The Dangers of Magical Marketing Thinking

Today’s post is about realism, which is the opposite of the magical thinking. Wikipedia defines magical thinking as “…thinking that one’s thoughts by themselves can bring about effects in the world or that thinking something corresponds with doing it.”  In the world of marketing and sales, magical thinking is confusing what you want to happen with what can realistically happen (the art of the possible).

I was speaking at a conference last week and saw this sign at a conference booth: “Stop here to get a large number of business leads, fast and easy.”  What the company was selling was names, contacts, raw suspects, but they were definitely not leads.  Many companies have spent lots of money on such promotions, only to be severely disappointed when the so-called leads turned into little more than what can be found in the Yellow Pages. Wishing that raw contact names turn themselves into real leads is definitely an example of magical thinking.

We recently talked to a potential client and laid out a very achievable plan to create a messaging platform, create content and build a new website in a four- to six-month period.  His answer:  “I need to be taking orders within 60 days with a website full of content.”  Given his modest budget and time constraints, this is an example magical thinking.

Another example: About two years ago, I spoke with a software startup founder who told me his ambition was to be “bigger than Google.”  This, despite the fact that he hadn’t received his first round of funding. Not surprisingly, the company is limping along with a small handful of customers. They may still make it, but not at the level of initial expectations.  Better to have set realistic expectations in the first place in order to save the disappointment later.

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Of course there is the urge to reach for the stars and be the best you can be. However, unwarranted optimism can be detrimental to your business, for three primary reasons:

  1. Bold pronouncements that are not backed up by adequate resources can cause you to lose credibility with investors, partners, customers and employees.
  2. Setting goals that are unreachable can turn an otherwise solid performance into what is seen as a failure. Better to under-promise and over-deliver instead of vice versa.
  3. Magical thinking regarding marketing shows a lack of discipline that will manifest itself in other areas of your business, especially product development.

Venture capitalists know magical thinking when they see it. Almost every startup founder has a PowerPoint presentation showing the hockey stick growth in revenue.  For example, the graphs will show year one revenue of $1 million, year two of $4 million and year three of $12 million. VCs are aware that only one company out of dozens will actually reach these numbers, so they automatically discount the projections. Entrepreneurs and investors both know that the numbers are unrealistic, but magical thinking is part of the game.

I suggest that you leave your magical thinking at home, create a solid and attainable marketing plan, execute relentlessly and live within the art of the possible. Your results will be just as good (or better) than what you will achieve with magical marketing thinking and you will feel a much greater sense of accomplishment.

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Christopher Ryan

Christopher Ryan has 25 years of marketing, technology, revenue growth experience. As both a marketing executive and services provider, Chris has created and executed numerous programs that build market awareness, drive lead generation and increase revenue.
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