Making Assumptions in Marketing: Just Don’t Do It

Making Assumptions in Marketing: Just Don’t Do It  

As a product marketer, I am exposed to a wealth of marketing content––and, as a small business, a consultant, and a consumer, I am also the target of a great deal of this content. There’s a ton of awesome marketing out there, but if I had to make just one suggestion to every product marketer out there on how to take their content from good to great, it would be: 

Don’t make assumptions in marketing. 

assumptions in marketing do not assume red button on keyboard

Before we unpack that, let me define what I mean by assumptions. Loads of literature has been written about the types and use of heuristics, or shortcuts and assumptions. They are super effective for conserving mental energy and generally getting to relatively good conclusions, however:

An assumption is an unexamined belief: what we think without realizing we think it. Our inferences (also called conclusions) are often based on assumptions that we haven’t thought about critically… Just because we assume something is true doesn’t mean it is. (University of Louisville Libraries

In everything from our interpersonal relationships to our professional lives, our bias is to assume that most everyone sees life as we ourselves do. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact it is an important way to save time and brainpower. Assumptions are the world’s most popular shortcut––and while they can really help in making marketing effective, they can also lead to poor marketing.  

OK, you might ask, if we all do it, then how can we possibly get around it? How do we, as marketers, start to break down our assumptions in marketing? Well, first: 

Forget what you know 

When it comes to creating marketing content, most people’s instinct is to start with the product. Your job is––quite literally––to be excited about your product, so of course you’re going to want to shout its amazingness from the rooftops. 

You also spend all day, everyday, eating, breathing, and sleeping your product. But remember: your prospect or customer does not. And ultimately, this interaction is not about you or your product. It is about your customer––and, no matter how amazing your product is, it will still only address one small fraction of the priorities and concerns on their mind to successfully do their job. 

Prioritize your customers’ informational needs 

All that knowledge you have about your product, the market, the lingo, your main competitors, and what cool capabilities the next six versions will add? Well, in order to market effectively, you need to forget all of that. And the proof is in the pudding: according to MarketingProfs, 87% of the most successful organizations prioritize the audience’s informational needs over their organization’s sales/promotional message. By contrast, only 41% of the least successful organizations do so. 

Before you start tearing your hair out wondering where to start if not with your amazing product, don’t worry: you will have plenty of other things to talk about with your customers if you just… 

Do a deep dive into your research 

Remember Neo from the Matrix movies? He had a choice: take the blue pill and remain in the Matrix, or take the red pill and go deeper. Well, it’s not enough to just take the blue pill and continue skimming the surface. You need to dive deeper into research to reexamine the beliefs you’re holding around your target audience and their needs. Start by asking: does the persona I’m marketing to even exist? Or is it some abstract caricature based on what I think is true about my target audience and their needs? 

Get curious to identify and eliminate assumptions in marketing

This is where you’re going to want to get curious about your prospects. Look through your CRM, read through org charts, job posts and articles, and talk to your customers. If they’ll let you, ask to shadow one of them at work. If that’s not an option, you can: 

Find out what job title your ideal customer holds 

And then examine publicly available job postings for those roles on LinkedIn or company websites. This will give you insight into what companies in your industry or vertical think that particular job entails as well as what that person’s main concerns and responsibilities might look like. 

This exercise will help you assess the persona(s) you’ve been working with to determine what, if anything, you have been taking for granted. If you have been making assumptions as to the needs and wishes of your prospect, drilling down into the research lets you decide whether those assumptions were accurate or if they need to be adjusted.  

Read our previous blog on personas here.

What is your (prospect’s) problem 

Once you’ve reduced the assumptions behind your personas, you can calibrate your messaging accordingly. This needs to be more than just a template, however; this is a conversation, a story. 

Start by using what you now know about your ideal customer 

Identify your ideal customer’s core set of needs by asking: what is their problem, and how would they describe it in their own words? Get your readers’ heads nodding right away with a clear, simple contextual setup and problem identification. 

Next, you can set up a solution by asking: 

What part of this person’s life will improve as a result of removing this particular pain point? 

(Note that I said a solution––not your solution.) 

Once you’ve convinced the prospect of how wonderful it would be to have this issue taken care of, then and only then you can explain how your offer could be just what they’re looking for. Your product won’t fix all of their problems, but adopting your solution could be one step in the process of improving this persona’s life. 

Remember: the most successful companies prioritize their audience’s needs over their organization’s sales/promotional message. Can you see why? 

Put it all together––but please hold the assumptions

By now you’re probably thinking, OK, I got it. Assumptions are bad; customer-focused messaging is good. But what the heck does that actually look like?

Let me use Aventi client Zendesk as an example. Their goal is simply stated right at the top of their website: “Zendesk makes customer service better. We build software to meet customer needs, set your team up for success, and keep your business in sync.” Most of that very first statement is focused on their potential customer’s (i.e. “your”) needs––“your team,” “your business”––instead of on their solution. 

Only when you scroll way further down their opening page do you see that Zendesk was rated “#1 in Digital Customer Service use case by Gartner.” 

Many companies would be tempted to lead with that fact based on the assumption that potential customers are looking for the best possible software available. 

Yes, it’s a bragging point for sure, but why should that potential customer care how good their solution is if they don’t yet know why they need it?

Instead, Zendesk’s messaging is clear, easy to relate to, and focused primarily on their potential customer. If you’re the head of customer service of a small business, for instance, what are your main concerns and daily headaches likely to be? Often, small business owners are coming from using email or spreadsheets to manage customer issues, but their company is growing and their customers are demanding more services. They know that they need a new solution to stay on top of customer service, but change is hard. How can they smoothly introduce new software and still keep their business running? Why not just keep muddling through in the same way and not make any changes at all? 

Here’s the crucial piece

Finding new software is just one part of this small business owner’s concerns. This business owner just wants to find a solution that works and is easy to deploy. If you look at Zendesk’s small business page, you’ll see that they are not proposing their solution as a be-all and end-all solution. Better customer service is crucial, but it’s not a panacea. Instead, they name the exact issues their customers might be having and then suggest how their solution can help. 

Show prospects the missing piece

Making assumptions is not a bad thing––it’s a basic fact of human nature. But in marketing, you need to pay attention to what exactly you’re assuming about your prospects and how it affects your messaging. If your marketing assumptions are not grounded in careful research and analysis, they will probably reflect your own biases and priorities instead of the prospect’s. 

Instead, do the groundwork necessary to develop a comprehensive overview of your prospect’s needs and pain points. Remember that they do not think about your software the same way you do––for them, it is only one piece of the overall business puzzle. Focus on their overall picture first and then show them why your solution is just what they need: the final, missing piece. 

Written By

Michaela Gubbels Botha

With over 25 years of experience in Silicon Valley working as a leader in product marketing and product management, Michaela brings a relentless focus on execution to every consulting engagement. Michaela started her career in high tech working in user experience for IBM, Apple, and HP. These positions solidified a foundation in what it takes to deliver exceptional customer experiences. From there, she moved into product marketing and product management with positions at SAP, Symantec, Calico Commerce, Sun, SalesLogix, Sage Software, and Apple. Originally from New Mexico, she received her undergraduate from Arizona State University and her Masters in Cognitive Psychology from New Mexico State University. Michaela recently relocated to the great state of Texas and lives in Austin with her husband, Buks, and her Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Zoe.