Blog | Hugh Kennedy 06.21.17

Every Marketing Splash Needs a Great Diving Board

Open most books (or blogs) on solutions selling and somewhere within the pages you’ll find a few anecdotes that convey the important difference between what people say they’re buying and what they’re actually looking for.

The buyer of a hammer, for example, really is in the market for a neatly aligned row of family photographs hanging on the wall. The shovel purchaser envisions freshly mulched beds of landscaped shrubs and ornamental trees in the yard. And from what I’ve been able to determine, the world-class business traveler who chooses Lufthansa actually is in the market for several well-curated glasses of red where no one can bother him for a few hours.

As I’ve found more recently, the same dynamic holds true for marketing positions, but the balance is trickier. A whole lot of white-boarding with executive teams and rounds of revision go into those 50 or so words. To do its job, a positon should lay out your company’s single-minded idea, your competitive frame, your most valuable target audience, your most compelling benefit, and the most powerful reason your prospects and customers should believe in you.

Yet when you present said 50 words to the assembled marketing managers, it’s almost inevitable that their faces will look a bit let down. “This is great, but...where’s the fire? Where’s the passion?” is a common response, especially if the statement goes before the CEO and/or founders. To steal a metaphor a colleague used during a recent presentation, “We understand you guys are looking for a huge splash with the new brand. What we’re showing you here is the diving board. You can’t have the splash without the diving board.”

Our client in this case, a loyal customer who tends to reach out to us whenever he lands at a new company, tried to put a finer point on their disappointment. “This is all great, but where’s the _________?” And here he named the breakout campaign theme we’d done for him a few years ago that really put his company on the map. In fact, the campaign had such great legs it was still going three years later.  

At this point I leaned forward and said, “But Jack, remember –––––––?“ And here I read out the positioning statement he and I and his then-CEO had labored over and market-tested with customers and investors for nearly two months until it shone like the top of the Chrysler Building.

Recognition slowly spread over the client’s face and he smiled. “Oh, yeah!” he said, “I’d forgotten about that.”

Exactly. The diving board, once cleared, is easy to forget. Everyone’s eyes turn to see the splash.

If you build positioning statements, whether as part of an agency team or an internal one, you’ll get pressure to deliver the final ad copy instead, or the killer campaign theme from the first few spots, or to quote Jeff Rosenblum’s wonderful new book, the set of experiences that will remove market and customer friction, whether at a macro or micro level.

My point is, you have to resist this pressure. If you built a pool and filled it, but didn’t add a diving board, you can’t expect any major splashes. Mostly cannonballs. Bad execution, in other words, because without the organizing energy of the diving board, you’re not going to get any great splash.

A marketing position works the same way. It’s a blueprint for a great house, a map to a stellar destination, or if you will, a diving board for a splash you and your team can co-create with your customers over and over.

So yes, your client is looking for a splash. And they can have it. But they just need to agree on a few fundamentals first. And be just a tad more patient.


Brand for change

Life is too short to build an ordinary brand. Get ongoing perspectives on marketing that creates your highest value opportunities.