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The story of the mighty battle against marketing barriers

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Why read this? : Barriers often go up when you try to introduce new ideas in marketing. Your ideas can get bogged down in politics and fear of change. Read this story to learn how one marketing manager overcomes 5 common barriers to new ideas. Learn how to deal with objections, and get the objectors on board with your plan. 

In our alternative 4Ps of marketing article, we shared how internal politics is often a real barrier to marketing progress.

You run into people with different levels and types of expertise. Different points of view. All thinking they’re right and you’re wrong. Lots of opinions which hold up decisions and slow down progress. 

Sounds familiar, right? Frustrating, isn’t it?

Trying to influence people who have their own agenda. Who don’t listen or don’t care what you think. Who object to change and new ideas. 

Man in a red T-shirt looking frustrated and angry

We’ve covered these sorts of barriers in marketing before. (see our articles on creative problem solving or barriers to e-Commerce, for example). 

It helps if your new idea has a clear, concrete outcome which helps you take on the objectors. The value of idea generation in creative thinking, for example. The connection, commercial and control benefits of having your own D2C store. 

But sometimes your new idea isn’t fully formed yet. You can’t prove it’ll make your marketing better until you start doing it. What do you do then?

The barriers to improving marketing

This happens more often than you’d think.

For example, when digital marketing first started being a thing, traditional marketers often dismissed it. Too niche. Not enough scale to take on traditional marketing channels. A fad, they said. 

Same with e-Commerce. We ran into lots of barriers with that the first time we did it. 

Sounds crazy now, but it highlighted for us, just how hard it is to get people to deal with change.

Running track with hurdles set up for a sprint race

Talking about change is easy. Making it happen isn’t. Change is hard. People don’t like change. Take a step into the unknown? Hard. Stick with what you know? Easy. 

For example, let’s look at brand storytelling.

It’s one of the newer themes in marketing thinking. You use storytelling types and structure to build stories about your brand. Customers connect strongly with well-told, relevant stories. 

And yet, in our experience, start talking brand storytelling, and you suddenly find you run into a whole bunch of marketing barriers.

Other than a few books – Storybrand by Donald Miller for example – and a few specialists agencies, it’s still on the very edges of being accepted as good marketing practice. 

Woman siting in an armchair reading a book titled Storytelling

A story about marketing barriers

So, let’s use storytelling as a way to tell this story about marketing barriers. Every story needs a lead character, and in this story, our lead is Morgan. Morgan the Marketing Manager. For the purpose of this story, assume that’s you

You’re new in the role. Newly promoted after 3 years as a Senior Brand Manager. You report to Robin the marketing director. They’ve given you a “development project” to work on to build your marketing leadership skills. It’s part of your development plan (don’t we all love those?).

They’ve asked you to lead introducing a “new marketing technique” to raise skill levels across the whole team. Your choice what that technique is.

Now, you’re a smart cookie. You keep up to date with marketing trends. Go to conferences. Follow well-known marketing bloggers (!). 

Of all the topics you’ve seen – anything from AI algorithms to Zoom-based marketing, the one that grabs you the most is brand storytelling.

How hard can it be to sell in storytelling?

It feels like a no-brainer, right? 

Storytelling is about communication. And communication is a big part of marketing. To customers. To other people in your business. Politics and all those marketing barriers, remember? Storytelling is human nature. It’s familiar. That should be an easy sell-in, right? 

Raise skill levels across the whole team? Surely everyone will see how storytelling does that?

Bright-eyed and bushy tailed you set off for your first meeting to discuss the idea. It’s the weekly marketing leadership team catch-up. Get them on board, and everyone else follows, right?

Unfortunately, Robin the marketing director is travelling that day. They won’t be there to back you up, so for the kick-off, you’re on your own.

The inciting incident - the kick-off meeting

After all the usual small talk about the weekend and the weather, you start 10 minutes late.

As usual. That’s never good. 

You’re first up. 

You explain what you’re trying to do. Raise the skill levels of the team.

You explain you want to focus on brand storytelling. It’s a way to improve communications. Everybody benefits from that. 

Business meeting round with a man presenting in front of a screen to 5 colleagues

It’s informal, so all you’ve really got are a couple of bullet-points for now. You’re here to sound out the team. See what they think before putting together a more formal plan. 

You get a bit carried away in your excitement about the idea. Maybe you don’t come across as clearly as you’d like. You realise you’ve been speaking for 10 minutes, and no-one’s said anything. But from the look on their faces, you can tell something’s not right. 

“So, what do you think?” you ask. 

There’s a pause. An uncomfortably long pause.

Sceptical Susan - “I don’t get it”

Susan talks first.

She’s the longest serving person on the team. She likes things the way they are. It’s taken a lot of time and effort to get the team to where it is now. 

She doesn’t seem as excited as you are about your idea. She tilts her head to the side, a puzzled look on her face.

“Storytelling? What, you mean like they do with kids in school? I don’t get it.” She shakes her head. “What’s that got to do with marketing?”. 

Person holding up an illustration of an angry face

You start to explain how story structure and story types improve communications, but you can tell she’s not really listening. 

“No, no, no,” she interrupts. “It just sounds a bit vague. A bit gimmicky. You want something people are going to understand right away. I just can’t see it working here …”

Tepid Trevor -  “It’s not for us”

Next to her, you see your colleague Trevor nodding. He’s the next longest-serving person on the team. His first boss when he joined was Susan, and he still often defers to her in meetings. 

He’s at least heard of brand storytelling. You know that, because you talked to him about it last week when you were planning what to say at this meeting. 

“Well, I Googled it after we talked about it”, he says. 

OK, that sounds more promising, you think.

“I can see it’s a thing. And I understand what you’re saying. And I can see why you might be excited about this”, he says. “You being new to the leadership team and all that. Of course, you want to make your mark with something different. We’ve all been there”. The others all nod.

“Way to patronise the newbie”, you think to yourself. But you nod back and wait for him to go on. 

“But really? It’s hard to see it working here. I’ve been here a long time. We’re just not the sort of marketing team who do creative stuff like that. Maybe you should look for something else a bit more commercial? Something closer to how we do things around here?”.

“Hmmm. He sounded helpful but totally poured cold water on the idea at the same time”, you think. That’s quite a trick

“OK. Let me think about that. Anyone else? More thoughts?”

Obstructive Ollie - “What about the cost?”

Your colleague Ollie’s hand goes up. He’s the marketing finance guy. He’s all about the numbers and the budget. 

“It sounds expensive,” he says. 

You hadn’t even mentioned cost. You’ve not even thought about that level of detail yet. So you shrug and wait for him to go on.

“I’m guessing there’ll be lots of training. That’ll cost us. Plus testing it out on different campaigns. What if it doesn’t work? What if we miss our targets?”.

Close up of woman's hands holding a bunch of dollar bills and in the process of counting them

“OK”, you reply. “And what if we just ran it as a small test first? Just to see if it works”.  

He sighs. “The activity calendar’s already full”, he replies. “All approved projects with approved budgets. Where’s the money going to come from? Something else would need to drop off. Maybe we should leave this till next year?”.

Ruthless Roger - “It’s not big enough"

“I tend to agree with Ollie”, pipes up Roger. Roger’s the commercial lead for the team, with a direct link into the sales team. Like Ollie, he loves to talk about the numbers. 

“We’ve already got a lot going on. I don’t see how adding this is going to help. It feels like a distraction.”

He takes a deep breath. Pulls back his shoulders and puffs out his chest. 

Lit up dollar signs on a dark background

“Priorities are important. You’ve heard the board say that often enough. Fewer, bigger, better. That’s what we do here. This doesn’t seem to fit. All our projects have a good ROI. I’m not seeing the ROI here. How’s it going to help us hit our numbers this year?”

“Thanks for the lecture”, you want to say, but you just nod. This hasn’t gone well. You’ve got one last hope. 

Yawning Yasmine -  “We’re just too busy”

You look around to your colleague Yasmine. She was a Senior Brand Manager like you until last year.

As the newest member of the team, you feel like she’d be the most supportive of your attempt to bring in new ideas.

