, and the makeup of both their board and blenders is nearly half female.


Final word to marketers –

 The onslaught of femvertising has created a sense of disillusionment among consumers who are rightfully holding brands up to the standards of the feminism movement they claim to be part of.


If we can’t hold our organizations up to the scrutiny of true equality, we should never cheapen the movement by exploiting the narrative. It’s too reckless and there are real consequences. Our society, and our consumers, deserve more.


We can and must do better. Marketing is a powerful force: one with the potential to change ideas and create positive action. Use that power thoughtfully.




I will be discussing this topic at the June 19th event “Marketing to Women in the #MeToo Era” in NYC with ChiefMarketer. Join us live as I walk through a new framework for evaluating whether a campaign is exploiting the women’s rights movement, or truly supporting women. I can’t wait for the dialogue and the conversation. Hope to see you there.