Marketing From the Heartbeat Out

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cloneOne of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes make is treating product development, marketing and sales as three independent pursuits.

Truth is, they are all hopelessly intertwined parts of the same process. And, without fail, the more innovative energy you give to the first, the less time, money and energy you have to spend on the last two.

Let’s look at the fitness industry as an example…

Your average health club is packed to the gills with rows of cardio, TVs, 30 or 40 resistance training machines, free weights, functional exercise toys, mats and a room or two for classes. Throw in a smoothie bar, jazzier lockers and childcare and you’ve got a modest claim of differentiation. But, fact is, rare is the club that spends any real time, energy and money on developing their product into something that delivers not only a massively different, but vastly better solution. Especially for the 85% of Americans who, despite 30 years of marketing and public service campaigns, still won’t touch health clubs with a 10-foot pole.

So, for the most part, your average club can be defined in one word—fungible.

It’s a clone club. And, that creates a big challenge for both the folks in marketing and sales. With a few exceptions, beyond the window-dressing, you could swap one brand for another fairly easily, leaving price and convenience as the primary selling points. In a market where there’s little competition, that’s survivable. But, as soon as more clubs with similar features arrive, you’re left with price as the primary differentiator and that’s a bad place to be.

In an attempt to try to overcome clone club syndrome, club owners task marketers, advertising agencies and PR people with “positioning” their solution as bigger, better, cooler, cuter, edgier, hipper, funnier and different, when in reality it’s not.

This leaves them singing that classic line from The Sound of Music, “how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” while simultaneously trying to overlay (read “hide) the lack of killer differentiation by wrapping their best shot at an ADD-worthy ad campaign around a humdrum product in an effort to create enough fabricated cuteness, angst or the appearance of differentiation to drive people into the club. And, that whole process gets repeated every month.

Once at the club, prospects are met by the “sales” team.

If you’ve been around the industry for more than a few years, you know the reputation old school club sales people have (and, so does the FTC). Fast talking, objection-overcoming, pressure-pouncing, you must sign before you leave contract crusaders. Sales people have had the monumental burden of creating enough urgency, often through one-time-only offers and enrollment fee waivers, to compel the prospect to sign up before they leave. Anything less is failure.

Because once a prospect arrives and tours the club, it becomes fairly clear that, when it comes down to it, this place is pretty much like all the others, save a bell here and a whistle there. And, if they don’t realize it at that moment, the sales people know if the prospect leaves and visits somewhere else, let’s say $10 a month cheaper, that sale is lost.

And, even if a prospect signs on the dotted line, most stop coming fairly early on, leading to average annual drop-out of 40% and massive, unending new client generation and sales burden

Man, that’s tough to sustain.

Stepping back, here’s what really happened.

A lack of attention to kick ass product differentiation put a ton of pressure on marketing to fabricate a reason for someone to join that was strong enough to get them to visit. They were then charged with mercilessly recreating a new illusion to keep people interested and walking in the door month after month and the club was charged with paying them to do it.

Then, sales people had the insane burden of locking down prospects before the disconnect between the cool, cute, different vibe wore thin.

Does this strike anyone else as a smart way to run a business?

What if you turned the time, energy, money and innovation funnel upside down?

What if, instead of rolling out largely insignificant changes in your business model and customer solutions year after year and leaned on sales and marketing to keep you afloat, you stepped back and spent the vast majority of your time, energy and money not on incremental line improvements, but on blue ocean solutions?

What if you did to the fitness world what Cirque du Soleil did to the circus and theater? What if you created a new paradigm that was so different, so appealing, so much better at solving the health, fitness and lifestyle problems people have, especially those currently alienated by health clubs, you literally expanded the market and, in doing so, made the competition irrelevant?

How would that change your marketing and sales burdens?

Instead of putting your marketing and PR people in a room and paying them to brainstorm largely trumped up ways to position your brand as something hip, cool and different, they could spend a fraction of the time saying, “Holy crap, this is so damn cool, all we really have to do is let the world know we’re here.”

