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Can marketing be honest AND motivating?

Most of us who aren't Marketers have a dim view of Marketing. Yet here we are, non-Marketers, thinking about marketing. We have something we believe in that we want to promote. But we don't want to be dishonest or unethical. But what if we're like competitive athletes...where we're at a disadvantage if we're trying to run naturally and fairly while everyone else is on steroids?

If we don't claim that our product or service will get them rich, famous, or laid... we still need to think about motivation. We can be both honest AND motivating, but we can't assume that being honest is inherently motivating. Since our focus here is "passionate users", I'm making these assumptions:

1) There is something your product, service, or cause can help your users kick butt in. Something they can keep getting better and better at, where better means a higher-resolution experience. Where being better is better.

2) You are already working on ways to help your users pass the "Suck Threshold" and move more quickly toward the "Kick Ass" threshold. In other words, there are ways (either from you or a user community or third-party) for the user to keep learning.

[Note for those who haven't yet figured out what you can help your users kick ass in: that's the first crucial step. And remember, it's almost never about making them more of an expert on your tool, it's about helping them get really good at whatever it is they do with your tool. Nikon's tutorials aren't about making camera experts, they're making photography experts. Parelli horsemanship isn't making experts on training equipment, they're making expert horse trainers. Apple's iLife products aren't making software experts, they're making home video, photography, and music experts. (Yes, I'm using "expert" in the sense that even if most people never get there, the promise is that it's possible.)

And it isn't always directly related to what you offer. We've talked about this before--the guy who makes USB thumb drives, for example, could choose to help teach users to give kick-ass presentations.]

So, what's the initial motivation for someone to take the first step with your product, service, or cause? Why should they download your free trial? Why should they visit your gym/store/church for the first time? Marketers and Advertisers might delve into the psychology of human needs to answer that question (maybe a spin through some variation of Maslow's hierarchy), to figure out which they can tap into, but we think there's a simpler way to look at it.

The most common reason people take the first step toward something they may ultimately develop a passion for is because these THREE things are present:

1) There is a clear, compelling picture of what it might be like to be an expert (or at least really good) at this thing.

2) There is a clear path to getting there.

3) There is an obvious and relatively easy first step.

If you show me an example of what it could mean to be really good at this thing-you-can-help-me-kick-ass-in, I might find that motivating. Whether it's photos of people doing it, or the result of what they do using your thing, or video clips, or testimonials (users talking about how they kick ass, not how great you or your product are).

But it doesn't matter how motivating it looks to become really good at this if I can't imagine that I--a mere mortal--could ever get there. You must show me a realistic path to getting there. Do you have tutorials or training at all levels including total newbie? User support groups? Descriptions of each stage and what it takes to reach that stage, both financially (if that applies) and time/effort?

So, does your product, service, or cause need to be motivating? Not necessarily. But the thing-you-will-help-users-kick-ass-in needs to be. We assume that someone, somewhere loves being really good at whatever it is that you can help people get into and get better at. Whatever it is that they love about it, that is your motivating picture, even if it's nothing more than the glorious feeling of control I'll have when I've learned to use your productivity app in a meaningful, productive way.

It won't get them laid, it won't make them an instant millionaire, it won't help them lose 20 pounds (well, maybe that one could be true ; )
But you don't need those claims if you're able to paint a clear, realistic picture of something people will find worth the effort of getting good.

Posted by Kathy on May 4, 2006 | Permalink


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Tracked on May 6, 2006 6:35:55 AM


this was the central theme of a talk I recently gave to a group called Refresh Phoenix in Arizona. Of all the questions you can answer about your stuff (what where when how why who) - if you can get the audience to grok just the "why" part deeply and on an emotioal level (beyond intellectually- 'that makes logical sense'), the other questions tend to resolve themselves on their own.
the audio for that talk avail here-> http://www.scrollinondubs.com/index.cfm/2006/3/6/Speaking-at-Refresh-Phoenix


Posted by: Sean Tierney | May 4, 2006 3:16:47 PM

I agree with everything you wrote but I can’t figure out how to get people to actually do what they need to do to grok our product. We have worked hard to communicate a clear and compelling picture, we have a clear path, and we make it easy to take the first step. We provide all the stuff below:

