Enabling Stupid Marketing (and #Sales) at the Speed of Light: Part 3 of 3

This is the third part of a three-blogpost series.

  • In the first, I argued that “stupid marketing and sales” – defined as “a stultifying obsession with one’s own product features, to the exclusion of any meaningful focus on customer needs, much less wants” – has become endemic.
  • In the second, I stated three reasons for the endemic status of this sad situation: the complexity of technology, the tyranny of zero-cost marketing, and a pervasive view of business as impersonal and mechanistic.
  • In this third and final post, I want to outline two generic solutions to the problem.

If you want to contribute to a general improvement in the state of sales and marketing, may I suggest that the next time you spot an offender, send them a link to this series.

Hey, it can’t hurt.

Two Fixes for Stupid Marketing and Sales

If the problem is an obsession with features and an absence of other-focus, two solutions present themselves.

  • One is to offer a rich, compelling narrative – a story – that allows the customer to deeply appreciate one set of possible benefits of the product or service, triggering a series of ‘ah-ha’s’ in the customer’s imagination. I offer two great examples of marketers who use this technique.
  • The other is to go straight at the particular customer, suggesting a uniquely relevant scenario for them – and to do so in the familiar-as-etiquette form of a gift. This is an approach I call BARG, for Bring a Risky Gift.

Story-telling as an Antidote to Stupid Marketing (and sales)

I am far from the first to point out the power of stories. Something there is that we all love about stories. Stories offer meaning, but in a way that is not preaching.

Even if the ‘moral’ of a story is blindingly obvious, the form allows us to indulge the conceit that we, ourselves, have done the lesson-drawing.

Ian Brodie. @Ianbrodie is an ex-management consultant turned email marketer. He writes an insightful blog – and an even more brilliant newsletter. It’s the latter I want to talk about.

I look forward to reading each newsletter. In the kindest, gentlest way, Ian always manages to appreciate just how a particular email marketing technique, or a turn of phrase, or an approach to marketing, might work. Usually he tells it in the form of a wry, self-deprecating story about himself; occasionally, in the form of a triumphant story about a client.

He doesn’t write directly about me: but in writing insightfully and artfully about himself and others, he tells a story that unlocks my own imagination, and makes me interested in what he’s selling.

Ramit Sethi. @ramit also writes a blog, a newsletter, and various other missives. Some people are put off by the in-your-face title of his website – I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

First of all, he actually can. Secondly, he is a cornucopia of ideas of how to improve your life. But for present purposes, it’s how he does it on which I want to focus: Ramit tells in-your-face stories that rivet the attention and supercharge the imagination.

Like Ian, Ramit is a story-teller. Also like Ian, some of his best stories are about what he himself was, and what he managed to become. He’s also loaded with real life examples of others. Unlike a lot of happy-talk writers, Ramit doesn’t hesitate to describe failure: if you can’t stand the occasional ‘ouch’ of self-recognition, better not risk reading him. But if you can take it, this is great marketing.

Bring a Risky Gift

One of the most powerful forms of marketing – really, of influence in general – is the principle of reciprocity. If I do X for you, you’ll be inclined to return the favor. It’s as basic as a hand-shake.

Think about what you do when a friend invites you to dinner. You bring a gift – maybe a bottle of wine. But if you take a risk, you give some thought to that wine. You spend a little more; but especially, you spend some time thinking about it. Maybe you buy a bottle from Piemonte, because your friend recently returned from a foodie tour of Italy.

Critically, you could be wrong. Maybe they hated Italian wines. Maybe they quit drinking. But that’s the point. If you actually take a risk, you make yourself vulnerable.

Vulnerability and risk-taking are the drivers of trust. There is no trust without risk. Waiting for the other party to take the first risk is like aggressively waiting for the phone to ring. You need to create your own luck, and BARG – Bring a Risky Gift – is how you do it.

The best marketing is not shotgunning features lists into dead, cold email lists, but digging into those lists and doing just a bit of research to actually do something personal – and to offer a gift.

I don’t mean a bribe, or an illegal offering. I mean a sample of your wares. An insight; a tool; a white paper. Something that is valuable, that is clearly aimed uniquely at the target client in a transparent and intentional way, and that entails some risk.

That is what BARG is about. It triggers the reciprocity process. It triggers the trust process by taking a risk. It gives a humble sample of what you can do.

Who does this?  Really good consultants do it all the time. In the larger world of marketing, this is some of what Hubspot Marketing became famous for doing.

The point is, it’s another antidote to the impersonal, features-only approach to “marketing” that has come to plague the field in our time.


So, take your pick. Tell rich stories about yourself and your clients; or dig in to real life target clients, and BARG.  Either way, the point is to re-personalize marketing and sales, reconnecting with the human aspect of buying.

Let’s make sales smart again. Sell the hole, not the drill. Make it personal. You don’t have to put up with stupid marketing and sales as a customer; and you surely shouldn’t practice it yourself.

5 replies
  1. Dave Brock
    Dave Brock says:

    Charlie, this has been a brilliant series. I’d add some antidotes and perhaps anecdotes 😉

    1. Use the tools, don’t just buy them and pay for them. Most of the marketing automation platforms offer tremendous capability for refining, personalizing, and targeting your messages–increasing the relevance an impact. Somehow, people are buying the tools, but not using these capabilities. Ironically, the suppliers of the tools are the worst offenders, they don’t even use the capabilities they are promoting.
    2. Less is more. Increasing the volume, figuratively and literally, seems to be the strategy everyone is adopting. Consequently, people are drowning in an overwhelming amount of crap. Doing less, doing what you suggest, incorporating a BARG is very powerful. In some ways, Teddy Roosevelt was right, Speak Softly But Carry A Big Stick–in this case the bit stick is BARG. It works!!!!! But you have to do the work to create a meaningful BARG. Unfortunately, too many don’t want to do the work. (By the way, I’m claiming the speak softly quote for a blog post title 😉

    I think through your series, you’ve raised a more important issue. At all levels, we seem to be focused on the expedient over effectiveness, volume over quality, shortcuts over doing the work. It’s not just in marketing, but how we sell, how we lead, how we approach business and creating value for our customers.

    Customers are telling us every day about their frustrations with this, and are shutting us off–both to their and our detriment. How do we stop this conundrum?

    • Charlie Green
      Charlie Green says:


      Great and thoughtful comments; many thanks for your engagement and support on this series.

      What you’ve said bears underscoring: we are emphasizing expedience over effectiveness, shiny objects over their utility, volume over quality, and shortcuts over work. All enabled, of course, by the zero marginal cost of another blast email, cool analytic, or micro-segment.

      The good news, for those able to see it, is that against a backdrop of such drechh, it becomes increasingly easy to stand out. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eye man is king.

  2. Bill Corbin
    Bill Corbin says:

    I like the BARG idea in part because it suggests the possibility that the carefully selected gift is delivered by a real live human being — one of the several million people who still make a living “on the ground.” The massive content blasting that we call cloud-based marketing has a role…although the frustration expressed in this post suggests the problem of massive blasting as a tool for relationship nurture. But failure to utilize the one-by-one nurturing capability of people is opportunity missed and big budget dollars wasted.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] about “bringing a risky gift” as a sales strategy, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on how to think […]

  2. […] the last part in this series, I’ll talk about the two generic solutions to the problem of stupid marketing – two strategies […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *