Kirkpatrick Communications Kirkpatrick Communications
Marsupial Marketing 

How to Achieve Marketing Mediocrity

Way too many articles and books have been composed lately outlining the path to excellence in marketing. They all tend to run together and redundancy runs rampant.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, letís take the contrarian view and look at ways to ensure marketing mediocrity!

I hope you'll find this article entertaining and insightful. A touch of humor can often help us see more clearly the simple truths in our day-to-day interpersonal communications.

— Bruce Kirkpatrick

Why should I have all the fun?

But why should I have all the fun? Iím sure you have great insight to Marsupial marketing that will lead to incredible mediocrity. Write me your tips via email. (I promise not to start a blog). Each month I will post them to my site and award a gift to the most creative way to achieve mediocrity. Simply use the contact link below. If you canít think of any examples of Marsupial marketing, ask somebody that works for you. Iím sure they have one right on the tip of their tongue. Or ask one of your customers or a reporter that covers your industry. Nah, forget it, they probably wonít return your phone call anyway.

My Marsupial Tip
My Name
My e-mail address
Please post the text of your tip here...

I tried to keep it to only seven points (like Coveyís 7 Habits or the Seven Wonders of the World) but there were just too many examples. I also tried to find a catchy phrase to use, like the opposite of all those Guerrilla books. How about Marsupial Marketing? Not only is the alliteration great, but also if you think about it, marsupials have a nice place to hide out, in the pouch, while the world happens around them. They are protected by their mother and if the going gets tough, they can close the pouch in around them and shut out the outside world. And marketing people that lose touch with the outside world are one step closer to achieving mediocrity.

The Virginia Oppossum
cleverly blends into his native landscape
(Trivia Fact: the only native North American marsupial is the Virginia Opossum, which is pronounced with a silent O and isnít confined just to Virginia. Iím liking this analogy even more. Wikipedia evens defines the opossum like this: "It is often seen near towns, rummaging through garbage cans, or dead by the side of the road." I think that pretty much defines some of the marketing techniques Iíve seen.)

Since I mostly deal in high tech public relations and advertising, weíll stick to those topics for starters. And now—hereís how to achieve marketing mediocrity.


First of all, assume that advertising is dead. Believe what youíve read that advertising is no longer effective, that the consumer is bombarded with way too many messages and that none get through.

Even if you believe advertising is still alive, maybe on life support, do not advertise when business is good. The opposite is also true — do not advertise when business is bad. Here is the logic behind this Marsupial Marketing building block. When business is good, you do not need to advertise because, well—business is good. And when business is bad, you cannot afford to advertise because, well—duh, business is bad and you have to cut some expenses and it may as well be advertising (even though you probably donít spend any money on advertising in the first place.)

If you have been cajoled or coerced into believing that advertising may actually help customers know you, or find you, or recognize you, whatever you do in your advertising, do not carve out a position in the marketplace that the consumer will understand or recognize over time. (Like weíre Avis, weíre #2, we try harder.) Be sure to use words like "best" or "outstanding" or "state-of-the-art" or other such nebulous nothings that describe your position. In fact, donít even spend time trying to understand your position in the marketplace, itís probably a waste of time, just like this advertising you think you might do, someday.

If that someday arrives and you are advertising, hereís a tip. Have your secretary, or the marketing communications intern design the ad on their desktop computer to save money. Do not hire an advertising agency; they cost too much. Use a simple, universal software package, like Microsoft Word. Do not invest in dynamic software like QuarkXPress or the new kid on the desktop block, InDesign, because well, it cost too much.

Hereís another tip for technical companies. Be sure to cram as much into the advertising space as possible. After all, you are paying lots of money to run that ad and you had better get your moneyís worth. Put all the charts, graphs and specifications you can into the ad. Do not consider that readers like white space (the space that is not actually filled with words or pictures — the space that is left blank). Do not consider that white space is easy on the eyes, makes the text easy to find and read, or makes the graphics "pop" out.

Marsupial marketing mantra:
white space is bad, fill all white space

And consider using clip art to illustrate your points. Photography costs too much money. Better to pay a little bit for an image off the web, unless of course you can get it for free. And besides, isnít there somebody in your organization thatís a whiz with a digital camera? Certainly they can take a photo thatís almost as good as a professional could take and it wonít cost you anything. (Do you see a theme here in Marsupial Marketing? Save money, at all costs. After all, itís just marketing.)

Hereís one final word about advertising. If you do use it, use it sparingly. Do not advertise enough for your readership to see or remember your ads. Even though most research indicates that readers only see one out of every nine ads you place, donít believe it. After all, you created a great ad, you see it all the time, and youíve seen it for months in the development stages. Everyone else must have seen it, too. All the time!

