My wife helps people trace their ancestry through genealogy investigation. Unfortunately, she occasionally starts with someone else’s previously researched data. As she proceeds with her additive research, she occasionally finds a falsely identified relative from whom a whole tree has been built. Once this is discovered (after she has spent considerable time), she realizes that her time has been wasted on a dead trail—all because a previous researcher probably took one bit of ‘convenient’ information and jumped to a wrong identity conclusion without confirming it with a second or third source. My wife knows when investigating ancestry, you never accept any identity unless it can be verified by a second independent source.
This rule also applies in business marketing. The trait of a first-rate marketer is an obsession with information—they can never get enough and never consider it true unless it is corroborated.
An immature marketer will believe the first piece of information they hear. Without the curiosity to confirm the particulars, they act on this initial knowledge and tell their teammates. Suddenly, an unconfirmed fact—or rumor—becomes the truth. The misinformation is then spread to teammates who don’t question its validity. It becomes “the truth” and hence, the pursuit of confirmation stops.
When I was engaged in marketing, I would take advantage of this phenomenon. I deliberately leaked misinformation about my strategy in professional forums or in circles of particularly talkative people, in order to feed and fool the lazier marketers of my competitors—those who I knew wouldn’t bother to take the time to confirm the information with corroborating sources. I was careful to stay consistent with the misinformation in different settings, in hopes of creating multiple channels.
Key false facts I would leak included: the name of a project manager, our basic strategy, potential interview participants, our price structure, teammates or innovations, etc. I would then overstate our relationship with the likely decision makers. All this misinformation negatively affected our competitors’ attention. Many firms actually dropped out of the bidding when they thought we had the job wired due to this misinformation.
With that being said, there is a big difference between spreading misinformation about your competitive posture versus intentionally trashing or disparaging competitors. In recent times there has been a growing trend for some to run smear campaigns against their competitors by faxing inflammatory newspaper articles to decision makers of potential business, spreading false allegations and attempting to win work by damaging the competition’s reputation. I may be old fashioned, but I regard this as negative marketing, which I believe borders on bad ethics. I would recommend you don’t lower yourself to these tactics. Instead, focus on your position.
Often, good marketers get a bad rap for being “secretive” or “not team players,” because they do not share enough information with others on their marketing team. But in my experience, wise marketers share information only when they have the supporting, validating facts, or only share with others who have “a need to know.” They are information harvesters who use multiple sources that are not cross-connected to each other.
The bottom line is, if you want to be a marketing winner, never be satisfied with the information you have. Check and re-check. Confirm and re-confirm. Successful marketers are on an endless quest to find information and verify it. They don’t disclose what they know until the very last minute when they have to. Finally, don’t hold their secrecy against them.
© 2015 Robert Uhler and THE UHLER GROUP. All rights reserved.