054 | How Positioning Helps HealthTech Companies Survive the Marketing Doldrums | Mark O’Brien, Newfangled | Studio CMO

Podcast by | June 18, 2021 HealthTech, Positioning and Messaging

Does Your Positioning Set You Up for Greater Success?

Positioning is the art of articulating your unique value proposition in such a way that you begin a conversation with a potential customer.

Both Golden Spiral and Newfangled are experts at helping companies define their market positioning for greater success. On this edition of Studio CMO, Newfangled’s CEO, Mark O’Brien, looks at the pitfalls and benefits of good positioning, how companies win, and the single most important factor to marketing after you release your positioning—patience.

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Show Notes

Positioning is the foundation, because without it, you’re going to waste so much money. — Mark O’Brien

Are You Addressing the Wrong Audience?

Are you speaking to your peers?

Stop trying to impress your competition. Awards are a waste of time and money. Your peers and competitors don’t grow your business. Your audience does.

Are you speaking to your internal audience?

Your employees know what you do and what you make. So, changing the language around may sound unique to them but means the same thing.

The only audience that matters is the buyer audience.

The Curse of the Technical Founder

Golden Spiral sees this curse time and time again. A company is so in love with their technology—their chassis—they can’t talk about anything else. They don’t even talk about the problem that originally inspired the creation of the technology.

Often, when a company’s marketing is focused on the technology, the marketing actually talks over the heads of the customer. Companies can be so bound up with the minutiae that they miss the big picture.

John Farkas recently published an article about technical founders.

Positioning must be focused on a real problem that real people have. It must start a conversation. —John Farkas

The Three Stages of Marketing

Mark O’Brien outlined the three basic stages marketing plans go through.


You’re spending the time, energy, and money to create a marketing strategy based on your research. Everyone is excited and can’t wait to see what happens.

Marketing Launch

Time slows down. It’s worse than watching grass grow. How long will it take? What is the TTR—time to result? During this stage, only those who stay on the plan, remain disciplined to follow the strategy, and continue to believe will win.

Success or Death

This is the fun stage. If you’ve stayed committed to the strategy, you will see results and can throw more fuel to grow the results. If you gave up during the doldrums, you’ll feel the death and wonder why you started in the first place.

The Power of Focus

Mark offered two powerful examples of focus and how they apply to marketing.

The Gaja Winery

After a long and storied history, Angelo Gaja inherited his family winery. After he studied the finances, the business, and the actual assets—vines and nutrients—in the ground, he ripped out and destroyed more than half of the vineyard. Many thought he was crazy or hatching an insurance scheme. Instead, he maximized the wine. They produce much less, but it is much higher quality, better tasting, and produces more profit for the winery. 

The Hedgehog Concept

Jim Collins in his famed book, Good to Great, outlines a way of thinking, “What do we do better than anyone else?”

Two Approaches to Positioning

Positioning is the art of articulating your unique value proposition in such a way that you begin a conversation with a potential customer.

Mark O’Brien outlined two successful approaches.

Exclusive Positioning

“We do X for Y.” When you encounter a company with exclusive positioning, you know within five seconds on any page on their website whether or not you are a fit for their product or service. They exclude all others outside of their focus.

Open Positioning

This is an 80% approach. When visiting a website, you know what the company does and what sets it apart, but the company is purposefully vague about the niches they serve. If visitors feel like they might fit, they can continue in the stream.

Most companies who pursue this approach, change to exclusive after about 18 months.

Books Mentioned On This Episode

American Dirt

Good to Great

About Our Guest

Mark O’Brien is a forward thinker helping clients see a better future for themselves while helping them take risks to pursue their vision. He now serves as CEO of Newfangled, a digital marketing agency that gets leaders out of their own way to develop the programs needed to grow their businesses. He grew up in the ranks at Newfangled first as a developer and then as a sales executive.

Our Theme

Our theme is created by some of Nashville’s greatest musicians. Bigger Story Music is born out of a longtime friendship, a deep, talented community, and a real love for what they do. Whatever story you’re trying to tell, they have the perfect music to make it better.


