Skip to content

How to break through your marketing block

The constant questioner - Marketing humour cartoon of a woman with her hand in the air saying yes, I know we covered that 20 minutes agog but if we could just go over question 52 again ...

Share This Post

Why read this? : We explore the different types of people who cause marketing block. Learn how to handle the different tactics used to delay, disrupt and destroy your marketing plans. Read this for ideas on how to get your marketing moving again.

So after months of hard marketing planning work, you’ve finally got all your action plans and budgets signed off. You’re ready to dazzle customers with your incredible insights, your compelling communications and your exceptional experiences

Nothing can stop you now, right?

Well, nothing until you start putting together project teams and realise not everyone’s as on board as you thought they were.

White piece of paper on a desk saying "Marketing Strategy" surrounded by office stationery, plants and other marketing books

Or when you realise it’s taken so long to get everything approved, that the category circumstances have changed and you’re going to have to re-engage people all over again. 

Don’t panic. This happens a lot. In the same way that writers get writing block, marketers can get what we call marketing block as they try to act on their plans. 

Your choice on how to overcome your marketing block

You have a choice when this happens to you.

You could choose to get frustrated and grind your way through. But that’s energy-sapping and painful. No one wants that. Or you could choose to see these blocks as opportunities. As a way to stretch your creative thinking and make your plans stronger. 

Though these challenges mostly appear during your marketing processes, the deeper causes of marketing block are usually people-driven.

Man in a red T-shirt looking frustrated and angry

You have to dig deep and convince non-marketing people of the benefits of your ideas. Show them why customer understanding is so important. Why building brands matters. And the bottom-line value of strong brand activation.

All projects run into barriers at some point. (e.g. see our articles on barriers in marketing, creative and e-Commerce). Different business functions have different goals, working styles and priorities. In an ideal world, these create constructive conflict and discussions which improve your ideas. 

However, brand activation projects seem to attract 3 particular types of destructive conflict behaviours. These create marketing block. Let’s look at examples and explore how to handle them.

Marketing block #1 - The constant questioner

In most cases, it’s good to ask questions. It shows interest and curiosity. Questions help spark more ideas and identify issues early.

There’s nothing worse than sharing an idea and asking if anyone has questions, and getting no response. Other than the sound of tumbleweeds.

So, in general, you should value the courage of people who ask questions.

The constant questioner - Marketing humour cartoon of a woman with her hand in the air saying yes, I know we covered that 20 minutes agog but if we could just go over question 52 again ...

However, there is a type of person who takes this questioning to the extreme. Someone who always asks questions every time. No matter whether questions are needed or not. 

These constant questioners are usually enthusiastic (good) but aren’t action-focused (bad). They use questions as a weapon to delay, disrupt or destroy marketing plans. It’s a subtle way of being a ‘critic’. (See our how to be a more creative company article for more on this).

While some of their questions may come from genuine curiosity and a desire to collaborate, the constant nature of it turns it into something very different. Their barrage of questions slows projects down and kills ideas. This is often driven by fear. A fear of creativity, change or disruption. A fear of things being not perfect or making mistakes. They feel it’s better to be late than wrong. To keep things as they are rather than risk anything new. But this caution leads to missed opportunities and never learning from your mistakes.

Working with a constant questioner

There are a few approaches that help with these constant questioners. 

First, if they ask a question that isn’t quick and easy to answer, acknowledge that it’s a good question.

This shows you have good listening skills and makes them feel validated.

But suggest you need to think about it. And that it’d be better to discuss it afterwards so as not to tie up the whole meeting. 

Two people holding up large ears on a small dog

This flushes out whether they were genuinely interested (in which case they’ll follow up), or if they were just asking it out of habit (in which case they won’t). You can filter genuine questions from time-wasting ones this way.  

If their questions are unclear or seem biased, ask open questions to try to understand their thinking. For example, can you explain where that came from a little more? Can you give me some examples? This helps you understand whether their question was a loose, spontaneous thought or had some deeper, longer-term thinking behind it.  

Finally, it also often helps to carefully structure the way you ask for questions. Be direct and specific, not vague and abstract. For example, does anyone have any ideas on how we could improve X on the project? is better than, so what does everyone think? 

You should also phrase your questions in a way that looks for positive feedback to improve the project, rather than negative feedback to delay it. Questions like “How could we deliver this project ahead of deadline?” or “How could we use this project to improve system efficiency?” make the questioner look for answers rather than objections.

Marketing block #2 - The helpfully unhelpful

A close business cousin of the constant questioner is the helpfully unhelpful.

Their underlying motivations are similar. They fear change and failure and deeply want to maintain routines and the status quo.

However, they recognise questions can be an obvious delaying tactic. Instead, they overload your plans and ideas with so many “helpful” builds that they become unwieldy and much harder to do.

