Marketing Trigger Words.

In workshops and coaching with sellers, I see a recurring language pattern that’s shutting down the client conversation before it even truly gets under way.  With all the best intentions, sales reps toss off careless simplifications of their client’s business and marketing needs.  In uttering or typing these Marketing Trigger Words, the seller ends up with no idea of the damage they have caused.  They know only that the sales call and the relationship have gone sideways, but they don’t know why.

There are several Trigger Words – and Phrases – but there are a couple of threads that tie them together:  predictability and lack of specificity.  In terms of the predictable, it’s almost as if we’ve passed around a book called “Stuff Reps Say”…. Lazy casual phrases that are tossed into emails and conversations with no real research or understanding.  And even when the seller does have a clue about what their client might need, they talk about it so generally that it ends up falling flat with the customer. A few examples:

Could you and your sales team stand a little disruption?  Want to take some new looks at seemingly-intractable sales problems?  If you’re a qualified media sales leader, request your invitation to Seller Forum on Wednesday March 7th in New York.  Better yet, sign up for a season’s pass and secure 1 or 2 seats at each of our 2018 Forums.  Go to for more information.

“Reach.”  This is a very real thing, of course…just not in the way most reps refer to it.  “This customer really needs to reach millennials!”  Yeah, maybe.  But they don’t necessarily need you to help them do it. Reach is a math problem they can solve lots of other ways.  What are you really bringing to the table?  The ability to tell the audience a better story?  Insights to help the marketer connect with that customer?  But if you open with “reach,” you’ll never really get a fair hearing on what you can really offer.

“You compete with…”  This is a swing and miss for so many reps.   Not because it’s a bad idea to bring up the client’s competitor…no, that’s a great idea!  It’s just that the seller tosses out the most simplistically obvious one.  Ford/Chevy, Coke/Pepsi, Samsung/Apple, Verizon/AT&T and so on.  To make the competitive dynamic meaningful, you must make it specific.  Don’t mention five different competitors; pick one.   Don’t leave it at the corporate or brand level; say which specific products, car models or cell plans are in competition.  Speaking specifically about your customers fight is your first chance to show them how much you know and care.  Don’t half-ass it.

“Branding.”  This might be the mac-daddy of them all.  Sellers who are diligent (or lucky) enough to get face time with marketers will then casually toss out the B-Word.  “Our company can help you build your brand in the eyes of our audience!”  If the advertiser is able to get past the feeling of condescension in that statement, they will then realize that the rep has little idea about what goes into building a brand – or how customers are moved along the scale from awareness to association to preference to intent.  Good rule of thumb:  If you can’t explain it, don’t say it.

You and your company have a lot of great things to offer to marketers and agencies.  How tragic, then, that it often goes wrong so early.  Take care with your words and you’ll find yourself in the deeper, more productive conversations that both you and your customers crave.

“The B Word” Revisited

Over the past decade, the word “branding” has been negatively defined by those playing the direct response/direct action card. “Branding” was once the tallest tent pole within the marketing big top. But it’s gone through years of erosion and withering attack. Those who traffic in cost-per-action pricing, couponing, trade discounts, promotions and other “accountable” marketing practices have tarred branding with the brush of wastefulness, caprice and lack of accountability.

A fair characterization? Of course not. But who said life was fair? And as long as we let the term “branding” hang out there in the breeze with no real definition, it’s going to continue to take a pounding. And far too many media sales people continue to feed the stereotype by casually tossing out the “B Word” to marketers and agencies that either aren’t really sure what it means anymore, or who don’t really care.

And as long as we let the term “branding” hang out there in the breeze with no real definition, it’s going to continue to take a pounding. And far too many media sales people continue to feed the stereotype by casually tossing out the “B Word” to marketers and agencies that either aren’t really sure what it means anymore, or who don’t really care.

It’s time for some new language. Walk away from “branding” as a descriptor of marketing value. Instead, speak to marketers in very concrete terms about the qualities that are inherent in branding. The conversation might go something like this:

“Do you feel that customers need to remember the name of your product?”

“Well… of course!” (Raw awareness)

“Would it be a good idea to connect the brand to positive qualities in the mind of the consumer?”

“Yeah… sure…” (Brand Association)

“Could it be helpful to explain the product to the consumer? I mean, if they understand what it does aren’t they more likely to buy it?”

“Uh… well… yes, I think so…” (Knowledge of product attributes and benefits.)

“And if we can move them along and make them more likely to buy… would that be helpful?”

“Oh, yeah… absolutely!” (Purchase Intent)

“Oh, one final question: Can I interest you in some branding today?”

“God no! Are you kidding? We’re accountable marketers here, and don’t you forget it!”

It’s not right or fair that the term branding has been damaged beyond repair. But that’s the reality of the situation. And we can ball up our fists or cry or have lengthy philosophical arguments about it… or we can adjust.

Those of us in the interactive space are particularly vulnerable. The dutiful, hardworking nebbishes of pay-per-click and cost-per-action are omnipresent in our world. But if we continue to cling to the “B Word,” we have no one but ourselves to blame. Instead, let’s get serious and specific about the elements of branding, even as we consign the term to the ideological scrap heap. Every aspect of what we used to call branding can be measured… and they can be measured thoroughly, quickly and inexpensively online. If each of us is willing to really understand the process and speak about it in specific terms, we might just help today’s marketers come to terms with their dormant inner brand builders.

This post originally appeared in June of 2005.  It seems to remain a hot button issue in our business.  Do you think so?