Their job would change from monthly fabricators, illusion-builders and buyers of interruption-driven mass media…to match-lighters.

The time, energy and money needed to “market” becomes instantly and drastically slashed. Because you’ve created what Seth Godin calls “a purple cow.” Something that people cant’ stop talking about.

And, if your marketing team has a remotely decent understanding of word-of-mouth marketing, social media marketing, the psychology of persuasion and viral buzz creation, the potential of bringing to market something that leaves people panting to text, tweet, call, IM, e-mail, post and update everyone they’ve met since kindergarten is huge.

You’ve just deputized an army of people to become your FREE marketing department

Now, let’s follow this through to the fine folks in sales.

Remember that classic “what, does your husband/wife make those decisions for you?” high-pressure close fest sales encounters we talked about earlier? The ones that had prospects checking if their watches were still there and sales people turning over every 5 minutes, rushing to meet quota and feeling largely like slime balls along the way? Those days are gone.

Sure, you still need well trained sales people, but if you do your product development and marketing right, every prospect walks in the door 90% sold already, leaving the sales person largely to confirm that everything a prospect has heard is true. Add in a savvy elicitation of primary buying criteria, tie your solution to that and maybe hint at the fact that membership is growing so fast, it might have to be temporarily capped (and it might)…and it’s game over.

How do I know this process works?

Because it’s the approach I’ve used to build two successful companies in the health and fitness world. One was a private training facility that literally broke new ground and created an environment, programming, pricing structure and culture that was so utterly different, it left people running to tell their friends, tore deeply into the fabric of previous fitness haters and made other studios and gyms largely irrelevant.

Then came a yoga center and teacher training institute that, again, broke nearly every rule. Instead of targeting the “indoctrinated” market of yoga practitioners with incremental benefits, we went after the non-foofy, uninstalled yoga-phobic market with a solution and a setting that was so different it created new ground in the yoga world and took off just quickly as the earlier personal fitness center had.

In both cases, I spent the vast majority of my time cultivating an understanding not of the psychology of the market being served by the existing fitness and yoga solutions, but the vastly larger market being ignored by them. This allowed me to create solutions that didn’t just serve the existing market better, they expanded the market by including those who’d normally never exercised or done yoga.

And, in both cases, by the time someone walked in the door, the sale was largely done.

More importantly, from the perspective of the guy who created these entities (with plenty of help from amazing teams, btw), treating “solution-development,” marketing and sales as one unified endeavor or, as I call it “marketing from the heartbeat out” is just so much more rewarding. Because, I get to spend the vast majority of my time creating innovative ways to solve more peoples’ problems bigger, better and faster than anyone else. Often creating new models along the way, drawing in entirely new markets and building a magical culture that people line up to participate in.

Sure, I know how market and sell from the outside in. I can create and bolt on innovative marketing campaigns, train sales people to close hard and fast and write copy that inspires a boatload of action and gets people talking about “the campaign.” But, when you start, instead, from the heartbeat and work your way out, people stop talking about how cute, funny or outrageous your ads are and they start talking about how their lives are changing…often for the first time ever.

And, that’s not only pretty damn cool, it’s exponentially more lucrative.

So, next time you think about how you can better market and sell what you’ve got, you might want to take a bigger step back and look at exactly what it is you’re selling.

Ask what you can do to make the fundamental solution you are providing so seriously kick-ass, so radically different, so much more compelling, especially to a market that stretches way beyond your current one, that marketing and sales become the functional equivalents of lighting a match…and offering a marshmallow for the fire.

That’s what marketing from the heartbeat out is all about.

As always, just thinking out loud.

What do you think?

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27 responses

27 responses to “Marketing From the Heartbeat Out”

  1. Don Bowler says:

    I think you’re right on the money. There’s a lack of innovation and imagination in every industry. That’s why when someone has the vision and the courage to step outside the box customers flock to their business. But in all fairness when you’re under the pressure of trying to make a living it can be extremely difficult to muster the time and energy to develop new truly innovative ideas.