Whitepapers – check
Demo video – check
Webinars – check
Forums – check
Public speaking – check
Blogging – check
Case studies – check
Testimonials – check
MSDN webcasts – check
3rd party product reviews and articles – check
Developer’s Guide – check
Sample Guide – check
Coding samples – check
Free Developer Edition - check

The problem I run into (and this isn’t the first time) is how do you help people understand leading edge technologies developed by a startup? Inherently this is an education and a trust problem but it’s really hard to educate when the funds are limited and to gain trust when the biggest customers are in the financial services area and won’t let us do case studies or provide testimonials.

I’ve been in the software industry for over 18 years and I’ve shipped a lot of products and the beginning stage has always been the most painful and difficult time. It definitely helps to have a network of industry friends who can help get your message out, but not everyone has that. If we were to think of this as a car accelerating, how to you get from 0 to 10? And if the answer is blood, sweat, and tears...I’m already doing that!

You can check us out at:
Digipede Technologies
Many legs make light work™

Posted by: Kim Greenlee | May 4, 2006 5:52:32 PM

'"How will this software get my users laid" should be on the minds of anyone writing social software (and these days, almost all software is social software).' -- http://www.jwz.org/doc/groupware.html

Posted by: Charles Miller | May 4, 2006 7:04:17 PM

"Whether it's photos of people doing it, or the result of what they do using your thing, or video clips"
Well, that's one way to get your users excited ; )

Posted by: thom | May 4, 2006 10:00:20 PM

"Drink beer because it helps you get laid"

Personally I think that pitch is motivating AND honest. I'm sure the human race would of died out if we hadn't discovered alcohol.


Posted by: Chris Tregenza | May 5, 2006 1:42:11 AM

Hey, I'm wa-ay out of my comfort zone, here, but isn't the biggest problem actually grabbing punters' attention in the first place? Getting onto their radar? Perhaps if the opening line of your ad was, "We can't promise it'll improve your sex life, but..."

Then you might have their attention for long enough to tell them what you can promise.

Just a thought!

Posted by: Karyn Romeis | May 5, 2006 2:39:26 AM

the first isn't honest either; milk isn't really good for you unless you ask the national dairy council

Posted by: F | May 5, 2006 7:37:32 AM

The best way to get the attention of those who might buy your software is to listen to their needs and provide something that helps them, usually for free. Advertising is often a waste of money, but giving the users what they want works fairly well, whether you are giving free seminars (not plugging your product, but real value given on a topic related to your area of expertise - it must have real value or it will be dismissed as selling instantly), code samples, help on forums... anything which helps the user without demanding anything in return. Even better, as Kathy would attest, if you can make the thing of value empower the user and make them feel kick ass. If your product uses AJAX, don't just give an AJAX sample, outline the steps they can take to AJAX enable something of their own. Once they do, they will feel more expert, and listen more attentively when you have something else to say.

Posted by: Ben Langhinrichs | May 5, 2006 9:06:19 AM

This is kind of funny... the comment from Chris was echoed in some emails to me... apparently beer *does* help get you laid! (I've always been more the designated driver type).

Karyn: you're absolutely right, there is the problem of attention -- but I consider "getting attention" a completely different step (albeit the one that comes before motivation). This post was about after you get have initial attention and now want to show them why it would be cool to take the first/next step. So, I agree -- we should talk about that initial attention stage too. Thanks for the push on that.

Thom: Geez... did I actually type it just like that? Let's not speculate about what I was thinking (or drinking) ; )

Ben: Excellent idea, yes, "outline the steps they can take with AJAX to enable something of their own..." And of course I love the idea of the free seminars-which-are-not-disguised-sales-pitches!

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | May 5, 2006 9:36:29 AM

There is a great -- a GREAT -- book on marketing entitled "Momentum," which I think you should read. (maybe you have already read it). When you are marketing what _we_ are, you are communicating the idea of what the future will be like for your customers. You wish to create the impression that your company will satisfy their needs on into the future, as it unfolds. If you can create that impression, then THEY will find the first step to take among the tools you have provided them to take it. If you cannot, then the long list of tools (it was a good list, too, thanks very much for providing it!) will not be of interest, since they will go another route.

Now, what about price. Isn't pricing one of the essential elements of marketing? Everyone always talks about getting out the message about the product, but the price of the product, either actual or implied (by which I mean what customers can infer about what it will cost them) is important. If you are not thinking about pricing when you are thinking about marketing, then your marketing is not gonna kick nothin', except maybe kick back on the weekend when instead you really want your campaign to kick in, or maybe kick air (and if that's not a metaphor for something then it should be.)

Posted by: George | May 5, 2006 12:46:57 PM

..except that milk's not good for you :)

Posted by: Michael G. Richard | May 5, 2006 1:33:24 PM

At your recommendation George, I just ordered “Momentum” and grabbed “Blue Ocean Strategy” as well which has been on my radar for awhile and one of the books I saw on Kathy’s coffee table awhile back.

We have put a lot of thought into our pricing. Digipede has worked hard to make grid computing on Windows accessible and easy to use and a big part of that is making it something any company can cost justify, not just those companies with deep pockets. Our pricing strategy is directly inline with our marketing strategy. Bill Gates saw a computer in every home, Steve Jobs sees an iPod for everyone, and we want grid computing in every business. That’s a big part of making it easy for people.

Another review article just came out a few hours ago on CRN comparing the Digipede Network to Sun Grid. This is one of those big wins.

Thanks to those folks who provided private responses. Your input is much appreciated and very insightful.

Posted by: Kim Greenlee | May 5, 2006 2:18:47 PM

Interesting string. Your readers would do well to check out "Getting Everything You Can Out of All You've Got : 21 Ways You Can Out-Think, Out-Perform, and Out-Earn the Competition" by Jay Abraham. There's no point in my raving about it: It has 120 reviews on Amazon -- most of them 5's. Once you read Jay, you never go back.

Posted by: Marketing Headhunter | May 5, 2006 6:38:56 PM

I'm about halfway through the Jay Abraham book. Good stuff indeed.

Posted by: Michael G. Richard | May 6, 2006 12:38:26 PM

The four bloggers behind the Creating Passionate Users blog are all passionate about the brain and metacognition. Two of the four are also the co-creators of the Head First book series published by O'Reilly.

So it is hardly surprising that, when one of the four - Kathy Sierra - snapped her sinapses last month to consider the whole question of marketing, she came up with some fiercely intelligent, actionable conclusions.

"Can marketing be honest AND motivating?" she asked rhetorically, before giving an answer which is truly powerful in its simplicity:

"The most common reason people take the first step toward something they may ultimately develop a passion for is because these THREE things are present:

1) There is a clear, compelling picture of what it might be like to be an expert (or at least really good) at this thing.

2) There is a clear path to getting there.

3) There is an obvious and relatively easy first step."

See what I mean? Is that not extraordinary? Read it again, point by point. Quite brilliant.

The age of the "Better Moustrap" has long since passed, and nowadays technology adoption is something driven by word-of-Web and by the viral effect of any product, service, or cause that turns out to be - quite simply - compelling for the user.

Once someone tries out your invention, as every inventor knows, s/he will understand its virtues in a heartbeat. What Sierra pinpoints and zeros in on, though, is that fomenting in potential users a desire to try it out is as much a function of communicating about it clearly as it is about the merit of the product, service, or cause itself.

Metrics like faster, bigger, smaller, cheaper are not enough in the 21st Century "Web 2.0" world where users are deluged with marketeering. Even good old "better" isn't nearly enough.

What technology users are looking for, and rightly so in a world where most things are already technology-enabled and most innovation is merely incremental, are applications or ideas that are, in a word, transformational. That transform their working and/or their home life - that transform their very future.

The great offerings of the next few years will be those that, literally, change all our futures - for example, by helping us create those futures more knowingly. But even those will only be adopted if we make it easy for potential users to take the first step along the migration path by communicating the future to them and infecting them with a yen to involve themselves.

What was that saying we all learnt back in the day: "Tell me, and I might forget; show me, and I might remember; involve me and I'll understand."

Posted by: Jeremy Geelan | Jun 22, 2006 2:13:32 AM

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