September 1, 2021

Lies, Damned Lies, and Marketing: Atul V. Minocha

When it comes to your relationship with marketing, it’s time to wipe the slate clean. You’ve been promised big results with a quick turnaround. You’ve been told that social media is a silver bullet for increased sales—which it isn’t— and your marketing team and vendors might have overpromised and underdelivered. You’re disappointed and you’re frustrated. In his new book Lies, Damn Lies in Marketing, Atul Minocha reveals the root causes of your frustration and provides you with the insight you need to utilize your marketing dollars for real results. 

He helps you understand why you need marketing, the important distinction between marketing and sales, and how to attain the right blend of hard data and softer creativity to persuade your audience and finally achieve the results you’ve been waiting for.

Drew Appelbaum: Hey Listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum and I’m excited to be here today with Atul Minocha, author of Lies, Damn Lies in Marketing: Separate Fact from Fiction and Drive Growth. Atul, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.

Atul Minocha: Thank you. Thank you, Drew, good to be here.

Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off. I’m excited here! Can you give us a rundown of your professional background?

Atul Minocha: Oh boy. Of course, I’m a marketeer—that’s why this book is about marketing— but I did not start as a marketeer. I, in fact, trained to be an engineer and I wanted to be an engineer. Something happened along the way, pretty early on in my very first job— in fact, in the very first two weeks of the job— that stirred me towards marketing and since then, I’ve been in love with marketing. I made a full career out of it.

I worked at large corporations like Toyota and smaller companies that nobody will know outside of their own local domain. That’s sort of my rough rundown on my professional side.

Drew Appelbaum: Why was now the time to share the stories in the book? Did you have an “aha moment” was there something really inspiring out there for you? Or did enough people come up to you and said, “Hey, you need to write this down, you should write a book.”

Atul Minocha: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. My answer is in two parts. This brew was brewing for I want to say maybe five, six, seven years. It always was “yeah, maybe I should write it” and “yeah, maybe I’ll wait another few months and another year, I’ll have more to say.” That has been going on for some time. I was collecting my thoughts, I even started giving some presentations and seminars on topics that are covered in the book.

Then COVID happened, I remember it was actually March 17th of 2020, I was on my flight back from Dubai to Los Angeles. It was a 16-hour flight and I had enough time to think about what might be happening around the world, how it was going to impact me, and things like that.

One of those conclusions— it was not, turns out to be an incorrect conclusion but— one of the conclusions I came to on the flight was that my consulting business is likely to slow down, which means I’ll be quarantined or closeted at home. With not much to do and just to keep myself busy, I thought, “Maybe this is the time to finally write the book that I’ve been sort of thinking about for some time.”

So, within a few weeks upon landing, I committed to write the book. As it turned out, my consulting business did not slow down, in fact, it actually picked up. Now, certainly, I was super busy doing the book and managing my consulting business.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, when you said, “Okay, I’m going to do this book,” a lot of times, you’ll have the idea of a book— and this happens with most authors— and while you’re in the writing process, sometimes, just by digging deeper into some subjects, doing some research, you come through some major breakthroughs and learnings on this subject. Did you have any of these major breakthroughs or learnings along your writing journey?

Atul Minocha: Yeah, that’s very true. In fact, when I look back at my book of— I don’t know, maybe 18 or 19 chapters there in the book— about half of them, I had a good idea of what I want to say, why I want to say it, what examples I’m going to give. The other half actually came along when I started putting pen to paper, so to speak.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, when you were writing the book as well, when you said, “Okay, I’m putting this down,” who in your mind were you writing this book for? Is this for folks in the C-suite? Is this for managers? Is this for non-marketers only? Who could have takeaways from the book?

Atul Minocha: Let’s leave the last category, non-marketers aside because I think I’m going to reference them a little later. My specific target was people who are in the C-suite but primarily CEOs and COOs who have been users or customers of marketing. In other words, if you are a CEO, you probably rely on different functions within your organization to deliver what they’re supposed to deliver and one of those functions is marketing. My target audience is really those people who rely on marketing to get a few things done and specifically, those people who have been disappointed in the past from that particular function. 