  2. This post really has my mind whirling – now the goal is to come up with a way that Someday Syndrome truly is different from other coaching/mentoring/lifestyle design services, because of course it is, but how do I demonstrate that – there’s the challenge.

  3. Great post, a lot more people should read this.

    You basically went for the classic “Non-consumption” opportunity segment (the other two are “Underserved” and “Overserved”), which is smart, provided that you can pull off the kind of deep (inside-out) connection/differentiation that you outlined.

    Because most often then assumption has to be that those people are “non-consuming” for a reason. It will only work if you can identify those reasons, and prepare for possibly a good amount of prospect education that has to happen before any sale can take place. Basically get ready for a lot of “Moving The Freeline”…

  4. Amber says:

    Very nice post. Love the line about doing to Cirque Du Soleil did with circus and theatre. Still haven’t found my Cirque Du Soleil idea but I’m working on it. Also, bookmarking this one for later.

  5. […] Fields of Career Renegade fame has a post up today called “Marketing from the Heartbeat Out”. In the post, he talks about creating new markets within existing markets by spending more time […]

  6. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Alex – That is, indeed, the challenge. But, the cool thing is, once you get it, it becomes so much easier for the people you want as your clients to get it, too…and buy it!

  7. Great read – Thank you so much! I’m in a similar spot to Alex, guessing it will help to get still and look inside for those gems too:)

  8. Amy Brucker says:

    Nothing I’ve ever read about USP, no marketing class I’ve ever taken, makes the point as clearly as you have here about the need to be truly unique. This post is so useful it is now required reading for my marketing students! Thanks

    Just heard Rich Schefren talk about how he creates freebie products. He suggests looking at the current problems of your market (or as you say, the market that is being ignored), and instead of addressing the obvious problem, look for what’s below the surface. In other words, ask what the problem is a symptom of, and then recategorize the symptoms and find a deeper issue that hasn’t been addressed by other people. It’s a way to find a unique offering that stirs things up and gets people talking.

  9. Read this earlier today and it really got me thinking about the advantages and opportunities that exist when business strategies are in sync. When they are, as you said, there’s real opportunity to gain competitive advantage and grow revenue.

    While I agree completely with your thesis I also think there is opportunity to get the strategies in sync with the business model. I blogged about this today in Looking for Revenue Growth? Consider Your Business Model.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  10. Andy Hayes says:

    Amen to this approach…as a renegade entrepreneur as well as a consumer, its a shame not all businesses are run this way!

  11. Naomi Niles says:

    Now, if there was only some kind of purple cow generator. 🙂

  12. Loved your post. Focusing on the market not served is a tremendous way to grow your business but many of us get too involved in the trees to see the forest.

    Naomi – One way to generate a purple cow–ask what all your competitors do that are the same..and how you can do it completely differently. Think of auto sales lots. Lots and lots of ads in the paper. Change it to a car giveaway that you register for by coming to take a test drive. I am pretty sure Seth wrote it so want to give him credit for the idea.

    Liberty Tax using dancing statue of Liberty mascots and making taxes fun.

    Southwest turning flying into a fun adventure rather than the drain it is on most flights.

    You don;t have to be different in everything to stand out. Just one really good thing.

  13. Rudolf Orsag says:

    Very inspirational, just what I needed! It seems that most people do not invest necessary time & energy into this obviously most important step, creating “unique hook” – product or service that sells itself. Patience is crucial here. I haven’t found \ created my “hook” yet but I know that it is there somewhere and if I leave myself open, work hard and remain patient…it is just a matter of time. Once I get this right (and get that “eureka” moment), everything else will just fall into place, I feel it. 🙂

  14. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Don – No doubt, it’s not easy, especially when you work in an organization that’s built it’s history around a “red ocean” i.e. blood in the water, competition-driven solution. The book, Blue Ocean Strategy is actually great at laying out a comprehensive process to make it happen.