Yasmine yawns. 

“Sorry. Busy weekend. Actually, I quite like the idea of it …” she says. 

Good start, you think.

Woman wearing smart business suit in front of a laptop looking bored

“But really, we’ve got so much on right now. Everyone’s so busy. I don’t think we’ve got the capacity to take anything else on. It’s just bad timing. Maybe we could look at it again when things are a bit quieter?”.

Pfffffffft. 

You thank the team for their feedback.

“Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about” you say. “I’ve got a follow up meeting with Robin tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes”. 

The meeting moves on, the usual mix of performance updates and people news, but you find it hard to pay attention. You walk out of the meeting feeling like one of those Dragon’s Den people who walk out with their idea humiliatingly stomped on. 

Now we have a problem

This type of meeting sound familiar?

We’ve all had those meetings. The ones where you feel like the lone voice of common sense. And you’re lined up against the combined forces of negativity, apathy and sheer bloody stubbornness.

But you bounce back. And it’s what you do next to solve the problem that really matters.

By the way, you may have spotted we used this classic story structure for our story :-

hand showing a thumbs down

A hero/heroine faces a problem from an unexpected change in their world. With the help of a guide, they form a plan, and following a call to action, that plan leads to success or failure.  

So to tell the rest of the story, we need a guide. And a plan. Cue, your catch up with Robin, the marketing director the next day.

Enter the guide

“So how did it go yesterday?” asks Robin.

You spill out the whole sorry tale. 

“Maybe they’re right?” you say. “Maybe it’s something else, or we delay it?”

Robin smiles, but shakes their head. 

“No, no. I like the idea of storytelling. I want it to happen too. And you know what? I could just tell them to make it happen. That’d be the easy way to do it.”

Hand holding old fashioned looking compass

You look up hopefully. Having the boss tell people to do it, that would work, right?

“But it’d be wrong.”

“Oh? How come?”

“Well, there’s a couple of lessons to learn here,” replies Robin. “But let’s focus on the biggest one. There’s always barriers to any new idea. Happens all the time. You need to plan ahead how to deal with them.”

I nod. Makes sense.  

“So, here’s what we’re going to do …” 

So, coached by Robin, you put a plan together.

Forming a plan for to overcome marketing barriers

You draw out a table with 4 columns. 

Column 1 - the objectors

In column 1, you write the names of the people who raised the objections :-

  • Susan
  • Trevor
  • Ollie
  • Roger
  • Yasmine

Column 2 - the objections

In column 2, you write out their objections. What did they actually say? Try to use their words. 

  • “I don’t get it”.
  • “It’s not for us”.
  • “Our plans’s good enough”.
  • “It’s not big enough”.
  • “We’re too busy”.

Column 3 - The root cause

Easy so far. Column 3 is where you need to think much harder though. 

Think like a marketer. Put yourself in the objector’s shoes. Try to imagine what’s driving their way of thinking? Why do they think like that?

Try a 5 Whys exercise (as per our article on creative problem solving) where you keep asking why to get to the root cause.

Our 5 Whys on this set of objections got us to these root causes :-

Man's hand holding a camera lens in front of a lake with mountains and blue skies in the background
  • Comfortable with current level of knowledge.
  • Likes predictability and stability.
  • Doesn’t want to feel time spent on current plans was wasted.
  • Wants to show decisive leadership by talking about priorities.
  • Takes on too much – wants to prove their worth in the role.

Column 4 - actions

Now you’ve identified the real issues, it’s clearer what you need to do. 

Plan out what you need to do to tackle each root cause. Brainstorm each objection and come up arguments and actions to overcome them.

For each of the marketing barriers, think who can I work with? What can I say or do that’d help overcome the objection?