Basically, those who thought that marketers were charlatans or they never or rarely delivered on promises made, that was my audience.

Drew Appelbaum: Is there anything that readers can do to get the most out of the book? Even if it’s just coming in with an open mind.

Atul Minocha: I think they’ll get a lot out of the book once they start reading it. In fact, I actually made it even simpler for them, they can read the full 200 pages. I hope they read it, enjoy it,  and get value out of it. But just in case they don’t have the three, four hours to read or to listen to the book, I do have at the back, about seven or eight pages where I’ve summarized every single chapter of the book. It’s almost as if I’m creating my own shorthand notes that I’m attaching to the book.

Drew Appelbaum: Let’s dive into the book itself. You sort of touched on it earlier, you had an engineering background and then all of a sudden, you got involved with marketing. Can you tell us a little bit more of your story which you do touch on in the book as well? 

Atul Minocha: Yeah, really happy to. I was interested in physics and things that are mechanical and like most boys of that age, I was interested in cars. Wanted to become a car designer and therefore I went to an engineering school, got my engineering degree, focused on automotive-related courses, and lo and behold, I was fortunate to be hired by Toyota.

Back then, getting hired by Toyota is like getting hired by Google or one of the other technology companies today. I felt as if I had arrived. The only problem was that the very first interaction I had with the CEO— this was a Toyota in India— the very first interaction I had with the CEO, he said that we are going to put you into marketing and obviously I kind of totally deflated when I heard that and he went on to explain that everyone— and at that time, Toyota was just about to enter India.

It was a project, I should say, it was a Toyota project. And I was the 19th employee to join the project team and I was only the second person to be put into marketing. The CEO’s position was that we already have six engineers, our marketing people need some help, and right now, we have some significant marketing questions that need to be answered. Things like, “What product features to include? How should we price them? How should we distribute? How should we service? What challenges are we likely to have?” and so on and so forth.

Basically, he said, “I’m going to put you in marketing, here are the keys to a brand-new Toyota pickup truck that we intend to make, that we have imported from Japan and we want you to drive around the country and explore and answer those questions for us. You have four months to do it.”

As a 24-year-old, I thought there is a bright side to it; getting a free pickup truck with sort of unlimited or nearly unlimited expense account to drive around the country, cannot be too bad. Off I went, lo and behold, I learned a lot. The company benefited a lot. But one of the things that I learned about this market research project was that one, marketing can be a lot of fun, and two, marketing actually needs, depending on circumstances, engineering knowledge.

In other words, I wasn’t going to throw away my engineering knowledge, I wasn’t going to waste away my engineering education. I’m actually going to use it effectively and do even more effective marketing. That was my “aha moment” from that first marketing assignment.

Marketing Is the Bridge That Connects the Company to Its Audience

Drew Appelbaum: Now, I like that you also really laid down what marketing is in the book. I think everyone has maybe a different definition in their mind so can you go ahead and tell us, really, just define the word and the role of what marketing is for us?

Atul Minocha: Yeah, I have run into that kind of an issue throughout my career. People have different interpretations of marketing. I would say that most interpretations are actually right. The only problem is, they are incomplete. That’s why in the book I actually use the parable of an elephant being described by a few blind men.

Marketing from my perspective is really in the simplest form, the bridge, the functional bridge that connects the company or its product or services with its target audience or buyers or users of that product or service. Marketing is supposed to be the bridge. The reason I say it’s the bridge is because I truly believe that marketing is a two-way street.

It’s not just about telling your target audience how good your product is, how they will benefit and what they’ll get. It’s all so to learn about your target audience. Good marketing starts by focusing on the customer before you even try to sell him or her anything.

First thing is to get to know the customer and what their challenges are, what their issues are, what their life is, how they might benefit from what you might be thinking of introducing or selling to them down the road.

