3 Marketing Lessons I’ve Learned from Walking My Dog

Sometimes marketing lessons come when you least expect them. Here are three marketing lessons I’ve learned from my dog, a 2 year old English springer spaniel named Kerrigan.

photo1On positioning

One summer afternoon my wife and I were attending an outdoor event at a local winery. We were mingling with other guests and the topic of dogs came up. I told the story of how we had recently adopted Kerrigan and shared a photo. A man leaned over and said, “Wow. You have the Lexus of dogs!”  The man grinned and offered no further explanation. I had never thought of Kerrigan that way, and I don’t recall saying anything that would have equated Kerrigan with any type of automobile. In his mind, he created a “reference ladder” – a way to rank similar things according to a set of values. He viewed Kerrigan has having a certain status, but rather than express that status in regard to other dogs, he equated it to cars. He positioned my dog; I did not.

We as marketers like to think we are in complete control in how we position our products. We desperately try to influence every angle to make our products the preferred choice. Yet, at the end of the day, the individual (our audience) will sift through all kinds of messages, history, expectations, and personal experiences to position our product in their own mind. The position we want will either be confirmed or denied. Or, perhaps we’ll learn something new in the process.

On connecting with the audience

Funny, but when I walk downtown by myself nobody ever talks to me. I may say hello to a neighbor, but that’s it. My experience is entirely different when I take Kerrigan with me. People of all ages approach Kerrigan as if she’s a celebrity. Eventually, they notice me holding the leash and they say hello. It’s always a fun conversation. Yes, Kerrigan is a cute dog, but I think there is more going on.

Kerrigan provides a common connection between me and many other people who I would have simply passed by if I were walking alone. Obviously, the dog is the connection: they either have one, had one, want one, or have so other special attraction. These people are never shy when they approach us. Kerrigan is the ice breaker.

As marketers, aren’t we trying to get our target audiences to approach us in the same way? We want them to identify themselves and step forward. The dog is only a metaphor. We are challenged to find the equivalent, whether it’s a case study, a customer testimonial, a technology paper, or a new product. What can we “take for walk” (i.e. share) that will be the obvious ice breaker?

But I’m not selling anything (or am I?)

But Mike (I hear you say), you’re walking a dog! This is cute but not relevant for B2B. Actually, I think it is (or can be). Sure, I wasn’t selling anything directly by walking Kerrigan. But I could have been. Personally, I’d be happy to share with others everything about her.  Want to know an English Springer Spaniel breeder? Got one. Brand of dog food? Happy to share. How about a trainer? No problem. We just put up an electronic fence for her. I have a wealth of dog-related stuff I’m happy to share. Only, nobody ever asked me to be a reference for them.

But, again, the dog is a metaphor.

For B2B, we need to find our own dog and find more ways to become visible. Have we fully utilized the customer connections we have? Have we cultivated relationships with partners, customers, and industry analysts to their fullest so they are happy and willing to be a reference for us? Or have we shunted a “you agree to be a reference” clause in the contract and hope legal will not object?

There’s always more we can do. If you aren’t sure, try taking your dog for a walk.

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