Skepticism: A Marketer’s Best Friend

by David Heitman

“We lie to ourselves all the time.”

That’s how a new business prospect opened up a discussion of their market relevance.

This admirably frank assessment is true of many companies; and to his credit, our future (hopefully) client was asking us not to believe his company’s lack of self-awareness.

As it ends up, the discussion took place at a very honest, ethical company with decades of sustained growth as proof of their integrity. Our friend wasn’t referring to ethical dishonesty. He was referencing that age-old danger of believing one’s own PR a little too much.

He was asking us not to believe them, to challenge their assumptions about themselves, and to seek out some objective truth…to help a good company get even better.

The lesson here is that a healthy dose of skepticism goes a long way. While we are quick as an agency to enthusiastically accept our clients’ perception of themselves at face value, we also help them validate or amend those perceptions through objective research.

As Hulu CEO Jason Kilar once said, “Our brand is what people say about us when we’re not in the room.”

Because virtually all of our clients are entrepreneur-led organizations, their leaders are used to asking tough questions and inviting critique of their marketing and all other aspects of their companies. In fact, we‘ve noticed that many Type-A leaders are remarkably humble when it comes to seeking any tidbit of feedback that could make them more competitive and successful.

So every time we engage in a new strategic planning and branding effort, we pack along a month’s supply of skepticism to balance our natural enthusiasm. That little Skeptiva® pill is the only known antidote if you’ve been drinking the kool-aid.

We then use that healthy skepticism to ask the right questions of our clients’ customers, business partners and others. We’re probing to find out what the company truly does that is unique, not a commodity; what they do better than any other competitor; what their brand means to each of their constituencies.

The results are always instructive and can even correct a few lies folks might be telling themselves. To balance that reality, we also help our clients discover highly cherished virtues that their customers appreciate about them—positive brand attributes they may not even know they possess.

“Facts are stubborn things,” as someone once said. Thankfully, honest inquiry into a company’s brand yields both a few uncomfortable facts that can lead to positive change; along with some confirmation that the brand is living up to its ideals.