How’s the view from inside the bottle?

Bottle It happens all the time.  The business owner believes that they can be objective about their own business.  Impossible.

I hate to be so emphatic — but if you own the joint, you cannot see it from the same lens as someone on the outside.   Here is a Drewism (phrase that is uttered repeatedly over time)  "You cannot accurately describe the outside of the bottle if you are on the inside."

Mark True, over at REL Online, has a great post about tough love for entrepreneurs.  He asks the question "What do you think is the single biggest marketing mistake committed by new business owners?"

If you own or run the business, you have a grossly disproportionate amount of knowledge about the industry, the product/service and your specific business.  All of that makes you uniquely qualified to be biased.

Think you can shake it off and become objective?  Think again.  It’s sort of like knowing that Santa isn’t real and then trying to go through the entire holiday season believing the old guy is really coming down your chimney.  You can simulate the belief — but it’s tainted with what you know.

So how do you get objectivity?  You put together an advisory council.  You do research.  You pay attention to what social media is saying and doing.  You hire an outside expert.  You ask your customers.  You ask the people who opted not to buy.

But you don’t rely on your objectivity.

Marketing truth:  You cannot accurately describe the outside of the bottle if you are on the inside.

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6 comments on “How’s the view from inside the bottle?

  1. This is an ongoing problem with clients big and small. The reluctance to engage customers and former customers in meaningful dialog about the company, services/products, attitudes, etc.

    I have one client with an unusual business, very few players in the industry. Yet he can’t articulate what he does succinctly. When I suggest he conduct a quick phone poll over time with customers, I get a blank look. “What would they know?” I know he’s thinking.

    I’m thinking, “Probably more than you give them credit for, pally.”

    Same goes for my own businesses, as well.

  2. Roberta,

    It’s hard to imagine how someone cannot understand they’re too close to the forest to actually see the trees.

    And yet…you and I see it every day. Its one of the toughest things I think we deal with. And I don’t think its going away anytime soon!


  3. Mark True says:


    Thanks for the link, and for the great thoughts. I especially like “uniquely qualified to be biased.”

    It doesn’t help that everyone believes they can do marketing…it looks fun to those on the outside. The Super Bowl ad even played of it with the pay off line “everybody wants to be in marketing.”

    If they only knew…

    A few years ago, we were meeting with an entrepreneur who was taking over a successful small business. We presented some ideas as an example of our thinking but he didn’t hire use. He actually said he would “spend money on marketing later. Right now, I have to sell something.” He then took some of our ideas and built them on the cheap, and completely ignored others. He eliminated everything that was different, inviting and relevant about his brand because he could save some money. Needless to say, his business is a part-time endeavor now and he’s working full time in a corporate setting.

    Not everybody can do accounting or engineer a product or synthesize a new chemical compound or carry a tune. How come people think they know to market?


  4. Mark,

    I suppose it is partially our fault. We make it look easy and fun!

    Remember the old rice krispie treat commercials where the mom would flick flour on her face so her family would think she worked all day on the treats?

    Maybe we need to do more of that. I think the computer has taken a lot of the magic and sizzle out of what we do. Being able to stick a photo and some text together does not a marketer make.


  5. Or if someone has read or seen an ad they believe they have to the chops to write or design an ad …

    Even when I was writing copy a zillion years ago on my never-fail IBM Selectric, non-marketing colleagues didn’t perceive the effort as the product of hard work and research.

    “Oh, you’re in marketing? You guys must have so much fun!”

  6. Roberta,

    I hear the same thing all the time. And the truth is — it is a lot of fun. Which does not negate the amount of work that it entails.

    My favorite is when they ask if working in an agency is like 30something!!


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