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Your Baby’s Ugly and Other Difficult Things Marketing Consultants Have to Tell Clients

by Jennifer Beever on December 12, 2014

Ugly BabyA good marketing consultant delivers solutions, implementation and results. But sometimes we have to  deliver some not-so-pleasant news to clients. Here are a few of the top “bad news” messages marketers have to deliver and how to present them as painlessly as possible.

1. Your baby’s ugly

This is probably the number one most difficult message to convey to a client. They have just hired you to make their marketing better, and they have a terrible logo, website, marketing message, etc. Worse, they invested tons of money into the ugly baby. Maybe they self-directed the design, not knowing it was bad. Maybe they just got a design that they liked, not what fits their target audience and industry. They are probably emotional about the ugly baby – they may love it.

I try to acknowledge the work and effort that has gone into marketing design in the past. I explain why the marketing piece in question is not appropriate. I often show bad logos on a page or screen with other logos from the industry. The bad ones stand out like a sore thumb. The same is true for websites and other things. Show the client what the competition is doing and compare how bad their image looks in comparison.

2. You may as well flush your marketing money down a toilet

There are a lot of great sales people in the marketing and advertising industry. They make promises about results and often stroke the egos of business owners who really believe they have “the best thing since sliced bread – if only people knew about it!” It makes sense – you love your product, why wouldn’t everyone else?

I once had a technology company owner tell me he wanted to run a $26,000 ad in Time magazine, with regional distribution (to save money), featuring his black box. The ad he intended was a diagram of the product and its features. It was a one shot deal – no multi-touch campaign with a minimum of three ads, no messaging designed for his audience, no analysis of the publication’s audience, and certainly no integrated marketing plan. It all started because an assertive salesperson who needed to make their quota made a sales call to an inventor who wanted to believe his product would sell like hotcakes.

The best thing to do in this situation is educate the client about the importance of planned, integrated marketing, understanding the audience, and crafting strong marketing messages that stress benefits and solutions to prospective customers’ pains and problems. Hopefully they will get it.

3. Stop the business planning: your new product idea is already being done or isn’t valid

Inventors create great products, but many don’t validate the need for the product prior to investing in developing a business plan, marketing and trying to sell their invention. They often get myopic or attached to the idea and lose sight of what’s real. In this situation you can show your client why their idea is high risk: strong existing competition, high or low barriers to entry, etc. Have them talk to an industry expert or analyst if necessary.

I worked with a client to launch two new product lines. Another consultant was not only investigating but developing a detailed business plan for a third product. At the consultant’s request I did a scan of the third opportunity, and based on an investor’s comment that if someone was already in the space you should pass, I advised the client to drop the project. They didn’t listen, spent thousands (tens of, hundreds of thousands?) on the plan and investor pitch. They got shot down on the first pitch.

I did not say, “I told you so.

4. Stop misbehaving

Over the years I’ve witnessed some very bad behavior on the part of clients. Business owners sleeping with marketing staff, lying about their product or service, misrepresenting facts. This is business you walk away from. Ethics and integrity are paramount and life is too short to deal with people who behave badly.

It’s not easy to deliver the bad news. I once heard a clinical psychiatrist named Dr. Mark Goulston suggest that at the start of an engagement you can inform the client that you may have to provide them with bad news or negative feedback. He also suggested that you can ask the client how to best deliver that kind of information.

My point in this blog post is that the bad news is part of our job. Don’t leave a client who has paid you good money to product results thinking that their design, marketing program or idea are good if they’re not. If you gloss over what is or will not work, the client probably won’t get as good a result as they would if you are completely upfront with them.

What bad news have you delivered to a business owner or inventor? Please comment, whether you are in a corporate marketing role or an outsource service provider.

Photo on Flickr by AntToeKnee Lacey. Some Rights Reserved.

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