Advocates of all stripes suffer from a poor reputation. Politicians, lawyers, marketers all grapple with the advocate’s problem: winning is the measure of success. How one wins will usually be forgotten, but the hairsplitting and subtleties of the advocate leave many of us feeling used. Yet advocacy enables much progress, defends the wrongly accused, and leads us to try new things that may change our lives. Advocacy is a double edged sword.

The legal aphorism

If the law is on your side, pound the law
If the facts are on your side, pound the facts
If neither the law or facts are on your side, pound the table.

captures the advocate’s strategy – whatever works – and problem – that advocates are opportunists who are pushing an agenda rather than the truth. But this doesn’t always have to be so.

Truth is a powerful brand builder
I’ve been a paid sales and marketing worker for almost 30 years. I wish I could say that I’m proud of each and every product I’ve sold or brought to market, but I’m not. Like the ACLU’s defense of Rush Limbaugh, sometimes one must look past the person or the product to a higher principle. In the professional advocate’s case that principle is that doing your best despite the subject’s flaws. In marketing it’s known as “perfuming the pig”.

Yet truth is a powerful marketing tool. Few are the products where some truth won’t help.

For example, I was once asked to market two different product families into one market. One family used ethernet and the other something called the Manufacturing Automation Protocol. People from General Motors, Kodak, John Deere and others were behind MAP, and several venture-backed firms had been started to build MAP products. My company was spending about $10 million a year to build MAP as well. So MAP had momentum.

Truth, an example
My problem was that I didn’t know when to recommend one over the other. The MAP people said that MAP was required because ethernet:

  1. Couldn’t cover the area of a big factory
  2. Didn’t have sufficient bandwidth for factory automation
  3. Used an indeterminate protocol, CSMA/CD, that couldn’t guarantee response time
  4. Was too sensitive to the electro-magnetic interference (EMI) emitted by arc welders, big motors and other factory equipment

Long story short I did some research and had some engineers go out and actually measure some factory network usage and EMI levels, as well as testing ethernet products for EMI resistance. We discovered some interesting things:

  1. Up to four square miles of area could be covered – as big as almost any plant in the world – using standard ethernet products
  2. Plant network utilization averaged about 2% of available bandwidth with spikes of no more than 14%
  3. Tests proved that CSMA/CD, while technically indeterminate, offered lower latency than token-passing networks until utilization exceeded 60%
  4. Measured plant EMI levels, including electric smelters and arc welders, never exceeded 10% of ethernet’s specification
  5. Ethernet had been over-engineered and handily exceeded its EMI spec

What this research showed was that the issues people were worried about weren’t really issues at all. As a result, the MAP effort dissolved and ethernet became the de facto standard for plant automation.

It didn’t matter to me what the results were
I just needed to know the answers so our company sales engineers could make intelligent, fact-based recommendations. It turned out that no one had done the research to see if any of the plant networking concerns were valid. People had invested about $100 million based on unsupported suppositions. Mostly people just feared something they didn’t understand (see Risk Perception in Data Centers) and went a little crazy.

What, no more FUD? Aw gee, that’s no fun!
FUD will never go away, because there are always risks when applying technology and some people are very risk averse, often for very good reasons.

Nevertheless, every marketer should ask: “what information could my customer use that would help them make the best decision, not for me, but for them?” As a vendor you usually have access to more information and resources than most of your customers. Use those resources to help your customer make better decisions, even if that decision is to not buy right now, and you’ll build a better relationship and a better brand. And save the perfume for those last-ditch efforts.

Comments, as always, welcome. Moderation turned on to defeat spam.