Selfless Marketing is a Thing (Let me Explain …)

Believe it or not, a company’s messaging does not have to be self-centered.

Stay with me for a moment and let me explain what I mean. I know, I know the very word “marketing” means promoting and selling. So how can marketing be selfless? Isn’t the purpose of marketing always to increase the bottom line? Shouldn’t a B2B company focus on advertising and promoting its solutions?

Sure, those activities matter and good marketing will end up increasing sales. However, self-promotion — or key messaging that says, “look at me,” “this is what I do,” “you need me!” — should not be the loudest voice coming from the corporate megaphone. This kind of self or product-centric messaging should certainly not be the main message broadcast from a PR standpoint.

Talking About Yourself Won’t Cut It

I was recently looking at another PR agency’s website and reading about the process it takes its clients through when creating a “PR Narrative.” Basically, the agency learns about a company’s products and the pain points they solve, and then helps the company uncover its unique role in the market and … voila! You’ve got your one-of-a-kind, yet self-centered, narrative!

Unfortunately, that is not going to be enough to move the needle.

Organizations that talk about themselves all day don’t win. That’s why when we at Catapult meet with clients and walk them through a Strategic Narrative Workshop, one of our rules for the first couple hours is, “you can’t talk about yourself!” And that’s extremely difficult for most companies to follow.

So what are they supposed to talk about? How can you market your company without just broadcasting “what” you do?

Here’s the answer: develop an Industry Narrative.

Cast an Industry Vision

Not a “PR Narrative,” not a “story,” not a new interpretation of “who we are and what we do,” but an industry narrative that calls out a vision for the industry as a whole. This vision goes way beyond just an individual company. Narratives are bigger than storytelling strategies and they can and should guide an organization’s actions for years.

For example, if you are a telecom company, this means it’s time to stop talking about your products and services, and talk about where you want to see the telecom industry in the future. What is your vision for the way people connect and access entertainment in the future? Think bigger, almost like an industry analyst. Talk about and share your industry vision for an entire market.

When you develop an industry narrative, you’ve got something bigger than what you do to stand for. Now, a variety of stakeholders can rally around a common “cause” so to speak, one that excites and inspires people – from employees and partners to investors and customers.  Not only is this the kind of marketing that really turns heads and changes market positioning, but it aligns the company internally.

Industry Leaders Tout Industry Visions

Take a company like Slack for example – hugely successful in creating a platform for collaborative work. When you visit its website you don’t get bombarded with specifics about the application itself — features and functions. You might not even know right off the bat what Slack is because they position themselves by saying:

Slack creates alignment and shared understanding across your team, making you more productive, less stressed, and just a little bit happier.

Slack worked to create a new category, “workspace,” and when you visit its website you see that reflected:

“Where work happens”

“Find your workspace”

“Create Workspace.”

Rather than call themselves a chat application or a document-sharing application, they created this new category called “workspace,” and then shared it with the market by appealing to a vision of how people would feel working in a new environment.

Slack is sharing a vision — one where individuals can work in one place, together and understand one another. The vision paints a picture of happiness and melting stress for workers by making work easier, more organized and more enjoyable.

Meanwhile, SharePoint has been around for ages, and a lot of organizations use SharePoint. It does a lot of the same things Slack does, but SharePoint is losing mindshare and value big time. Slack is definitely the cooler of the two applications.

If you visit SharePoint’s website, the homepage displays a hodge-podge of industry buzzwords and screenshots of the application:

Your mobile, intelligent intranet – Share and manage content, knowledge, and applications to empower teamwork, quickly find information, and seamlessly collaborate across the organization.

Too often we see companies try to re-arrange the same seven buzzwords that all their competitors are using. It’s boring, it’s self-serving and it will not turn a company into an industry leader.

Selfless Marketing Could Even Help Your Competitors (that’s ok, it will help you more)

It’s important to note that industry narratives are not exclusive. Meaning, it’s a big enough vision to include your competitors, not just you. In fact, when a narrative is successfully launched in the form of an industry category or framework, you may see others — media, analysts and even your competitors — begin to adopt it as well.

“Selfless marketing,” is a company strategy that calls leaders of the organization to think bigger than themselves. An industry narrative creates a vision for the industry and a cause that acts as an umbrella for an organization to align other marketing activities under.

If you’d like to learn more about creating an industry narrative, new market categories and transforming your industry, check out “A Practical Guide to Strategic Narrative Marketing: How to Lead Markets, Stand Apart and Say Something Compelling in a Crowded Content World” on Amazon.