Tuesday 2¢: Reading The Label From Inside The Bottle

This is the last Tuesday 2¢ of 2022, and I know at this time of year, one should be posting something about the holiday season or maybe a look forward to the new year or yet another predictions post. But, if your house is anything like mine, the new year is the time for champagne, and maybe we can find marketing inspiration from those bottles.

An expression I heard on Scott Galloway’s podcast earlier this year stuck with me:

It’s hard to read the label from inside the bottle. 

It reminded me how, as marketers, our decisions are often driven by opinions and insights from within the four walls of our business. 

For example, if you work in B2B, where does what we know about our competitors come from? It’s unlikely they will give us a demo or a briefing or the view of a happy customer using their product and the opinion of someone from their tribe. 

What we learn from won deals, anecdotes, and our network might be great, some teams do this really well, but it’s still going to lack some objectivity and the latest insight into where that vendor is headed.  

Not just competitive intelligence but win/loss analysis, brand sentiment, what the world thinks of us or digging a bit deeper into our strategy; the audience’s content needs. It often comes from internal anecdotes, executive opinion, and things the team have always thought. 

For informal, internal win/loss analysis, we often depend on the sales team for a filtered view. Back in my days in pre-sales, I was once in a deal where we breezed through an RFP, got shortlisted and did a number of meetings. I could see the client wasn’t feeling the relationship with the sales guy, and the deal died; the client cited the support of a less mainstream database vendor they knew from very early on (and had never asked for) was not supported by our technology. 

Maybe this was the true reason, although it seemed unlikely their IT team would change their enterprise database strategy in the space of a few weeks, but I couldn’t help wondering if the reason was simpler, the prospect liked the competition more and found an objection that even the most tenacious salesperson could not handle and they just wanted the selling to stop.

With the strength of the voice of sales in most B2B software businesses, the executive wisdom from this one deal and that single data point then became that this lack of database support was “costing deals”, and pressure was put on the development team to offer it, at much cost. Once it was available, the original deal was long gone, did this development investment move the commercial needle? No. 

This “inside the bottle” intelligence, which became enterprise knowledge without proper market sizing, led to a poor bet in product development. To my mind, it is a bit like the criticism of machine learning, which becomes biased by the data it uses to become artificially intelligent. Our organization’s enterprise knowledge gets skewed by these “truths” about the market, competitors, or customers’ needs. 

Especially when they come from the leadership team, and these anecdotes become ingrained in our brand and company, not just in how we present ourselves with our marketing and demand generation but our corporate strategy and how we serve our customers.

I had a similar experience early in my transition to marketing from tech, when an executive team decided our target audience for our technology was the enterprise CMO, and I then sat in a big customer event, with an audience of content geeks (our real buyers and tribe) as the messaging from our CMO to other CMO’s flew straight over their heads.

Having said that, I believe there is absolutely a place for intuition, sales team experience and executive leadership in how we go to market, there can be too much procrastination, wringing of hands and data-led navel-gazing, but this intuition needs to be augmented by an external perspective and data.

It’s also quite difficult to justify spending the marketing budget on research compared to a more measurable return on investment in demand generation, especially right now, as we anticipate a squeeze in marketing budgets and the business. And maybe, say it quietly, sometimes difficult for executives, especially the bold startup entrepreneur, to accept the challenge to their market vision.

But, we should recognise the fallibility of our data, speak to clients, pull in external consultants, analysts and influencers to do win/loss analysis, competitive research and test some of these hypotheses.

I’ve seen this work, a company that has invested in a solid analysts’ relations plan, they are working with one of the top influencers in their category to test messaging, go-to-market positioning, and competitive intelligence and it’s given them a sharp focus on their place in the market and is informing the entire team.

So, as I wish you a happy and prosperous new year, thank you for reading this, especially if you’ve engaged in any of the other content I have created this year. And, as you look at that chilling bottle of champagne ready to welcome 2023, let’s stop trying to read the label from inside the bottle…. 

And, if you are interested in analyst relations I’m chatting with AR expert Beth Torrie on the Rockstar CMO podcast this weekend.

This artwork was created using A.I. through NightCafe Creator I thought it would make a change from pictures of me 🙂

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