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04/07/2009 In Treatment: Marketers as Therapists

I’m glad HBO’s "In Treatment" is back. It was my favorite show last year although it was painful to watch sometimes. I love stories that feel real, as opposed to, say, reality TV. I’ve never been in treatment (yet) but this show felt spot on. And Gabriel Byrne is amazing.

So what does this have to do with marketing? Everything. Gabriel Byrne’s character is a perfect metaphor for good marketers. People always come to you with a perceived problem but our challenge is to dig deeper to find deeper meanings, reasons and measures of success.

Over the years, I’ve heard the following from different clients:

“Our Web site is an embarrassment.”
“We hated our former agency.”
“My wife didn’t like the TV we ran last year.”
“We need to do something new; jazz it up.”

Intreatment.good And just like In Treatment, we need to ask, probe and uncover the, often, painful truths. It’s a tough job and a lot of us don’t really want to do this so we don’t. We end up making pretty Web sites, have beers with the marketing director, make sure the boss’s wife signs off on the creative, and add cool designs to everything.

It usually lasts a year or two, because none of those topical things work without connecting with the actual process of connecting with people, providing them with something valuable and making sure we’ve set up systems that make it as easy as humanly possible to convert or buy.

We need to ask ourselves as marketers: Are we listening to our clients because they pay us, or are we listening to help solve an important problem? That might be the distinction between good therapists or bad therapists. Or it might be the difference between a prostitute and a great shrink.

Make no mistake: It’s hard work. You have to do it together. But the outcomes are so much better than the window dressing.

We marketers can do a better job if we ourselves are more transparent. Such as:

  1. Tell clients how you work – Explain to them your process of listening and why you’re not going to just be a bobblehead. In the upfront stage, clients will probably like to hear this.
  2. Reinforce this along the way – It’s one thing to say this, it’s another to do it in the middle of the process. Keep bringing the why to the table and continually connect it back to the end goals – business growth.
  3. Push the clients – But push gently. Unlike In Treatment, we don’t want big breakdowns, just small breakthroughs. Challenge the clients when you feel the small and personal issues are clouding judgment.

Of course, it doesn’t always works. But, it works an awful lot, in my experience, and it leads to some great work.

And just like In Treatment, we marketers have just as big problems as our clients, especially when it comes to alignment, goals and honesty. Luckily there are great business coaches out there to help us.


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