Challenging the Status Quo of Marketing Groupthink

Tony Compton, Managing Director


The average tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is somewhat short. Two years, maybe three or four. It depends which study you reference. I thought I read it was getting better nowadays. But there’s a long way to go…

Even with the short tenures, CMOs still apply approaches that are:

Outdated. Passive. Common. Routine. Disconnected. Just Because.



of “Careful” Value.

I was going write of “Zero Value” – but that’s not true. There’s some value to what some are doing in marketing. But so much in marketing nowadays simply gets by. And there is value in simply getting by in:

  • Digital Marketing
  • Events and Trade Show Marketing
  • Content and Sales Enablement
  • Product Marketing
  • “Paint by Numbers” marketing leadership from CMOs.

…but simply getting by is not in my nature.

You see it everyday. Fill-in-the-blank marketing. The majority accept, and few challenge. Groupthink. Marketing Groupthink.

That’s how I view far too many approaches to marketing.

Here are five readily identifiable areas that demonstrate marketing groupthink:

1. Digital Marketing

Copy and paste each and every “Digital Marketing” job description easily found populating the ‘black hole’ career sections of corporate websites. And LinkedIn. And others. Digital Marketing has become what? Search engines, keywords, social media maintenance, websites, emails, some writing, some campaigns, some lead gen, some CRM system data upload, some reporting, etc… Your company does it. You do digital marketing the same as the next one, and the next… Why? I dunno. It’s become routine.

Want to challenge the digital status quo? Have your digital marketers put down the electronics and stand in front of the class and tell your corporate story. Or venture out with sales people to talk to customers. Don’t tell me those ideas to marketing groupthink won’t make your digital marketers better at what they do.

2. Events and Trade Show Marketing

Your marketing up to, during, and after your company’s events has become predictable. And safe. How so? Your BIG industry event is coming up. So you pepper your contact db with messages about your sponsored appearance. (So does everybody else.) You promote your event appearance and solicit on-site meetings to drive the appearance of after-show value with high-end opportunities. (So does everybody else.) A sponsored reception, party, or steak dinner may be in the offing. You have your booth. Your paint-by-numbers booth. And you may have a presentation. Or a seat on the ‘cure for insomnia’ panel discussion. Then you (hopefully) dissect your after-show contact spreadsheet to email, call, and solicit. Just like everybody else.

Am I close?

Want to challenge the status quo? Take a hard look at why your company does the events it does. Ask questions. Don’t just take another spot on the show floor and populate it with outdated collateral, spinning PPTs, a ‘cheap’ exhibit, and people who have zero personal communication game. You may also wish to prepare your company speakers before their next presentation. You may wish to turn off your mobile cameras before streaming live video without preparation. Negotiate with event vendors, save money. And leave some of your budget-busting staff at home.

Get serious – and creative – about your events strategy.

This one’s tough. But if you want to disrupt your trade show and event groupthink – you’ll break new ground.

3. Content and Sales Enablement

Content, content, content. Somedays that’s all you’ll read. But it’s the security blanket of the ill-prepared. For terrible slides for unprepared speakers. For endless, text-heavy case studies. For websites that could double as a maze in a corn field.

I’ve never said content isn’t important. But I’ve been around the block a few times in marketing. Content ends up residing on local laptops in all forms known to mankind. Or in a central repository which dates back to 2007. And once the content is retrieved, it’s deflates the person who found it because it’s the same thing Joe used for a presentation in Chicago last week. Outdated messaging and all.

And how exactly is producing all of this “content” enabling sales?

Besides the obvious groupthink approach that sales needs content to be effective?

Want to challenge the status quo? Make sure that those that produce the content can actually use their content. Have them present it as a sales person would: on the phone, on a webinar, in a boardroom, on-stage, and on-camera. It’ll make them better content producers if they experience first-hand how it’s used.

More, it’s wise to make sure that those who are using the content can demonstrate that they, too, know how to use it in multichannel scenarios. (That’s means your inside sales reps and your external business developers. Your marketers, customer service agents, and partners. And your executives.) Be sure to make sure that those who use the content, can use the content.

Because the marketing groupthink approach to content and sales enablement simply dictates creation. And dumping of content. And freelancing of usage.

Of course I’m familiar with sales enablement technology that catalogues content. Customizes content. And delivers content. But that doesn’t mean the end-user in the field can use and present the content. (And those vendors will never tell you that.)