John Farkas (00:01):

There are a number of critical components in the context of marketing, but none more important than having a really strong, well-articulated position in the market. It just is part of the essential business of what we do. And when you are in the midst of it, when you’re flying after creating product, when you’re in the business of doing things that are trying to keep pace with a very active marketplace, it’s easy to lose sight of what really sets you apart. It’s easy to take your hand off the wheel a little bit and let some of that drift. And it’s really essential to keep sharpening that saw, to keep looking at that idea to keep the compass pointing north towards what is truly a unique position for your organization, for your product, for what you are bringing to market. In the context of Golden Spiral, that was something even we looked at for ourselves in the last year. And today we’re going to introduce you to somebody that’s helped us sharpen our own saw. And we’re going to take an adventure down the hallway of positioning and talk about what we can do to make that as sharp as it can be in why that’s critically important. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today on Studio CMO.

Mark Whitlock (01:42):

Welcome to Studio CMO. Hi, I’m Mark Whitlock and you’re listening to the podcast that is designed for marketing executives to help them understand their market position with clarity and help them to build demand generation programs that not only change the future of their companies, but also change the lives of the patients that they serve. I’m joined today by John Farkas, the CEO and chief storyteller of Golden Spiral, the agency which brings you Studio CMO and John, you are live and in color from our new offices in downtown Nashville.

John Farkas (02:13):

New offices, we may actually open up offices here at some point post-pandemic. Excited about that.

Mark Whitlock (02:22):

I’m also joined today by my fellow co-host, one of our account executives at Golden Spiral, One of the ones who makes the heart beat of our agency work with our clients Anna Grimes. Anna, thanks for joining us on the podcast again today.

Anna Grimes (02:34):

Good afternoon. Hello. Hello.

John Farkas (02:36):

Yeah. So what I mentioned at the start was that we were at a point where we knew we needed to sharpen our saw. We knew we needed to make some changes, to make a more clear statement to the market. We started looking around and deciding what would be the best way to do that. We had met our guests at a conference and there were some things that we knew that they did that were impressive, that were helpful. And we believe with some input that we could really benefit from. And so, we do positioning all day long. It’s part of what we do and it’s part of what we love doing, right? And we understood that we needed some outside perspective. And so we hired our guests

Anna Grimes (03:24):

And that guest is Mark O’Brien. CEO of Newfangled. Mark O’Brien is a forward thinker who helps his clients see a better future for themselves. He gives them the right tools to take the right risks that they need to build towards that future. He grew up in the ranks at Newfangled first as a developer, and then as a sales executive and mark what’s the last non-business book you read?

Mark O’Brien (03:49):

Ooh, I just finished one, uh, two days ago. Oh, good. American Dirt. Oh, okay. It is a novel, gosh, it was extraordinary. I highly recommend it. Highly recommend it, but it’s one of those books. If you pick it up, you’re probably not going to put it down. [inaudible] it’s about a family who has to, um, migrate from Mexico to the U S set in very modern times set up about couple of years ago. Oh, well the whole journey. It is interesting.

Anna Grimes (04:19):

And who’s the author?

Mark O’Brien (04:20):

You know, that’s a good question. You know, I read on Kindle, here’s the issue. Here’s the problem I read on Kindle and I fall in love with these books and I never see the actual book and I never see the author’s name because, and I’ve long thought that every time I get a book on Kendall, as soon as I decided I like it, I should just buy the physical book and just keep it at my nightstand. So I actually see the thing, even though I’ve never offered it. Um, so, um, maybe we can look up during this meeting. Uh, if anybody has a free moment, we can look at the American dirt.

Mark O’Brien (04:49):

Jeanine Cummins is the author.

Anna Grimes (04:52):

Okay, well, Mark is very good at linking all kinds of things in the show notes. So, um, I’m sure Mark, if you are so inclined, you’ll put American Dirt right in there.

Mark Whitlock (05:03):

It’s it’s there.

Mark O’Brien (05:04):

Thank you, Mark.

Mark Whitlock (05:04):

So, Mark, help us lay a foundation of why positioning has to be in place before any other markets, even to get underway.

Mark O’Brien (05:16):

Happy to get into that. Before I do, uh, I’d like to just put a few disclaimers out there. The first disclaimer is that I am very opinionated.

Mark Whitlock (05:26):

That was part of our intel on you.

Speaker 3 (05:35):

I was asking our Mark about you. And he was like, “Well, he’s very opinionated.” Awesome.

