Grownups Don’t Believe in Unicorns – Ridiculous Marketing Fantasies and the Value Proposition

Do you believe in unicorns in your business? Once a month, we get an order for the following:

  • maximum competitive and marketing value
  • lowest possible cost, no frills
  • no learning, understanding, attention, or involvement required

In other words, we want to spend very little money and no real effort, but want to dominate our market place which is highly competitive. Oh, and by the way (it usually goes), will you throw in ongoing maintenance for the indefinite future at nominal or no cost?

If you have ever run a successful business, of course you already know that you didn’t operate this way, and neither did anyone you respect or anyone that lasted. There are people out there who try to deliver on this falsehood, either because they need the portfolio badly enough, or they really want a chance to learn the ropes on your dime. But we’ve never met a skilled plumber willing to replumb a house with superb materials, do all the work, make sure it lasts and remains effective, and charge you only what it costs for a couple of decent meals in New York. What’s the equivalent in your business? Do you get asked similar questions?

So we usually make one effort to explain how the value proposition in business works, because not everyone has operated a successful business before. For those who have, we’re also indicating that we’re not stupid or financially suicidal, and we adhere to the value proposition too. Others who know the value of good work respect that. The value proposition is simple: You can have it: effective, cheap, or time & effort-free – and you get to pick two. The dream is out there, of course. People still want to chase the dream of having it all. But those guys don’t ever do anything anyway. We’re talking about reality here.

So if that doesn’t work, we know we’re talking about unicorns – that is, rare animals that everyone has heard of that don’t actually exist. We don’t mean that people don’t sell marketing unicorns. You see ads for them every day. They sound like this: “ultimate effortless low-cost marketing solution”. In other words, they’re utter and unmitigated bullshit – or, if you’re of a slightly more delicate disposition, fluffy white unicorns. And the folks selling these adorable fantasies will have tons of reviews and testimonials by “customers” claiming how they’ve seen the unicorn and it has revolutionized their business. All you need to do is sign an annual contract for that nice monthly fee, give us your credit card number, and sit back and do nothing. They don’t even need your passwords. We always hang at the contract because, if it works, why wouldn’t you just keep on paying without the contract to force you to do so?

So along with unicorn merchants, there are unicorn believers – people with an unshakeable faith in those cute, fluffy bastards. And once we determine it’s a true believer we’ve got on our hands, there really only are two options. Keep trying to convince you (but we’re going to have to charge for that – that’s consulting), or let you go and exercise your faith in the open marketplace. Either way, there’s one point we like to leave everyone with: Anything effective takes either money or time and effort or some combination of both. We all want things. We want to be on top. We want to get more or have more of something, or at least to maintain what we have. The guy that tells you it’s possible without either money, involvement, or both is a liar. He might wear a suit. He might have a great web site. He might have tons of followers. He’s a liar. He’s telling you that the world is populated by unicorns. And we can prove he’s lying. It’s very simple. There’s one very easy way to tell. Ready? Here it is:

He’s telling you that unicorns exist, and he’s still asking for your money. Just like those guys that sell videotapes on how to become a millionaire, out of “altruism”, because they want everyone to achieve what they’ve achieved. You know the ones – standing in front of a rented Ferrari and a high rise condo tower they don’t live in, near a wonderful beach full of people whose parties they’re not invited to. If they really believed in unicorns, they’d be off chasing them. Doesn’t the nouveau riche gold jewelry and the silly macho sunglasses give them away? He’s lying. Otherwise, he’d be doing something else for a living.

The guy that tells you that anything good – anything that really works consistently and over the long haul – anything genuinely effective will cost you – either in money, time, or some proportion of both, is being honest, at least about that. And at some point, he’ll prove it, by letting you go if you don’t believe it. We pay our way in the world, or else we believe in fluff. That’s candid talk – maybe even offensive, if you’re in the church of unicorns. But it’s true, nonetheless. And truth is the starting place of effective marketing. We hope you appreciate it. If you don’t, just google “ultimate effortless low-cost marketing solution” and you should be on the unicorn’s track. Good luck. And let us know if you finally capture the unicorn.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.

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