Join Me in the Black Box for a Moment...
Friday, October 21, 2005
I recently shared with you Eric Gagnon's article about black box marketing; it's the marketing that happens when the buck is passed. In our eyes, black box marketing is treating the execution of your critical marketing program's projects as tasks to be handed off to someone else, with no direct involvement by you. We also see it as an open invitation to fail: failed marketing projects, failed marketing program.
Don't think it can happen to you? We're all very busy; it's increasingly tempting and easy to pull others in to help us get the job done. And the risk of passing the buck is oh-so-more-grave as the days get longer, budgets get shorter and opinions about what marketing 'should be' doing flood in from every corner of the company.
In thinking about the risk of black box marketing, specifically as it relates to customer reference and customer marketing programs, I see the following challenges you should be aware of:
- Pursuing a reference customer because 'someone' said they were happy but without knowing how or if that customer will meet the need or help sales overcome challenges. Happens all the time. And we wind up with just another story our key constituents cannot use added to our list of sunk costs and investments.
- Leaving critical decisions such as 'what is the key message of this success story?' to a writer or third party who is either unfamiliar or not as intimate with your company's unique selling proposition or competitive environment. (Sound familiar?) And so we present to our constituents a story that lacks central strength and that fails to tie into why your company is unique or differentiable.
- Hearing that a customer is unhappy about some product or service and, rather than escalating it, we forward the complaint to the sales rep or to customer support. They, in turn pass the buck to someone else and nothing ever gets done.
- Creating content and tools but never looking back to evaluate who uses it, how and for what outcomes. And so the content and tools sit; more of like kind is added to it; and what could have been an appreciable asset turns into just another marketing cost-and a large one at that.
Are you Stuck in the Black Box? (If so, how to get out.)
If you answer 'yes' to either of these questions, you (and your program) are likely unwittingly suffering from the 'black box mentality':
- Do you outsource critical interactions with your company's customers?
- Is a third-party more knowledgeable than you and your team about your customer base?
Breaking out of the black box requires that you realize that the customer is the critical link between marketing and sales impact, and that the better you understand, collect and focus the voice of the customer, the better your programs and projects will be at driving sales, and at increasing customer retention and corporate agility.
And once you break out of the box-once you become an out-of-the-box, hands-on marketer-your value as a program will be in understanding the customer and how their success directly and indirectly affects selling. Your value will be in understanding how the customer's success reinforces the reputation of your company. And most importantly, your value will be in ensuring that the customer's word of mouth or voice is leveraged in a measurable way.
Promise Phelon, Partner, The Phelon Group