Mark O’Brien (05:43):

Very opinionated. And, and the sphere I operate in is incredibly narrow. So everything I’m going to talk about—everything—applies (outside of novels) applies to digital marketing. And beyond that applies to marketing expertise through digital means, okay, that’s my world. That’s what I know. That’s what we do. And in that domain, we’ve got a lot of experience and we are highly opinionated based on the facts that we’ve seen day in, day out for the past 26 years. But outside of that, you would not take this and apply it to a print campaign, for example, or anything like that. Right. Maybe some principles could maybe, maybe not, but everything I would say applies wholly to marketing expertise through digital means. So does that, is that fair?

John Farkas (06:32):

And we might want to just as a bridge there, a print campaign is a thing that we used to do that involves the stuff called paper that people put actual ink on and had letters and different pictures and stuff on it. And we would put that in this thing called the mail and send it out. One of the build a bridge here.

Mark O’Brien (06:55):

It’s been a while, since you actually asked her a question, Mark, but your question was, why is positioning so important at the outset?

Mark Whitlock (07:06):

Yeah, why is it the foundation? Why do we have to have that in place before anything else?

Mark O’Brien (07:10):

It’s the foundation, because without it, you’re going to waste so much money.

John Farkas (07:18):

There we go. That’s getting right at the crux of the matter and we’re wasting money because why?

Mark O’Brien (07:25):

Because you’re chasing all manner of marketing strategies and techniques and technology that won’t do anything for you because there’s no guiding principle behind it. There’s no intention behind it. There’s no clear expectation of outcome. Positioning is our guidepost. It’s our guidebook. It’s our rails. It’s everything. Positioning is what lays the foundation for expectations.

John Farkas (07:50):

That’s a really good point. And I think it’s something that is often missed or misunderstood because I often encounter clients or folks that we’re working with who think they have something to say. And what they’re saying is nearly identical or, or identical to what everybody else out there is saying. And so, and so you have this pool of saying, and you’re getting ready to put another drop in that pool where everybody’s saying the same thing and it makes no difference because it’s all in there. And so you can’t tell what you’re saying apart from what anybody else is saying, we have to be willing to create another pool. And if you’re not willing to do that, if you don’t have enough water to fill that up, you better go find it.

Mark O’Brien (08:46):

And the water being the expertise, the knowledge,

John Farkas (08:48):

Yeah. And your point of view. And you know what it is that you were doing that is different than all the others.

Mark O’Brien (08:56):

One of the things that plagues marketing, in all industries at all levels, is speaking to the wrong audience and very sophisticated firms do this all the time to their detriment. So an example of speaking to the wrong audience is speaking to their peers, wanting to look good in front of their peers, competitors, former colleagues, the industry. And the whole awards world is just all about, is looking great in front of your peers. And that is a waste of money and time again, I’m very opinionated another way. And this is more closely aligned to your point. John, another example of speaking to the wrong audience is your internal audience, your company. And so when organizations work through positioning, they’re oftentimes doing it internally, right? Because they’ve got a lot of smart people there and who knows them better than themselves. And so they do it internally and they come up with all these things that when looked at through the internal lens of knowledge, do make sense are differentiating, are demonstrable because they know all the other things that the organization does. And they go, yeah, but what we do this, this, and they, and when they say these few words and they tie those words in voluntarily back to their innate knowledge of the firm, it sounds unique. And so they’re inside of the company and they think that this thing makes sense, but they don’t realize too, again, this is exactly your point, John. They don’t realize that the top line words they use to describe it sound exactly like every other company, because every other company is doing the exact same thing.

John Farkas (10:36):

Yeah. We see that frequently. It, it also manifests with product companies who end up in love with their product. You have a product it’s made with amazing technology with an incredible chassis. And we’re going to talk about the chassis all day long. It’s an amazing chassis. This chassis is the strongest thing that’s ever been and it’s made with the best XYZ. And we want to tell you about it and we’re going to keep telling you about it. And the reality is I don’t care about the chassis. I care about what your vehicle does to help me solve my problem. And that is the essential nature of this. And it’s really important. So don’t tell me about the technology stack that makes your product amazing. Don’t tell me about the obscure features that make it, what it is. Make sure when we’re looking at positioning, it has to be focused on a real problem that real people have that is going to start a conversation.

Mark O’Brien (11:45):

Yeah. The only audience that matters at all is the buyer audience. Right. Right.