4. Product Marketing

I’ve written about how product marketing could be on the verge of automation. About how it’s become a cookie-cutter endeavor at so many tech companies. I know it’s supposed to be this strategic, go-to-market leadership function, but it isn’t. Not anymore. Not at the companies who copy and paste their product marketing requirements just like the vendor next door.

Follow-me, again, to be sure I got this job’s requirements down: product marketing is to develop strategy, go-to-market messaging, value props, and unique differentiators, have it’s ear to the market, the trends, the competitive landscape, the alliance partners…

Product marketing is to develop content. Draw up battle cards. Unveil material to support business growth. To forecast opportunity. To interface with industry analysts. Understand the buyers. Some subject matter expertise and some public speaking and presentation work.

Toss in a product launch, event, campaign, and marcom support, some sales enablement, with financial and technical expertise, and you’ve got the product marketing picture.

And so does every other company housing one or more product marketers.

Challenging the product marketing status quo is easy. And damn sure should be required.

Last I checked, there are ~5000 MarTech vendors, spanning all imaginable industry sectors. How in the world are you going to break out in that landscape if your product marketing approach is the same as every single competitor? And for those not in the MarTech 5000 – the same question applies. What are you doing differently?

Ideas on how to do so? Sure…

Let me start by saying I’ve seen the problem. Your go-to-market problem. You’ve got good people doing good work with great technology. But where product marketing is supposed to lead, it time and again drops the ball. Change it by:

Preparing your product marketers to regularly visit, present, and interact with customers, prospects, analysts, and the media. Prepare for interactions across all formats. Remote, and in-person. On-camera, on-webinars, and in-person. You’re likely not doing this today. I know because I pay attention. It’s easy to spot. To hear. To see. To read. Get your product marketing communication game tight.

Prepare your product marketing leadership skills. I once sat in on a presentation from one BIG Tech company that was unbearable. They were so proud of a 100+ slide deck but forgot to tell the six remote presenters on a web-conference call how to organize and make sense of it amongst themselves and for the audience. Product marketing is in the leadership role, and took none.

Add creativity. Real creativity. Turn product marketing into storytellers. Stop doing the same events, the same panel discussions, the same public-facing tasks… create a brand for product marketing by doing things differently: creating your own events, podcasts, webinars, videos… separate from the field of product marketing clones. Attack your target audience outside the standard methods of outdated product marketing groupthink.

5. Marketing Leadership

Or should the section be called the “be quiet, accept the marketing groupthink, and just do your job…

It’s the biggest “paint-by-number” and “color between the lines” area of marketing groupthink.

Marketing strategy? There’s a template for that.

The marketing plan? There’s a template for that.

The marketing budget? There’s a template for that.

The approach to events? There’s a template for that.

The quarterly marketing report? There’s a template for that.

The quarterly marketing ops report? There’s a template for that.

The quarterly product marketing report? There should be a template for that.

To marketing videos? Stare into the camera, off-set right, ask softball questions, and overlay graphics.

The approach to webinars and other recorded audio material? Overdo the content, and add one ill-prepared voiceover. Record ‘good enough’ sound to give the impression of using a tin can in a cavernous concrete room.

The leadership approach applied to marketing? So common that you don’t need a template.

Here, I’m busted. You need a marketing strategy, plan, and budget. And you have to report on marketing activities. Those are the current table stakes.

But I’ve sat in those rooms with marketing leaders.

They’re the same leaders who copy and paste last year’s approach to this year’s plan.

The ones who won’t hear of true sales enablement, innovative approaches to content, sales-oriented management styles, and creative, groundbreaking marketing.

Who nod, shake their heads, and clap politely when the next expert dumps useless but feel-good information on them.

Marketing leaders who won’t deviate from standard operating procedure.

Who’ve become infamous for low average #CMO tenures.

This article is over, but I’m just getting warmed up.

I want you to exercise your marketing creativity. Your marketing passion.

And not let it be held captive by a Xeroxed job description or outdated approaches to marketing management.

There are those who accept marketing groupthink. Who want to accept marketing groupthink. No challenges to their way of business thinking allowed.

So you can either smile and go back to your cube, or you can challenge the stats quo.

Challenging means creating.

It means professional #leadership.

It means taking ownership in the business.

Seeing that talent is nurtured.

For ensuring success.

For acting on the need to bring marketing innovation – and professional disruption.

In technology and business practices.

For breaking the business mold and doing something that stands out in the crowded marketing landscape.

To strive for excellence in yourself and those around you.


For more on Challenging the Status Quo of #Marketing Groupthink, follow me on Twitter: @tonycompton, @GettingPresence

For immediate #presentation & #publicspeaking tips, visit the GettingPresence website.