Notes From the Road to Marketing Nirvana - Part 3

In Notes From the Road to Marketing Nirvana by Joe Aragona November 27, 2017

Remember: You are What You Market.png

You Are What You Market.

True story.

The CEO of the $20 million startup was decidedly pleased with himself. The wide, bright smile stretched across his face showed off his pearly white teeth, which contrasted nicely with his perfectly bronzed skin. He was handsome and dashing with his close-cropped black hair, chiseled jaw, and deep green eyes. And his casual stride had a confident swagger to it as he crossed the room in his tan slacks and loose, white, open-necked, cotton shirt. With a smile at the HR director and a nod to the other executives, he grabbed the handheld microphone and turned to address the assembled employees.


“Hell,” he said as he slipped on a pair of dark sunglasses, “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”


“Another month is over and we’re another step closer to world domination!” he announced triumphantly. He had a flare for overstatement. “Hell,” he said as he slipped on a pair of dark sunglasses, “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

Most of the hundred employees in the room laughed at the quote from a vaguely remembered lyric that somehow still managed to get airplay.

From my vantage point at the back of the room, I watched as the CEO reported on the week’s activities. Most of it was focused on sales and venture capital financing, two of the most important topics at the time. This was at the peak of the high-tech boom when venture capital was available to anyone with a block diagram on a PowerPoint slide. Back then, VCs were still looking for the next billion-dollar startup and ready to finance almost anyone who could work an algorithm.


According to the CEO, we were in a very good position. He used all the right words to tell us so.


According to the CEO, we were in a very good position. He used all the right words to tell us so. Our solution was getting great traction in the market. We were making inroads into key accounts. Our sales team was moving closer to several major wins. Our VCs were very optimistic about our outlook. At this rate, we would have significant deployments with key accounts well ahead of our original forecasts.

He beamed with positive energy, and there seemed to be no limit to his enthusiasm. It was all very reassuring. As he went on, he congratulated everyone in the room for the hard work they were doing, emphasizing that none of this was possible without the dedication of the team. Then, he handed it off to the various department heads for their reports. The VP of marketing was up first.

The marketing department was in the process of executing a major campaign that had been launched a month earlier, so the VP had a lot to report. As the Director of Marketing, I knew what he was going to say since he and I had discussed it earlier in the day.

He started with an overview of the launch at a major industry trade show. He talked about the demos we had presented in the show and the traffic through the booth. He mentioned the speaking slots we had secured and how well they had been received. He referred to a video that had been produced specifically for the show, which was now available for viewing on the website. And he walked everyone through the pre-show, show, and post-show media and analyst relations program that we had executed, which had locked him into 27 interviews over the course of two days at the show and was continuing to keep him busy.

The result of all this activity to date was major buzz in the key industry newsletters and websites. The editors loved us. The analysts were bullish on our solution. We had successfully moved the company from nothing to something in a very short timeframe. In short, the VP concluded, the marketing team was doing a great job positioning the brand and creating the right perception of our capabilities and the value our solution offered to the market.

When the CEO took the microphone back from the VP, he was ecstatic. “Great stuff! Great stuff,” he said. “We’ve got their attention and we’re going to keep it. That’s the number one priority.”

There seemed to be an otherworldly glow coming from the spot where he was standing; It could’ve been the fluorescent lights reflecting off his shirt. I was trying to figure that out when a voice cut into the moment from my left.


“Yeah, except that it’s all $#@%&+?!,” the voice said.


“Yeah, except that it’s all $#@%&+?!,” the voice said.

I turned towards the sound and was greeted by the cynical half-smile and the sparkling blue eyes of Jack, the director of partner relations. Straightforward, honest, and direct, Jack seemed to have a knack for pointing out the absurdity of situations.

“No, it’s not! It’s a great program,” I said in my team’s defense. “We’re hitting all the objectives and creating the awareness we need to support sales. It’s working.”

“Not the marketing program,” he answered. “Everything else.”

“What do you mean?” I asked confused.

“Everything,” he answered. “While you guys are busy making noise, and sales is busy opening doors, we’ve got a major problem that’s going to blow up in our faces real soon.”

“What’s that?” I asked, now very concerned.

“There’s no product,” he answered flatly.


I laughed. Obviously, he was putting me on and wanted to get a reaction out of me. But, he didn’t laugh. He was serious.


I laughed. Obviously, he was putting me on and wanted to get a reaction out of me. But, he didn’t laugh. He was serious.

“Look,” he explained. “I’ve just spent an hour talking with two of the chief engineers back there. They tell me that after six months of development they are no closer to making the thing work than they were when they got here. I thought they were joking, but when I went through the prototypes it was obvious they were right. They don’t work. And they probably never will.”

“You’re exaggerating. They’ll figure it out,” I said. But I was now concerned. In a previous career, Jack had been CTO at a very successful startup.

“No, they won’t,” he countered. “The technology is not doable. They’re trying. But it’s not going to happen. We’ve got 60 engineers working on an idea that won’t work. Most of them are just filling time. Hell, we’ve got guys back there designing power supplies. Who the hell designs power supplies when you can just buy them off the shelf?”

“But we’re marketing demos and ideas that the analysts have gone through. They like it. They believe it,” I tried.


“It’s a dud. You’re marketing slideware, my friend. But, hey, perception is reality, right? And you are what you market.”


“Yeah, they believe the marketing. But although the story may be convincing, there’s no practical way to make it work,” he explained. “It’s a dud. You’re marketing slideware, my friend. But, hey, perception is reality, right? And you are what you market.”

Six months later, it was obvious that Jack was right. There was no product. The company imploded. And it was one of the first in a series of startups that went the same way.

Ultimately, we were promoting slideware so well that we proved that, in marketing, perception is reality.

Jack went on to become CTO of a successful startup, again.

The CEO was forever tarnished with the brush of failure.

I learned to always ask to see the product in action before I took on the marketing for another technology startup. And I’m still somewhere on the road to marketing nirvana.

But that’s another story.

Aragona Agency - Road to Marketing Nirvana Part 3 

This blog is based on a true story from my notes from the road to marketing nirvana. The names of the companies and people involved have been eliminated or changed to protect the guilty.

Joe Aragona

Written by Joe Aragona

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