John Farkas (11:51):

And having a clear idea, I mean, you have to know what it is they’re suffering with. And be willing to have that conversation with them.

Anna Grimes (11:58):

And I also feel like there are moments where those who are in love with their technology, as you said, John, they’ve lost the focus on the buyer. But one of the things that we’ve run into sometimes with positioning is they tend to talk over the heads of their buyer because they know the chassis so well. And they want to talk to their peer audience about chassis all day long when they’re really trying to sell maybe to the CIO who the last time he or she was in school was maybe 20 years ago. So some of this stuff is intimidating to them. You might even be setting yourself back a peg by going in with that much less, not having a clear articulated position in the market.

John Farkas (12:47):

So, Mark O’Brien, tell me when you’re working with an organization and you have the opportunity to see, okay, there’s clearly some pieces missing here. They’re going after this. They’re putting their drops in a very crowded pool. We’re getting all kinds of metaphors flying around here.

John Farkas (13:08):

They’re, they’re, they’re, they’re throwing a few of their drops in a very crowded pool and they have no opportunity to be seen. It’s just all fading into brown and there’s no clear differentiation. Where do you start? How do you initiate that conversation? How do you help them into, you know, what are some of the questions that you ask that help them into starting to push into differentiation?

Mark O’Brien (13:32):

I’ll start with that by saying that, unless I—so we’ve got 27 people on staff, uh, we’re distributed throughout the U S so it’s not just me. It’s nowhere close to just me. In fact, as you guys know, I’m not involved very much on the client facing angle after things get off and running, but aside from, you know, regular check-ins. And so it’s, I want to be clear that we’ve got a lot of amazing people who do the lion’s share of the amazing work we do, but my job and my most important job in many ways is that of gatekeeper. And so the first thing we do to push on positioning and let our prospects know how much we care about it is we don’t let them in the door. We will not work with them. I turned down firms all the time. If I personally do not believe in their positioning because here’s, and here’s what, here’s how much I believe in it.

Mark O’Brien (14:27):

And this thing we’re talking about, I’ve learned, you know, we did, it’s 26 years. I’ve learned through experience if I don’t believe in their positioning. Chances are really good at the end of our first year of working together. There’s not going to be a second year because they didn’t see the results without the positioning. You’re almost guaranteed to not see results from your marketing. I mean, near guarantee to the point that I am not willing to work with them. I won’t take the money and I regularly and increasingly regularly turn firms down who are ready to hire us, but I don’t think I can market what they’ve got because it’s not sharp enough. And so this is how important is it’s so important that Newfangled could be 50% bigger if I simply just said yes, a little more often, but it’s not worth it because we’d be getting bigger, doing work that has zero impact.

John Farkas (15:19):

Well, yeah. And nobody would have any fun. I mean, because at the end of the day, that traction in the market is when it starts getting fun. Right. And you don’t get traction in the market if you’re putting brown drops in a brown pool. And yeah, I agree with you completely. You know, I’m not going to jump in with a company where I cannot see their value proposition. If I can see it, or if I can see my way to it. Cause that’s, some of our job is to help see their way to it. And they’re willing to be great, but boy, you gotta have it or you gotta be willing to get it.

Mark O’Brien (15:53):

And let’s talk about the fun parts and the trajectory of marketing. There are three stages from my perspective, there’s the initial stage. So the firm agrees to bring in outside help. They’re really excited. They’re spending money, they’re spending energy. They’re spending time. They’ve clearly decided that this firm can help them. And so they’ve, they bought in and there’s a lot of energy. And so for a first handful of months or so, or whatever might be to market the service, a product everyone’s excited, everyone’s on board. Then that’s stage one, stage two, it launches, right. And then it’s, what’s going to happen. Let’s where are the leads? You know, that stage two and then stage three is either success or death, right? It’s success or failure that stays threatens. It goes one of those two directions and stage two is where so much marketing goes to die.

Mark O’Brien (16:45):

And stage two is where CMOs lose their job because if stage one wasn’t done properly based on excellent, excellent, excellent marketplace positioning. Then stage two is never going to work and any organization’s only going to be willing to wait so long to see results. Um, and if the positioning is good and the audiences there and the value prop is good. And that we should maybe mention that what we’re saying about positioning is, you know, unique value proposition, right? Just, just to make sure that everyone’s clear on what we’re saying by this, if that’s good, then it’s worth waiting a certain amount of time and for different industries and different purchases, it takes different months, time, but stage two is where it can be no fun and it’s really, really scary. And then it gets really fun again, once it start working, but the beginning and the end are fun, the middle is the dangerous spot.

