Beware of marketing assumptions

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of speaking at the Hawai‘i Tourism Association’s annual conference in Honolulu, a gorgeous city. I’d not been to Honolulu before, so it was fascinating to walk around a city in which Japanese is more or less the de facto second language. Signs, menus, directions – all have Japanese versions next to their English versions. It’s been great to practice my very rusty Japanese skills.

Here’s the interesting assumption people make about me. Shopkeepers, store owners, and other tourists assume I speak Japanese. It’s reminiscent of when I went to Seoul, South Korea and struggled to get around because I don’t speak Korean, but I look the part. Shopkeepers would ask me questions and I’d have to reply, “I’m sorry, I’m American. I don’t speak Korean”. Boy, did that confuse people.


I actually took to carrying that around as a graphic on my iPhone as I walked around Seoul.

The shopkeepers in Honolulu make an assumption based on how I appear and greet me in Japanese. Because everyone’s wonderfully friendly, we simply switch over to American English once I exhaust my very meager Japanese skills. I’m fairly certain that it’s apparent in my Japanese accent as well that it’s not even close to my native language. (I once had a Japanese teacher in college who said my Americanization of Japanese sounds made me sound like an inakamono, a country bumpkin)

However, this begets a marketing problem in general: when you make assumptions before the customer gives you data, you risk miscategorizing your customer. Just because you get referral traffic from a social network does not mean the customer heard about you solely from the social network. Just because someone subscribes to your email newsletter does not mean they want to buy something from you. We as marketers have come to rely on passive data, on machine-provided data, leaping to conclusions that may be incorrect.

This becomes even more troublesome in the algorithm-driven world we live in. As machines take on more and more of the responsibility for pattern matching, they build assumptions of their own (or are pre-programmed with our assumptions). For the most part, customers will not tell you that your algorithms are wrong. They will simply see mis-targeted marketing and vanish silently to a competitor.

In your marketing technology, in your marketing automation, do your best to let your customers give information first. Listen. Ask. By not assuming, you may be able to avoid potentially embarrassing mistakes and serve their needs better and faster.


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3 Ways to Maximize Conference and Event Marketing

One of the real world marketing questions I’m asked often is whether events and conferences matter, from a marketing point of view. Do they help to generate business? The answer is a qualified yes – as long as you do it right.

PodCamp Boston 5

First, if you don’t know why you’re going, don’t go. “Because our competitors are there” isn’t a great reason. Ask if your audience is at the show. The easiest way to establish this? Look at the previous year’s hashtag on social media and who used it, then randomly sample the Twitter biographies of people who used the hashtag. If their names and titles are your audience, then you have a reason to attend the show.

Events are excellent for introducing your company to the target audience, but you have to provide ways for people to have those introductions.

To make the most of the show, you need three key elements. The first is the spotlight. Obtain this however you can, if you are committed to attending the event. This may mean earning a speaking slot or paying for it. This may mean a significant sponsorship that ensures show organizers will name drop you repeatedly throughout the event.

The second element is the anchor. This is the exhibitor booth. At some shows, particularly larger ones, sponsorship and exhibiting are separate animals. You need an anchor at the show, a physical location you can use as a base of operations, a rally point, and a focus. When you have speakers on stage, it’s easiest for them to say, “If you have questions after this session, come meet me at Booth 176” rather than have them loiter around, especially if the show has a packed schedule.

The third element is the foot soldiers, the street team, the ground staff you have at a show. These are the folks who move around the show floor, providing intelligence, gathering competitors’ collateral and speaking to competitor sales personnel. Your army can help staff the booth in a pinch, but also goes out and networks with attendees. For those connections that are relevant and valuable, foot soldiers can direct people back to the booth or to a speaker’s session. Foot soldiers also use social media effectively during the show, sharing other speakers’ content but heavily promoting your own. Given how many conferences feature social media leaderboards for most retweeted speakers, content, and people, your foot soldiers can play a key part in being seen.

With these three elements in force, you can maximize your appearance at a trade show. People will remember you, connect with you, and quite possibly do business with you. The very best executions of this plan make you so prominent, you’re on equal or greater footing than the show itself.

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Developing your second in command

One of the most important tasks you will ever face as a manager in marketing (or manager of anything) is developing your second-in-command. With a strong second-in-command, you can do things like travel to speak at events, do advanced research and development, focus only on your top priorities for maximum productivity, or even go on vacation.

Without a strong second-in-command, you will forever be in the weeds, keeping the trains on the rails, and frustrated at your lack of personal professional growth. You’ll also never go on vacation for more than a day.


Here’s a simple test to determine whether your second-in-command is strong enough. Suppose you got a notice that you just won an all-expenses-paid two-week dream vacation to the place you’ve always wanted to go – but you have to leave tomorrow. Could you go? Is your marketing team structure set up well enough that your second-in-command could simply pick up and run with the ball for a couple of weeks? If the answer is no, then you need to invest in your second-in-command.

How do you invest in your second-in-command? Developing them requires both knowledge and practical application. Knowledge should come from training and writing down everything (or in this day and age, recording training videos). I do this for my team at SHIFT Communications; I’ve made an entire training library of step-by-step videos with screen casting software.

Practical application only comes from actually doing the work – and delegating every possible task to your second-in-command. This doesn’t have to be an immediate, all-or-nothing proposition. When Buddhist monks on Mt. Hiei prepare for some of their most grueling trials (such as 9 consecutive days without food, water, or sleep), they work up to the experience. When runners prepare for a marathon, they don’t knock out 26.2 miles on the first day. Preparing your second-in-command requires a similar mindset for preparation. Give them a little more every day. Let them run small programs and ladder up to bigger and bigger programs and campaigns.

Measure your progress by asking yourself the dream vacation question repeatedly. Check yourself to see how much closer you are to a “yes” every week, until you reach a point where you feel yes, your second-in-command could keep the trains running for a couple of weeks without you.

With luck, not only will your second-in-command be ready, you’ll also get that dream vacation.

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