    @ Alex F – Mind whirling is my forte, lol!

    @ Alex S – You’re right, identifying the reasons why non-consumers are not consuming is critical

    @ Amber – Yeah, Cirque was really visionary with what they pulled off

    @ Tanya – Just keep exploring, it’s worth the effort

    @ Amy – I’m honored to have made your marketing list!

    @ James – Thanks for sharing that post, the really cool thing about this approach is, at least for a while, it makes competition largely irrelevant

    @ Andy – Rock on, brother!

    @ Naomi – Actually, I just invented a purple cow creator, only 99 cents an idea, lol!

    @ Scott – Great examples, thanks for sharing

    @ Rudolf – When the solution itself is innovative enough, the hook becomes self evident

  15. Edgar A. Uy says:

    Great post. I’m a firm believer that advocacy from customers is worth more than the slickest marketing campaign. Innovation requires stepping out of our comfort zone and being comfortable exploring our world without being tethered to conventional wisdom.

  16. […] Career Renegade Blog: One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes make is treating product development, marketing and sales as three independent pursuits. […]

  17. A really great post. What I heard was be real and be willing to ask people whats wrong. That is truelly where the answers will come from and provide differentiation. Then as always its having the balls and support/agreement to carry out.

    Its sent my head spinning with thoughts. Thank you

  18. Sunday says:

    This post and comments opened my mind in all kinds of directions about marketing. My own experience with corporate mentality is that it’s amazingly short-sighted: I worked in a place that would stiff their vendors so quarterly profits looked good. The fact that they drove their vendors to charge them top dollar (and to pretty much hate them) seemed like good business to them. (Oddly enough, this was an alternative energy business, geared toward the future…)

  19. Cath Duncan says:

    I guess this is probably one of the reasons why so many solopreneurs are doing so well – being the only one in the business, they often have to be the product development team, the marketing team and the sales team. I guess that makes it easier for your departments to actually be talking to each other in this way – although it’s still not impossible to have the total disconnect between these departments and find yourself thinking and talking a different way when you’re in “sales mode” to when you’re in product development mode, etc. (I’ve experienced this myself when I first started my business, because of how I thought I “should” communicate/ think when selling!)

    I spent a year selling personal development products for an international company and so I’ve experienced first-hand the importance of product development (and continuous evolution) being the heart of the business. The product I was selling couldn’t be evolved or customized and this made my job as a salesperson infinitely more difficult. This was a great experience for me, because my frustration with their product motivated me to develop my own products and to appreciate the necessity of continuous evolution (and customization where possible) of my products.

    This post really resonated with me, and reminded me of stuff I’d forgotten, which has sparked some cool ideas! Thanks, Jonathan 🙂


  20. Andrea Butje says:

    Loved your post, thanks. I am curious, when you say you created “solutions that didn’t just serve the existing market better, they expanded the market by including those who’d normally never exercised or done yoga”. What exactly did you do to reach these folks?

    Thanks for all the excellent, fun, inspiring writing!

  21. […] Marketing From the Heartbeat Out – One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes make is treating product development, marketing and sales as three independent pursuits. Truth is, they are all hopelessly intertwined parts of the same process. And, without fail, the more innovative energy you give to the first, the less … […]

  22. […] beyond the tight constructs of what we’re told to do. Ways that change the game. Ways that expand, rather than conquer the market. Ways that make patently obvious our unique contribution. Ways that make us […]

  23. smorrow says:

    Great article. As always providing insight and inspiration. Got me really thinking about bending the edge, pushing out, and looking to creating a new paradigm. I really needed to hear this today. Many thanks and keep provoking and inspiring. ~s

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  27. […] answer that went beyond the confines of 140 characters.It’s the concept of Red Ocean versus Blue Ocean.It’s easier to go into an existing market, where you know there is demand for the best […]