John Farkas (17:31):

The Doldrums. Yeah. I mean, because there’s a lot of work that has to go in there. It is the launch pad and that inertia to get it going from zero to something. I mean, because part of what happens in the context of good positioning, if you have a unique perspective to bring to the market, first of it better be based on real world problems that actual people have and know they have, you know, in some form or fashion, but then you need to start the conversation. And that process of starting the conversation takes time. It, you have to give it the time to take root and start the conversation. Talk a little bit about that process and what it takes.

Mark O’Brien (18:11):

So John you’ve mentioned a number of times, these drops in the pool and, uh, it’s actually a pretty strong analogy that I might steal from you if you don’t mind. Um, and you talked about, you know, you, ain’t got to create a new pool and where’s the water for that pool. And that’s always one of the biggest issues when people are considering marketing and are speaking with experts like yourselves and are really forced to make some decisions. There’s this imposter syndrome. Well, wait, what, what do we know about, I don’t know what we know about, you know, they they’re, so they’re so excited about some things, but then they can also feel so vulnerable. You know, they’re really thrilled about the chassis. They know everything about the chassis, but once you actually asked to like, you know, put out in the marketplace and, you know, talk about its benefits without just the tech behind it, it’s scary.

Mark O’Brien (18:57):

This issue of not knowing what to talk about is a bit of a paradox and it has to do with pruning and it has to do with specificity. And I think one great way to put some shape around a marketing campaign or marketing strategy is focus. A firm might do 10 different things, a firm’s product and Oregon there’s a product might have 10 different audiences say, right? But when we’re thinking about this, Kyle say a digital marketing campaign specific let we’re thinking about well, paid media and email and content and web work like that. What’s the best use for that. And what’s the best audience for that. And which artist is most susceptible to that kind of marketing for this product. And it’s about minimizing. There’s this great Italian winery called Gaja. And they were just a regular old winery, uh, and very much a local winery that didn’t sell outside of Italy ever.

Mark O’Brien (19:54):

They barely sold outside of their town region ever, but they had been around for many, many generations, 300 years or so. And then Angelo, Angelo, Gaja inherited it. And the first thing he did after really getting to know the finances of the vineyard and the land and everything that he grew up on. But understanding what was actually in that land is he destroyed half of the vines, oh, this, this is a modern day story. This happened like 50 years ago or so destroyed half the bias toward them out once, tear them out, you can put them back. And everyone in the region thought he actually lost his mind. It was just trying to trash the business to like for like an insurance scheme or something, they thought they know like they could not comprehend why he was doing this. And now they are the, without parallel, the most sought after brand in Italian wine and in the world of wine, Gaja, Gaja wines, because he realized how many resources he had in the ground to support those vines.

Mark O’Brien (20:54):

And he said, okay, we went sell far, far, far, far, far fewer bottles for a far, far higher price because it’s going to be far better wine. And he was right. Could have been wrong and knew we’d never heard his name probably, but it would have disappeared.

John Farkas (21:08):

He would have been a local legend in all the wrong ways.

Mark O’Brien (21:10):

In all the wrong ways and all that, my ways and some so that, that level of literal pruning. Right. And, and just focusing in on what do we do best Jim Collins in Good to Great because the hedgehog concept, right? What can you do better than anybody else? What problem is your product solving that no one else is solving for which audience and just go right at that thing. And when you do that, once you’ve tap into that flow, that knowledge stream, then all of a sudden, the pool opens up and it like you, there’s an endless amount to talk about once you really lock into, okay, these people need this thing for these reasons and nothing else does it.

Mark O’Brien (21:54):

And here’s all the reasons why, every reason why its own article, its own campaign, its own drip email campaign, whatever it might be, that’s how you create the new pool. And we’ve seen time and time again with firms who are not confident in their own expertise because they’re looking too big. And you know, the other side of that is a lot of firms are a little bit greedy. You know, they don’t want a position because they want to win everybody. They want to be the right solution for everybody out there. And you know, you got to give up and you got to focus in in order to really see that kind of abundance it’s paradox.

