Challenge Your Assumptions: A Guide for the Fearless Marketer

May 9, 2018 | Justin Gray | No Comments |

My Take on Ann Handley’s Session at the Marketo Summit:

“Challenge Your Assumptions: A Guide for the Fearless Marketer” 

If anyone can challenge assumptions, it’s Ann Handley, who is the chief content officer at MarketingProfs (and so much more). In typical Ann fashion, she brought us a riveting, poignant, insightful and freaking hilarious session (cat memes are always a win in my book) at the Marketo Summit. There were several nuggets within her presentation that stuck with me, so I’m going to try to do it justice and give you a recap here.

We should all be fearless modern marketing cats.


The premise of Ann’s session was around challenging our ingrained assumptions, getting out of our comfort zones and not letting fear hold us back. Sounds good in theory, but (as Ann was the first to admit), it’s much easier said than done. After all, we have tight budgets, limited resources and oftentimes our bosses breathing down our necks if one of our initiatives doesn’t pan out as planned.

But she reminded us that at one point, every ‘viral’ or highly effective marketing tactic was new and scary. She challenged us all to embrace our “fearless modern marketing cat” and that in order for us to do that, we need to rethink a few things. Which brings us to…

1. Challenge your Assumption #1: Squad

In this session, Ann beat the “data, research and empathy” drum repeatedly as if these are the trifecta from heaven – and for good reason! She shared a live brand example where a baby food company was using the realities of parenting and humor to connect with their audience. Was that content directly selling baby food? Yes and no, but it did reveal how important having a deep understanding of your customer is, especially when creating content, going deeper into your subject and backing up your points with data.


2. Challenge your Assumption #2: Story

But no matter how many data points and research studies you have in your arsenal, Ann made sure to tout using your data to create stories that resonate with your customers. The kind of stories that get them to say, “dang, they just get it.” Ann continued that “when we find a story that resonates, double down on it. Don’t abandon a story that resonates. Instead, be fearless and continue to reiterate and go deeper with it.” This is an excellent reminder that as a marketer you are a person and you have the chance to connect with your audience.

In this session, Ann also talked at length about the shift toward higher quality, more in-depth forms of content that are centered on storytelling. And this goes back to the above point of connecting on a human level and giving your audience empathy and value. She cited the 2018 MarketingProfs/CMI Study that found “72% of us are looking for long-term relationships (no quickies)” but yet shared that “35% of marketers call our content strategy effective.” Overcoming this delta takes guts – and makes you a fearless marketer that challenges the story you are telling in a way that actually drives results.


3. Challenge your Assumption #3: Speed

Out of the whole presentation, I found this section the most surprising – and fascinating being that Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit is saturated with, you guessed it, technology solutions. Ann urges marketers to challenge the assumption that tools and technology bring about speed and provide us with better results from our content. She said that “technology should be a means to a better customer experience,” and that we should evaluate tools through the lens of whether or not it is “a distraction to us or is it really providing a means in which to create a better experience for our customers.”

Any modern marketer knows that the technology landscape today is bigger than ever. While there are a lot of amazing solutions on the market that enhance a solid content strategy, Ann’s advice on taking a “customer-centric” approach to everything you do is spot-on. When faced with today’s ever-growing world of “shiny objects” marketers “must be fearless when it comes to serving up the triple scoop nope-cone” if a solution or a concept doesn’t lead with a better experience for our customers. We cannot be afraid to say no.


Ann is inspiring to listen to, and I’m so glad I attended her session. I think the biggest takeaway of what she had to say is that the humanity of marketers and their audiences have always been the key to building relationships with one another and being effective at marketing. I don’t know about you, but that’s a message I can fearlessly get behind!


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