Public Relations

Now letís move on to Public Relations. Weíve spent way too much time on advertising anyway. Itís dead, remember?

A definition of PR may help us figure out what not to do. PR is quite simply, building relationships with your publics. Whatís a "public"? In high tech, think either your customers or the press that covers your industry.

(I know what youíre thinking. If thatís the best definition of PR a guy that runs a PR agency can come up with, then the first rule of Marsupial PR should be, donít ever hire a PR agency. Good, youíre learning).

So the first rule of Marsupial PR is to keep quiet. Stay in your pouch; donít say anything about your company or its products. Keep your customers and the press in the dark. After all, you have spent lots of money in R&D and if you said anything about your product, somebody could steal your idea. (This is very close to the idea that if you build it, people will buy it. That one was just so obvious, I didnít think I needed to say it. But I did anyway).

If you absolutely cannot force yourself to stay completely quiet, then only talk about your product in the most highly technical terms that only the most highly technical people can understand. After all, they are the ones that really buy your product, arenít they? Do not reveal the benefit of the product, the reason customers should buy it. (This can be also apply to marketing in general; itís not merely a PR rule of thumb. Itís universal!)

So if you should not talk benefits, only talk about features, like how many whiz bangs are included in each product. Or what software it runs on or how many upgrades it has from the last version or how big it is or—well, you get the point. (You can also refer to the above Advertising rule about charts and graphs. Be sure to overwhelm your publics with as many charts and graphs as you have; it will keep them distracted from the real reason they may want to purchase your product).

For goodness sakes, donít make your product understandable to the press people that write about your industry. Stay focused on your "tech talk" — the highly technical language that is almost indecipherable to most human beings that arenít engineers.

You all have examples of this tech talk, donít you? Most of you have been forced to write like this before. Send me your examples and Iíll post them to my site.

Hereís one of my favorites; I use this example in one of my workshops. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. This appeared in a press release in May of 2002; itís rather dated, but like a fine wine, it gets better with age:

XYZ Companyís OMS switches are based on a transparent OEO technology that enables the systems to offer bit-rate and protocol independent switch fabrics, along with reliable, compact system architectures. These systems combine low latency wavelength switching with 3R regeneration and performance monitoring, while also offering standardized optical interfaces to adjacent DWDM transport systems without impact to existing span design.

Perfect. No way anyone could figure out the nuggets in there. Completely indecipherable. (I read the rest of the release; I still couldnít figure out what this product does or why people should buy them. Maybe the people that buy them will understand but I doubt it).

One way to almost stay quiet is to write a blog. A blog is short for web log. There is now software that will enable almost anyone to write and post information (I use that term loosely) to a web site, even your own web site. Imagine the possibilities. You can write stuff nobody wants to read, easily post it online, and say nothing worthwhile about your product or someone elseís product. This is perfect Marsupial marketing and PR and you should drop everything youíre now doing and figure out how to get your blog quickly into the blogosphere (which is short for web log stratosphere. Not really, I made that up. But hey, somebody made up web log, too!)

You could also waste your time with podcasts and wikis, but that is Advanced Marsupial marketing. You really have to have all your other worthless bases covered before you start doddling there. (OK, just a hint. A podcast is like a radio program broadcast over an iPod. A wiki enables you to alter a web site with your input. See, the possibilities for mediocrity are absolutely endless here and most advanced marsupials will jump on these skills like Tommy Lee on a college coed).

Here are a few other PR tidbits to keep on top of Marsupial Marketing:

  1. When writing for the press, put a lot of marketing hype in there; they love that stuff. Use words like "greatest" and "best" and "state-of-the-art" and other such adjectives that cannot be verified and are completely biased.

  2. When talking with the press, be sure to only have a cursory understanding of the company youíre working for. They love that, too.

  3. Donít return phone calls quickly to the press. Make them think youíre too busy or important to get right back to them.

  4. Or better yet, make it hard for them to even find a phone number to contact you. For instance, donít put it on your web site or if you do, make it so buried and hard to find that they will get frustrated or give up.

  5. When you are trying to get coverage in a publication, donít read the publication before hand. Just guess what type of news coverage or feature stories they produce. That way a very general, pie-in-the-sky, shot-in-the-dark pitch might work.

  6. Donít overuse clichťs. (See above; I did that on purpose. Honest.)

  7. Donít build relationships with the press people that cover your industry. That would be cheating and make it too easy for them to answer your phone calls or listen to what you have to say.

As you can see, this could go on indefinitely.

The kangaroo is the largest of the marsupials.

Overheard at recent press conference:
"Hello? Hello? Can you hear me? Is this thing on?"