John Farkas (22:29):

Right. And it is a confident move, right? Because you, it almost always involves a death. Yes. You almost always have to say we are not going to do X and in order to be able to really do an amazing job of Y and that is, that’s a hard thing for a lot of people, especially with product organizations that have a thing that can do something extraordinarily well. And if they just tweaked it a little bit over here, it could also do this. And so we’re going to spend a lot of time, effort and energy to get it, to do this because we can. And that doesn’t mean you should. And it often dilutes your efforts at really being extraordinary at what you’re really extraordinary at. Right? And that is a really important thing to look at and to be evaluating clearly. And it points to the importance of that marketing sales and product development and alignment that has to be there.

John Farkas (23:27):

Right? You have to bring all those elements together because if marketing is watching traction happen in a certain area, first of all, that’s a leading indicator, right? If we’re seeing the market respond, if our listening devices, if what we have going on out there, if people are clicking in certain places that tells us, Hey, people are really interested in this happening and making sure that what you’re doing and how you’re selling and what you’re talking about and what the product is moving in, developing to be is following that form. It’s really important.

John Farkas (24:02):

That really ties in because you can get distracted so easily and all it takes is one potential buyer dangling a six figure incentive out there for you to take this rabbit trail. And so you’re really willing to set aside what it is that you do and what it is that you do well to follow a six-figure rabbit trail, or maybe it’s a seven-figure rabbit trail, or maybe it’s, you know, name your number, but it’s distracting you and it’s pulling you over to the big brown pool. And so it’s really important to ask yourself the question, why are we here? And what is it that is our strong suit and how are we going to optimize for that

Mark O’Brien (24:46):

When we’re working with our clients? And I know the same is true for you and your clients. There are two acceptable approaches for positioning. One is what I refer to as the a hundred percent route where you are super clear on, we do X for X and that’s it. And it’s plastered all over our website. And if you’re not in that bucket, it’s going to be clear as day within the first 10 seconds of any page on our website and you’re going to be gone, right? And it’s exclusive positioning IX, full, publicly, exclusive positioning. Um, that’s all the way in, and that can obviously work really well. In many cases. That’s the ideal scenario for a lot of firms out there. That’s too scary. That’s too big of a jump. And maybe it’s not smart because they’re not exactly sure if X for X is the right thing.

Mark O’Brien (25:36):

And so the 80% version is this your marketing strategy, all the behind the scenes stuff that you guys work on. Now, everything goes into the email strategy, the ad strategy that the content strategy, all of the behind the scenes strategy work that’s hyper-focused, that is solely focused on, you know, that, that narrow, vertical and horizontal that you’re working on. But the public facing website has a more open message that allows more people in, right? So if someone outside of that, very, very narrow focus shows up. They might still find a home and might still get in touch and you might still work with them and that’s okay if you need to pay the bills. Right. But what the 80% version does is over the course of typically 18 to 24 months, it gives you enough marketplace acknowledgement and validation where you’re willing to be all in at that later point.

Mark O’Brien (26:27):

So it can be a good way to test while still also giving your marketing a fair shake. Anything less than 80% version will most likely fail in that middle stage, the doldrum stage and, uh, something that would be less than that 80% version as well. We’ve got this product, but I really think these four different categories could really benefit from it. And so we’re going to mark it all four things at once. And that the biggest issue here is what I call TTR, right? Time to results. That’s all that really matters. How long is it gonna take for your client to start making money on the work they do with you, time to results. And this is this, this is for you guys. Um, and for the audience listening, that’s when you’re hiring, that’s what you’re thinking of the title. How long is it gonna take?

Mark O’Brien (27:09):

How long before I look good and for my boss, because we’re actually making money on marketing center at being a sinkhole and the more diverse, and the more points of focus you’ve got with your positioning, the longer your time to results exponentially longer. So if you have one point of focus, you have going for one industry, then that’s one X. If you’re going to 80%, it’s two X. So if one X is eight months, two X is 16 months, if not longer, that’s how we go below the 80%. And that’s what we’re not willing to do. We just won’t do it. If it says anything shy of that,

John Farkas (27:43):

It’s really interesting. We have a client right now and Anna might know exactly who I’m talking about, who has an incredible value proposition. I mean, one of the most exciting groups that we’ve ever had the chance to work with as far as what they have the chance to do in the market, and they’re getting tempted. They’re jumping in with clients and they’re saying, and they’re saying we could take this thing that you do and apply it over here. And it would let us do this. And it’s like, part of me wants to go, “Resist! Resist!” It’s such a, it’s such a strong temptation. They have a brilliant position in the market that meets a super strong pressing need that we can be really sharpened, pointed with and really nail. And they want to take it. They’re listening to us so far and that’s really good, but boy, those forces, they can be really tempting and they are, I mean, it’s a legitimate temptation in their deal because it has good, you know, multi-comma market potential.

