Vertical Marketing and the B2B Zen Puzzle: If You Meet Buddha on the Road What Should You Do?

Marketing is full or irony. Or maybe it’s just a Zen activity that lends itself to statements like, “If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him.” That’s a simple Zen puzzle which means, in essence, that if you see something you think to be Buddha, kill it (in your mind) because it is not Buddha (and it is keeping you from realizing the REAL Buddha essence that’s inside you – and certainly not outside on the road).

OK, enough with the puzzle. Here’s Vertical Marketing’s Zen/Marketing puzzle, ironic statement, of the day:

In anything you do vis a vis marketing and advertising, if the majority of people like the concept then it is not new enough and thus not good enough!

Chew on that for a minute or two and you’ll see the far reaching implications.

The wisdom of this statement flows from several ‘facts’ about consumers, be they B2B or B2C.

1.    Consumers only want what’s new and what’s hard to get, they rarely want anything else.
2.    New, by definition, is something unseen and unexpected… the first iPhone, for example.
3.    Now here’s the irony – while people want new they don’t like new, at least not at first. New is disconcerting by the fact of it not immediately understood.

It should be coming clear: when you present an idea for a marketing strategy or new ad, not everyone will like what’s truly new and different because of statements #2 and #3 above. Eventually they may love the idea, but at first they will not; and to support their dislike, the fear of the unknown, they will criticise and naysay to cover for the lack of insight and courage they are demonstrating. It’s human nature. We all do it more times than we care to admit.

So, any supposedly new concept that everyone likes is, by definition, not new enough… and thus given #1 above, it will fail to capture the consumer’s interest.

As the song says ‘Isn’t It Ironic?’ And I can tell you that from an agency point of view, it gets hard to keep presenting new idea after new idea only to have each shot down, or worse, watered down until everyone in the room likes it.

Again – if everyone likes it, it’s not new enough, not good enough. Have the courage to challenge your customers and your management with something that is truly new. The rewards will be great.

Here’s a true story. Many years ago we did a series of proposed ads for a client with a product that measured the temperature on a circuit board through various stages of a reflow oven to guarantee that necessary levels were met and not exceeded and components weren’t either toasted or ready to drop off.

Our headline (which I still recall almost 20 years later):

It’s board #16, 515 through the oven… how do you know it’s been soldered correctly?

This was the clear winner of the six ads we presented on the day. The guy looks at the ads, tapes them up on the wall and asks about a dozen employees to have a look… including, now get this, the woman who happened to pass by as she was sweeping the floors and dusting the offices. Honest to God!

Needless to say he went with the concept they all agreed was best… we vehemently argued our case, but the client gets what the client wants (and will pay for).

The ad did OK… covered the cost of running it. The superior ad, however, would have pushed sales and the company image off the charts (the technology was first rate and could live up to the claim). The company is still in business, still struggling in the middle of the pack… probably still afraid to kill Buddha unless the cleaning lady gives them the nod.