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What Scottish Golf Taught this Marketer, Part 2: Tried and True, Ain’t

“This jaunt was meant for all-play-no-work-makes-John-a-happy-boy. And yet, as I went over a day’s 18 holes, something from that other life at the office always attached itself to my brain like Scottish thistle to corduroys.”

Spending 10 days this spring in Scotland taught me an awful lot about golf and life and my profession. I spent most of those days in St. Andrews, where you can’t help but learn about the game. Golf, in its various incarnations, has so many threads in the tapestry that is St. Andrews day-to-day. Because of that, the weave of golf and life are tighter than the fairway lies at The Old Course.

Yes, it was those St. Andrews fairways, their look reminding me of the scruffy stubble adolescents call beards but we adults see as smooth skin interrupted by wild hairs sprouting here and there, that brought my thoughts back to the labors that punched my ticket to these glorious grounds.

In the Scottish golf I played, the difference between fairway, fringe and green was not always apparent. The lay of the land changed, there were plenty of hazards, and the rough was obvious. But, the pathway to the 4.25″-diameter prize was delineated by a close-mown swath of grass stretching, for the most part, from tee to green.

Now, for us golfers used to stateside courses, we rely on pitching and sand wedges for many types of shots played near the green. Not so in Scotland.

What you’ve always done, comes undone.

In my first round with a caddy, the second hole on the West Links at North Berwick, I was way short of the green in two and asked for a wedge. The reply: “Ha John, this is Scottish links golf. You won’t be needin’ a wedge but for hackin’ yer ball out of the gorse or a bunker. Use this.”

“This” was my putter. And, my caddy pulled it out anytime I was within 10 or 15 yards of a green, even farther at times depending on the lie and the lay of the land. As long as there were no obstructions, burns or other hazards, the caddy produced the putter. Because the grass on the fairways was so short and sparse and because fairways ran right up to the greens with little or no fringe, it was much harder to nip the ball off the turf with a wedge, especially for the “average” player. Putting was much easier and far less risky.

I had to abandon my comfort zone greenside and learn, quickly, how to use my putter for a variety of shots. Tried and true became false in Scotland. And thus, my lesson on marketing and communications.

Beware the six dirty words.

Some time back I wrote a series on the “Six Dirty Words of Marketing” — six words that can soil and spoil the best of marketing plans. Those words?

“We’ve always done it this way.”

You’ll hear these words from a contractor when offered a product that challenges traditional methods — the way he or she has worked for years — the way their Dads did it. And, you’ll hear the dirty six often from other decision makers when faced with an out-of-left-field proposal that’s very new and very creative. “Hey now, that’s an interesting approach, but we’re sticking with what we know works.”

I could buy that opinion if the course of business never changed, but good luck with that. Things are always changing, and never more so than now in marketing and communications. To have a better shot at better business scores, consider the learnings of the links:

Be very cautious if things appear exactly the same as always.

At most of the seaside links I played, it was common for the water to be on one side of several holes, either outward away from the first tee or inward toward the 18th. Given the similar look of the layouts, hole-to-hole, the unschooled might ply similar play hole-to-hole — until she or he finds the ball in a hazard not visible from the tee. Lesson: Before you leap to assumptions, look really hard at your situation.

Many times in my line of work, assumptions are made about the conditions. That, just because the product is the same and the audiences are the same and their jobs are the same, nothing has changed. In one of our own research studies, we found that contractors increased their use of smartphones by 35% in just one year. Conditions the same? That shot’s out of bounds. In this case, we pushed our clients to — at the very least — make sure their websites were mobile-friendly. A little research can go a long way.

Understand what you’re really dealing with.

Sometimes, when you hear, “We’ve always done it this way,” it’s not out of stubbornness, ignorance or discomfort. What you’re proposing could make total sense to your audience. The deal killer can be lack of trust and the implications of failure.

In some situations, for your audience, the leap of faith required to change a process spans a chasm filled with hungry monsters (aka lawyers, compliance officials, obstinate supervisors, or skeptical C-levels). If the decision maker doesn’t trust what you’re offering, you’re toast.

The decision maker is worried that if he or she accepts your “crazy” idea, and it doesn’t work, the time and money for a fix bollixes schedules and zeros profit. Sure, you lose a repeat sale, but they lose their job. If you’re not building trust, you’re not building your backlog.

So look to good advice, honesty and loyalty to build higher levels of confidence. It’s like, I really wanted to hit that wedge short of the hole… and the caddy telling me to use a putter instead sounded crazy to me… but I listened and trusted and took the chance. Far more often than not, it worked.

When you face resistance, consider a “whodunit,” plus…

One of the best ways to deal with those six dirty words — and build trust — is to show your audience who has used your new product, idea, etc. before and how it paid off. Even better: when the “whodunit before” is someone the audience knows and respects.

At North Berwick, my caddy not only had been on the bag for years, but he was also a West Links club member; he made it known that his advice equaled success to many others before me.

We know through our study of technology acceptance, early adopters tend to weigh risk/reward very carefully and very differently than laggards or early/late majorities. For instance, in the adoption of energy efficiency technologies, going green is important but it won’t necessarily tip the scales to “buy” unless the new idea improves process, sharpens competitive edge, and offers iron-clad benefits for the user/owner.

Now, what about “the plus”? Tie your new whizzbang to a free demo offer or a guarantee that not only covers the cost of the goods, but also the cost of the bads, i.e., the cost in any lost time and money. You’ll stand a much better chance of making the shot you take.

Scottish golf taught me not to rely on what was familiar and easy. A change in conditions requires a change in thinking and behavior. As I turned this over and over in my mind, it was easy to see how a golf “how-come” became a business “how-to.”