John Farkas (28:49):

Um, but they have to be careful because what I know is if we lead out really strong with the message that they have, they’re going to be wildly successful and they have to do it quickly because it’s, there’s going to be competitors that enter the market right now. They’re unique right now, they have a really strong, unique value proposition. And if we can go nail it, they’re going to have all the time in the world to expand because they’re going to be the authorities and everybody’s going to know them and they’re going to be in every major health system in the U S right. It’s a super exciting opportunity. But if they fan out that they might flame out

John Farkas (29:34):

In the technology marketing universe, the average tenure for a CMO is somewhere around 18 months. So based on, I can kind of anticipate some of your answer, but why do you think that is? Why do you think that that’s a, that, that 18 months for high-level marketing executives in technology companies? Why is that? Why so short?

Mark O’Brien (30:02):

The biggest thing is not sticking to the plan, right? And in order for these things to work, you’ve got to be disciplined and consistently disciplined in this middle doldrums part. You know, oftentimes there are among other things, content efforts paid media efforts and email efforts. Can we agree on those three things? Sure. There are other things, but, but those three and what we’ve witnessed is this, each of those things have different timeframes for their individual contribution to success, basically the way see it, we see it as this paid media drives traffic to content, which drives subscriptions to email, which nurtures prospects, again, via more content over time until it’s time for them to buy. Okay, that’s the shorthand.

Mark Whitlock (30:51):

say that again.

Mark O’Brien (30:52):

Paid media drives prospects to content on the website. They then convert on that content through signing up for a newsletter or downloading a white paper or registering for a webinar or download a content upgrade. And at that point, they’re in the email system. Once they’re in the email system, email can operate in its unique ability, which is the role of the nurturer. And that’s pretty much it, these days, that’s all email really does. And then email exercises that role of the nurture using again, the ongoing content strategy as the fodder to nurture and build that trust based relationship through the empathetic sharing of education until the prospect realize, “Okay, it’s time for me to look into this product or service more deeply, and actually move on to the digital conversation and have a conversation with a human at this organization.” That’s how I see it working again. We’ve been doing it a long time. Those roles have changed dramatically. Over the years, even the past five years email, you used to be able to buy a list, even like a handful of years ago, you could buy a list of, to start hitting that list and hoping for something you might get lucky once in a while, but that’s not.

Mark O’Brien (32:03):

Email’s primary value driver for organizations today. Content used to start writing and I need to go back seven years. You started writing now to a specific audience at a couple of months, Google was started awarding. You Googled would index to you and your start showing up in the first page for some of those things now takes closer to a year, a year of writing content consistently like, thousands of words, every single month before Google, they’re watching, they’re reading every single word, but they’re not indexing you for it yet. Or they’re not investing highly. You might be on page 30, you’re there, but you’re not, you’re not showing up, but we see it time and time again, you know, talk to him. I was like, right on your one boom, all of a sudden this huge spike in traffic that stays because Google does okay.

Mark O’Brien (32:45):

You’re legit now. And Google is doing his job. You know, all Google’s mission is to connect people with the information they’re seeking. That’s it as an organization, it’s always been their mission statement and their job’s gotten a lot harder as we’ve polluted the web with a bunch of crap, you know, um, that brown pool that brown pool’s gotten real big. And so Google is like this little like search and rescue mission brown pool, looking for like anything, that’s actually a value and that is distinct and unique. And so it takes Google longer, longer do that, but paid media just allows the end organizations and markets product service to just say, okay, I want that kind of person and that kind of person and that kind of person to go right there. And you know, one thing that you, you all hear I’m sure. And I still hear is that, well, “Our audience doesn’t use Google. Our, our audience doesn’t click on ads, our audience doesn’t check their email,” you know, all of that. And it’s all crap, you know, like we all do all of this stuff, everyone, everyone does all of this stuff. We, we, we’re all susceptible to all these things. Just the truth.