For example, our action list for this set of objections would look something like this :-

Two women wearing business clothes sat next to each other at a desk looking at paperwork and taking notes
  • Work with HR to highlight the importance of continuous professional development. 
  • Share case studies of other brands using brand storytelling to grow sales.
  • Highlight the risk of not learning storytelling. 
  • Identify an activity in the current plan which a storytelling approach would improve.
  • Find the weakest area in the current plan, and show how storytelling would improve it. 
  • Plan out a basics of brand storytelling session. Something that can be learned quickly – say a 30 minute session that shows the principles and tells a story. 
  • Show the time savings benefits of storytelling – Clearer, more memorable communications, so fewer meetings to remind people of key messages. 
  • A short session at the next leadership catch-up where the Marketing Director shares their thinking. 

You collate these actions into a change plan. Who you’ll speak to. When you’ll speak to them. How you’ll communicate with them – on email, face-to-face or in a group. What key messages you need to land. Which assets you’ll need e.g. case studies, presentations, business plans. 

Working with feedback and change

A few weeks later, your plan’s looking much better. More concrete. Specific actions. Timings and who’s doing what. You go back in to talk Robin through it, and they’re nodding along. 

“I like it,” they say. “How’re you feeling about it?”

“Much better than after that first meeting”, you say. “There’s still a lot to do. Not everyone’s on board yet. But it feels a lot closer to being something real now.” 

“Ah yes. That reminds me. I did say there were a couple of lessons you should take from your experience. We only really covered the objection handling. There’s two more things I wanted you to think about.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Well, asking for feedback is good. Obviously. It makes people feel involved. But this is your project. You’re the leader on it. And that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to act on every single bit of feedback.” 

“OK”

“Sure, some of those objections might have deep root causes. But maybe you just got some people on a bad day?

When you ask for feedback, people need to feel they’ve been listened to. But you don’t always need to do everything in the feedback. They’re not leading the project. You are. If you try to keep everyone happy, it’ll drive you crazy.” 

I nodded. “So, you’re saying I could’ve ignored some of the feedback?”

Two people holding up large ears on a small dog

Choose not to use some of the feedback ...

“Not quite. You could have chosen not to use some of the feedback. That’s different. You acknowledge the person’s feedback, but explain why you chose not to use it. It’s not their project. They’ll get over it.“ 

“Ok. Get that. What else?”

“Well, the other key thing here is time. Change takes time for people to process. You said you’d only spoken to Trevor before the meeting. So for the rest of the team, it was a surprise. When you surprise people, they get defensive. They feel threatened”.

“Ah yeah, I can see that now” you say.

“Yes. They might not recognise it as “threat” but that’s what it is. But now, the way you’ve put this plan together and all the conversations you’ve had since that first meeting, well now, it’s not such a threat. People have got used to the idea.

They’ll still have questions, but it feels familiar now. If you had that same meeting now, I’ll bet you wouldn’t get anywhere near as much pushback”. 

Conclusion - The mighty battle against marketing barriers

Now we could just say Morgan went off and put their plan into action and everyone lived happily ever after. The end. 

But that wouldn’t really happen. Because life’s not that easy. Other things happen. People aren’t predictable in how they deal with change. 

Some of the plan will work better than you expect. And some of it’ll bomb badly. 

And therein lies the real learning of the story.

Close up of a Superman lego hero figure against a dramatic red sky background

You run into marketing barriers all the time. Part of your job is working out how to deal with them. 

Marketing principles and best practices are great. But you always have to deal with other people’s opinions over and above them. Preparation and planning is how you deal with the politics in marketing. 

If these marketing barriers sound familiar, remember, it’s not just you who faces them. We all do. Think ahead and plan for objections. Give people time to process your ideas. Ask for feedback, but don’t feel obliged to use all of it. Marketing is all about change for the better. But if change was easy, everyone would be doing it. 

Check out our articles on brand storytelling and how to use storytelling in marketing for more on this topic. Or contact us if you’ve got your own marketing barriers, and need some help to tell a better story. 

Photo Credits

Hand / Stop : Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

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

Hurdles : Photo by Jeremy Chen on Unsplash

Woman reading storytelling book : Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Business meeting : Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Angry face : Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Counting cash : Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Dollar lights : Photo by Chronis Yan on Unsplash

Bored in front of computer : Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

Thumbs down : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Person holding compass : Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Lens : Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

Two women signing documents : Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Dog ears : Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

Superman hero figure : Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

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