The helpfully unhelpful - Marketing humour cartoon of a man saying "I really like your idea, but the steering committee will never approve it, because you haven't given them 12 weeks notice ..."

For example, they’ll refer you to other people in the business for ‘extra inputs’ to the project. Oh, you should speak to X about this. They’ll refer you to processes and systems which ‘protect the business’, ‘drive efficiency’ or ‘avoid mistakes’. Even if those are not your brand activation’s goals.

They don’t want to appear unhelpful. But they are. They don’t realise the ‘help’ usually delays or kills ideas.

Working with the helpfully unhelpful

The key to handling the helpfully unhelpful is timing. If you get to them early, you can flush out their builds on your ideas and give yourself time to work out how to deal with them. 

This approach works particularly well when the helpfully unhelpful blocker has the power to hold up your plan.

For example, they’re a regulatory approver or an operations quality manager. These types of helpfully unhelpful people you need to listen and respond to.

Mans hands holding a young baby

However, it’s usually worth reminding these types that the project or brand activity is your “baby”. You’re accountable for it, not them. So, if they block you, ask for their help in reshaping the project so you can still deliver it in a way they can live with. 

You’ll also often find many other helpfully unhelpful types who don’t have such power. Maybe a junior sales manager, or a market researcher who likes to research everything in triplicate. You should of course be open to their suggestions. 

If they make the project obviously better, use their suggestion. 

If it’s less clear though, often making a small step towards using their suggestion is enough. This makes them feel listened to and validated. And If that small step then goes nowhere, you can let their suggestion go. Most of the helpfully unhelpful rarely check back on their suggestions anyway.

And if their suggestion is a dud? Well, thank them politely for their interest but don’t be afraid to explain why you won’t be using it. Remember, you are accountable. You decide what’s important.

Marketing block #3 - The grenade launcher

Our final challenging style is the grenade launcher.

Typically, these are more senior people in the business, who are stakeholders and approvers rather than deeply involved in the project itself.

The reason we call them grenade launchers is because their “input” to the project has the same impact as a grenade.

They lob in their feedback from a distance and it blows up your plans.

The grenade launcher - Marketing humour cartoon of a woman throwing builds at someone as she says sorry, on my way to another meeting. If you can just build these by close of business, that'd be great

Usually, the grenade launcher acts this way as they have limited time to look at your plan. So they want to maximise the impact of the time they spend on it. They want to make an impression.

So they’ll often find one big deal-breaker issue. And launch it at the project team like a grenade. For example, a project that doesn’t quite meet the profitability threshold in the first 12 months. Or a customer insight that means a new pack won’t meet the retailer’s shipping specifications. Or an IT process that nobody knew about before, that’ll delay your project by at least 3 months.

Just some examples we’ve seen of feedback ‘grenades’ thrown at projects in the past.

Working with the grenade launcher

Preparation and planning are key for handling the grenade launcher. If your plans have been properly prepared, their feedback bomb shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. 

It’s often worth having a session early in a project where you host a “pre-mortem”.

You imagine a year has passed and your plan has failed. You list out all the reasons you think it might have failed. These help you prepare plans and contingencies to deal with the reasons for failure.

Two men talking at desk - one man is writing notes, the other is explaining something with his hands

These are the types of feedback ammunition that grenade launchers like to use. The more prepared you are, the easier their feedback is to handle.

It also helps if you can get to the grenade launchers before they have a chance to pull the pin. Informal check-ins before approval meetings. Regularly circulated project summaries. And a clear risk matrix and mitigation plan. These sorts of forward-thinking actions lessen the chances of a feedback grenade blowing up your project.

Conclusion - How to break through your marketing block

No one likes to think they’re obstructive. But when you’re trying to action your marketing plan, you find there are all sorts of people who get in the way. Sometimes for justifiable reasons. But more often than not driven by a fear of change. This grinds your plans to a halt and creates a marketing block. 

We shared examples of 3 of the most common types. The constant questioner who drives you crazy with question after question. The helpfully unhelpful who overloads you with so many suggestions that you struggle to move forward. And those high-level grenade launcher types who like to show their status by dropping bombs on your plan at just the wrong time. 

It takes a strong mix of people, planning and leadership skills to break through these types of marketing block. Good listening skills to acknowledge their feedback, but also the strength to know when not to act on it. The foresight to anticipate likely questions and have answers prepared. And the character and presence of mind to deal with unhelpful inputs and keep your eye on the prize of delivering your brand activation.

Check out our articles on barriers to marketing, creative and e-Commerce for more on this. Or get in touch if you’ve got a marketing block and need help to get past it. 

Photo credits

Marketing Strategy : Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Frustrated Man (adapted) : Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

Dog ears : Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

Holding baby in hands : Photo by Jill Sauve on Unsplash

Two men working at a desk : Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

Share this content

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest blog posts

Subscribe to get Three-Brains updates