John Farkas (33:46):

Yeah, I would agree. I think that it’s very common to see very short-sighted expectations, right? So if you come in and you change a message or if you are starting a conversation new, and you’re expecting that to happen miraculously in six or eight months, and to see this windfall occur, you know, the reality is you are just putting the plant in the ground and giving it a chance to take root in that timeframe. So typically they start losing patience about the time things happen and there’s pressure that gets put on to change or to do something because, you know, the sky is falling. We’re not seeing the kind of results. We just spend all this money and you know, we’re not seeing the results we were expecting. So they rip the plant out of the ground just when it’s starting to take root.

Mark Whitlock (34:45):

So what’s the critical link?

John Farkas (34:46):

Overcoming the doldrums, overcoming that moment between investment and result that gap that exists there, that is a critical link because, you know, if you’ve done your work and you understand that your positioning does fit, that you do have product market fit, that there is a real opportunity and you, and that there is a pulse and doing the work, it takes to understand what the pulse looks like and start to feed it well, and understanding how you establish your KPIs, how you understand what that pulse looks like and how you communicate up the line to the organization to say, if we continue down this road here is what we will see, you know, and set those expectations. It’s really a critical link. Yeah. And having the proof points and having the comparables are important because, you know, I’ve seen this happen before we get to this point and there’s all kinds of hesitancy.

John Farkas (35:53):

There’s all kinds of concern. Is this going to work? And it is so common to rip the plant out of the ground at that point and just say, “Yep, Nope, marketing dog gone it, it it’s a black hole and it is every time.” And we see it with an experience for companies a lot. And it’s so important to understand there is that gap. There is the doldrums. There is the point at which you call things into question. And that’s why doing the work upfront to make sure you have good positioning to make sure it is the right message going the right way and understand what the conversation, you know, do the work to understand what that conversation is going to look like is really important because you have to be willing to stand on it at that point. It has to be strong enough and you have to know it strong enough that in that moment, you’re not tempted to pull off. You’re not tempted to change directions. You’re not tempted to say we were wrong. And, and, you know, cause, cause you’re not. If you’ve done the work upfront, if you’ve really tied your message to a real market problem, it’s going to take root. You have to push through the doldrums.

Anna Grimes (37:05):

It’s an apt ocean going metaphor, got a compass to take you through the doldrums. The Caribbean doldrums.

Mark Whitlock (37:15):

It’s been a day of word pictures here on Studio CMO. We’ve talked about the brown pool. We’ve talked about pulling up the vines by the roots. And we’ve talked about the doldrums. Three ways of looking at the role of the CMO and how the CMO drives success at a company. Do you want to know more about that? I encourage you to come on over to studiocmo.com/054 that’s studiocmo.com/054. And there, we’re going to do a couple of things for you. First of all, is to get to know Mark better. Uh, we’ll link out to, uh, some information about Mark and about Newfangled.

Mark Whitlock (38:09):

And the second reason to come over is because you heard mark say it time and time again on this episode. Having an objective voice, having an objective set of eyes to help you see what you can’t see and voice what you can’t voice is essential for marketers, marketers of all sizes of all skill levels.

Mark Whitlock (38:28):

Come on over to the studiocmo.com/054, come on over to the show notes and a look at some information we have about the power of objectivity. And that will help you in your quest. As you ask the question about what is it that you do better than anybody else on the planet and help you determine how can you take that message and build a stronger business? One of the things we talked about at the very beginning of this before we talked about positioning was if you don’t know your audience, your positioning doesn’t have a route to take. And that is the core of why we exist here at Studio CMO. We want you coming out of every episode to have a better grip on understanding your buyer’s problems

Anna Grimes (39:12):

And lead with an empathetic understanding

John Farkas (39:15):

And always work to make your buyer the hero.

Mark Whitlock (39:17):

We’ll see you next time on Studio CMO

Mark Whitlock (39:33):

Studio CMO is produced by Golden Spiral, market positioning and demand generation for HealthTech. We are an agency dedicated to help you realize your market potential. Our music is from Bigger Story Music, a BMG music library. Whatever story you’re trying to tell a bigger story has the perfect music to make it better. Really. Check them out at biggerstorymusic.com.

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