September 28, 2023

Why is external feedback so crucial to a small business marketer

This could be the biggest marketing problem of all. And no one talks about it.

It impacts every marketer and owner. In every business. And for every piece of marketing activity. But no one talks about it.

This is a problem that you don’t learn about on Mark Ritson’s mini MBA. Nor anyone else’s. 

And it’s not in Byron Sharp’s book about growing brands. Nor even in Kotler.

That’s because it’s a problem none of us even notice. And because of its nature even if I explain it to you, every fibre of your being will try to ignore it. That’s how insidious it is.


Marketing is complex, difficult, and frustrating, but ultimately crucial for the success of any business. So it matters that we understand the things that hinder our results. 


Attribution. Conversion. Messaging. SEO. Positioning. Branding, Distinctive Assets,  Penetration Etc. Lots of marketing advice around. 

But they don’t talk about something far more fundamental. 

Something arguably far bigger in the scheme of things because it’s ubiquitous. A problem every marketer or owner has. All the time.

Every marketer is wrestling with a huge barrier to success and … 


It’s inside their own head


You are tasked with creating marketing. And then also assessing it. 

Not only are you judge, jury and executioner. But also the plaintiff.  Whatever the marketing matter, it’s you yourself that is (most often) developing the thinking. 

And then when it comes to pushing the button, you make that decision largely yourself. Or at best, others that have the same problem. 

You are marking your own marketing homework.

Why does judging your own marketing matter so much?

If you know already what you are trying to “say” then you will inevitably “see” that in the work. 

Actually, your brain will subconsciously do this for you.  It won’t spot omissions, it will interpret everything the way you intended (of course). 

Your subconscious sets out to make your life easier. Simpler. But that’s not a good thing in marketing.  

Your sub-conscience is your enemy in marketing.

One example: try to remember the details in that vivid dream. They are not there. What seemed real was in fact patchy in the extreme. 24/7 your brain fills in the gaps for you, creating the illusion you “see” everything. Awake or asleep. 

For marketers, when you review a piece of communication, unbeknownst to you it is doing the same trick. You preprogrammed it. So, it fills in the gaps for you. 

Second, and even more fundamentally

You are immersed 24/7 in the hothouse of the inner world of your business. So it’s almost impossible for you to see things from the outside world’s perspective.  As Mark Ritson says, even he, within two weeks into any assignment loses his objective perspective. 

Truth is, you can’t read the label from inside the jar. 

Your “inside the bubble”  perspective is your other hidden enemy. You assume your prospects come to your brand marketing with the same preconceptions you have. 

Tiny example: you might assume that they already know you are a software provider (of course you are). But if you don’t tell them, where are they going to get that from? 

But this is a multifaceted problem. 

In summary, we marketers are working with two sources of enormous (and sadly hidden) biasWe already know what we are trying to say. Our messaging is developed (inevitably) from an internal world perspective. Even though the task of marketing is to bring the outside world to you.

This is the marketing problem no one ever talks about: 




Big companies have ways to minimize this problem. There are smart people around in the organisation who aren’t as immersed as you are. I had at least two bosses backing me. And sharp-witted colleagues nearby. 

In big CPG we used expensive, high-calibre agencies. With the smarts and the confidence to point out issues from an outsider’s perspective.  We did a LOT of market research. We sat behind the mirror and listened to real people talking about stuff. And we tested our ads, of course. 

But what about if you are in a small business?

Your internal world is even more “hothouse”. The bubble even smaller. 

As a founder, your passion for the product is huge. So your biases are even greater. 

You can’t afford the big agencies or regular market research. 

But you are even less able to afford marketing failure, so, where is your backup? 

So, if you see what I mean, what is the solution?

First, just recognizing the problem is a huge step forward. To challenge your assumptions. Humility is a form of risk reduction. 

Second, embrace test and learn. Once you consider you are probably not going to get it right, then logically it flows that you experiment. 

Third, find a route to an intelligent second opinion (or several) as a backup. From the outside. One willing to tell it how it is. 


But be aware second opinions aren’t always as helpful as you need: 


First, other people bring their own biases. What is their lens? 

Feedback will often be biased by prioritising the relationship over the issue. You will be tempted to reject the advice that disagrees with you and accept the advice that backs you. Beware.

This could be the biggest marketing problem of all. And no one talkes about it. Until now. So now maybe we can work together to address it.

Want some tips on avoiding marketing waste?

You may also want to read…

Want to know if your marketing idea works?
Get it SenseChecked!