When Marketers Shouldn’t Think Like Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs are the celebrities of American capitalism. From Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg to the college dropouts toiling away in a garage (or, these days, fancy co-working space). And so everyone is pushed to be an entrepreneur. In fact, take a look at this month’s Entrepreneur magazine cover story. It’s not enough that Kevin Hart is a funny and successful stand-up comedian. He’s also an entrepreneur, “the guy who owns comedy.” But there are good reasons marketers should not think like entrepreneurs.
Marketers, Don’t Believe the Hype
I recently interviewed a true entrepreneur while writing the case study Website Development: How a small natural foods CPG company increased revenue 18% with a site redesign.
Steven Diebold is the Founder and CEO of Papa Steve’s No Junk Raw Protein Bars. He literally started making his product with his own two hands. He was in LA, I was across the country in Jacksonville, but his passion for his product was so powerful it just oozed through the conference call line. It was undeniable.
That passion is a huge asset, yes?
Well, yes and no. His passion helps him overcome obstacles. It helps him compete with much bigger and better funded companies. It has helped his product become a part of so many of his customers’ lives.
But if brand marketers like you and I tried to think like Steven, that entrepreneurial mindset would be a liability as well. Steven was so passionate about his brand’s story, so close to his brand’s story, in fact, in many ways he was his brand’s story. So he was too close to the situation to really be able to convey that story well on his website.
He needed marketers to come in and help him tell that story. Marketers who didn’t think like entrepreneurs. Marketers who didn’t have the full weight of being a founder and CEO on their backs. Marketers who had the freedom to think like the customer.
Because that is the true role of marketing — to put the customer first. Not the company. Not the brand or product. Not the startup or IPO offering. The customer.
After all, the customer is the core to the success of every company. A patent, a recipe, a novel technology or a BHAG more audacious than the world has ever seen, these things are all meaningless without the customer.
The customer-first approach that marketers bring is extremely valuable. We need to support the world-changing entrepreneurs like Steven. But when we’re working for brands — internally or at an agency — we shouldn’t try to think like them. As General George Patton said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
Steven explained the value of marketers bringing in a customer-first mindset this way, “I don't think a lot of potential customers really knew that we made them [the protein bars] weekly and they're fresh made … and these different things that would be valuable to them. They couldn’t really see that or understand it with how the site was structured and how we were telling the story before. So I think now we have a more clear story that that's being communicated more succinctly and in a better structure and the sequence of that value is being delivered in a better form.”
Passion Blinds Us
Let me try this on for an analogy. Have you ever been in a fight with someone you loved? A husband or wife maybe?
Sometimes I can’t even form words or sentences I’m so angry. Me. Someone who writes and speaks for a living.
If I see a friend get in a fight with a spouse. If I have perspective instead of passion. Well, the cause of the disagreement is obvious then. It’s a simple misunderstanding I can clearly explain.
Stay Skeptical, Dear Marketers
Kris Frieswick’s article about Kevin Hart identified many characteristics of entrepreneurs that marketers would certainly be wise to emulate. Keen observers of the human condition. Able to withstand rejection. Vision and hard work.
But marketers can’t wholly think like entrepreneurs. We must stay more skeptical. We must be the advocate of the customer in the organization, even when we’re the only uncomfortable voice of dissension in a meeting. We must battle the groupthink, however passionate, that entrepreneurs bring to the table.
I’ll leave you with this anecdote from my own career.
While coming aboard to do some consulting work with a technology startup, I was told, “If you join us, you must be all in on this belief – that we are the most incredible, amazing, world-beating technology in our space and will change our industry forever.”
I responded, “No. It’s your job to think that. For me, I must always be thinking ‘Who the heck cares about Company X?’ Because that’s what every one of your future customers is thinking right now.”
When we take this arm’s length approach, not only do we become more effective marketers, but we help entrepreneurs see themselves in a new light. We help them better understand how truly awesome they are and what their passion has produced. As Steven told me in the website redesign case study, “They're [competitors are] selling food like they're selling iPads, and I didn't really think about that until I saw some of the messaging that [was] put in about no warehouses. And I thought, I never mentioned that about no warehouses before. I hadn't thought about that.”
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Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.