C-Level Insights: Spin Doctors
What is marketing spin? The most common use of this term occurs in politics and is a polite term for “putting lipstick on the pig” — an attempt to make something look a whole lot better than it is. And as long as you can fool all of the people some of the time, that’s all that matters.
Spin Happens. But a more detrimental form of spin occurs in businesses that have no strategic direction with which employees may align themselves. In this case, spin happens. And it happens because marketeers hate a vacuum — feeling that it is their job to answer a question with a response the customer will like. With no strategic guidelines to follow, marketeers will make up a great story, have a happy customer, and feed the resulting commitments back for the product team to deliver.
The Chief Marketeer — the CEO. Unfortunately, the chief marketer is often the CEO, or one of the other members of the leadership team. Ask yourself, is anyone going to question the CEO’s commitment to a customer? Will anyone question the CEO’s commitment? Not on your life. So the product team makes a course correction in their development plans and everyone is happy for a while until the next customer visit. Before long however, the course has shifted so many times that everyone is back to where they started and the product has spun one complete revolution. Time has gone by and absolutely no progress has been made.
No Progress. Most of you reading this know what happens next. There is a senior management review of the project, money has been spent according to plan, but no progress has been made. Who gets blamed — the development team?
Marketing strategy is a series of integrated actions leading to a sustainable competitive advantage.
— John Scully, Former CEO of Apple and PepsiCo
Solution: Product Managers with Real Authority. Every product should have a product manager. That person’s job description is to understand this product’s contribution to the clearly stated objectives of the business, and to ensure that the product stays on a strategic path aligned with previously established objectives. The product manager should have the ultimate responsibility to ensure the product stays on the strategic path and should not be overruled by anyone, including the CEO.
Course Corrections, Not Spin Reversals. Over time, it will be necessary to make changes to objectives and strategies as markets and competitors change. Under those circumstances, product strategies may change to align with revised objectives. These changes should be regarded as important course corrections, not reversals leading to spin.
Before Spin, Plan Fundamentals. Observing how a marketing or sales person employs spin on a product or an idea should trigger thoughts around the fundamentals of the plan. Is the product fulfilling a strategy or an opportunity? If the spinning is consciously being employed to satisfy a short-term market opportunity, then the tactical approach of spinning a story is perfectly acceptable. But if you notice that this is the only marketing approach that is used — reactively rather than proactively — then it’s time to bring in the spin doctor. It is time to review the fundamental health of your business objectives and strategies. It doesn’t take much time for a good doctor to make a diagnosis after consulting with team members and looking for the telltale “green around the gills” look. Too much spinning can make a person feel very ill.
Marketing is not a function, it is the whole business seen from the customer’s point of view.
— Peter F. Drucker, Leading authority on the philosophical and
practical foundations of the modern business corporation
Contact Steve Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-371-6482.