Drew Appelbaum: What can marketing not do? People have this idea in their heads— but do they go too far with their definitions?

Atul Minocha: No, I think they don’t go wide enough, is what I would say. Usual, typical interpretation of marketing is about convincing your customer to do X or to buy certain things. That’s a small piece of it and it is part of it but marketing is a whole lot more. It’s about learning about the customer, it’s about convincing within your organization, the engineering staff, development team, what marketing or what product or service should look like.

It is also about what it should not include. Because, if you simply collect a laundry list of what a hundred customers or potential customers have told you, what they would like to see in the new product, you’ll end up creating a gold-plated widget that nobody really is willing to pay for.

Marketing is also about making choices. Learning from what the customers are asking for, what makes sense and what price point, then convincing your internal teams as to what should be developed, whether it’s hard engineering goods or software or some combination thereof.

Then, taking it to the marketplace. That of course, includes using the website, using digital, using other traditional media and so on and so forth. It’s actually a full loop that starts from the customer, brings you back into the factory or the company, and then takes you back out to the customer. 

Overpromising Will Lead To Disappointment

Drew Appelbaum: Now, all of that sounds like a really great fully functional marketing team would and should be doing, right? But some of the marketing teams and a lot of them are really disappointing the companies these days and so much so that people are actually questioning the value of marketing and marketing departments in general. What are these teams doing wrong? 

Atul Minocha: I think there could be different reasons why disappointment happens and surely, I mean I have written a full book based on that disappointment, so I am not going to sit here and tell you that disappointment doesn’t happen. In fact, I am going to say that absolutely. In fact in most seminars that I give, when I am in front of the CEOs, I ask them, “How many of you have been disappointed by marketing sometime in the last five years?” Almost 80% of the hands go up. 

Some will even say that “I’ve never been not disappointed.” Some people even go as far as saying that. There are different reasons why this disappointment might happen. Let me go to a few of them. One, there are many marketers and by the way, just like marketing can be described like an elephant by different people, marketeers are also a different breed and they could be different versions of marketeers. There are people that are digital specialists, there are people who do just SEO. 

There are people who do market research. There are people who do your creative advertising and so on and so forth. One reason CEOs get disappointed is that marketeers, many marketeers will over-promise. They’ll promise more than what marketing can actually deliver. The reason they do this is because they feel that they have to make that promise otherwise they won’t get the job or they won’t get the project or they won’t get this assignment. That is sort of the desire that you over-commit and set up expectations that cannot be met, that’s one reason. 

The second reason is— and again, I talk about this in one of the chapters in the book— that just like we have heard the expression that to a hammer everything looks like a nail, if you are an SEO expert, that’s your core competency and you claim to be a marketeer but your core competency is SEO. When you are talking to a CEO who is actually probably doesn’t even understand what SEO is but he or she understands what marketing is or has some view of what marketing is. 

So, this SEO person is very likely to make a commitment on the overall scope of marketing without fully understanding other pieces of marketing besides SEO. That again leads to disappointment because the person who made that commitment was not really qualified. In other words, this person did not make any promises with any ill will or wanted to lie but was just not qualified enough to make certain predictions or certain promises. That is also another reason why that happens. 

The third reason and this is something that I think would be considered very controversial and I actually have a full chapter devoted on this— is we live in an age where we feel that data is everything. You know, there is some expression about “in data we trust” or “in God we trust, others bring data” or something like that, right? It’s almost like as if you’re putting data at the same level as God or almost the same level. Believe me, I grew up as an engineer. I know the value of data. 

I’m trained in data. I’m very comfortable with data. But over the years, I’ve also learned that data is not everything. In fact, if CEOs or if certain people insist that, “Unless you can show me an ROI, I won’t do it” then they may be leaving some money on the table. What I mean by that is that not everything is important can be measured in data. Yes, one should use data whenever one can use it, but just because something does not come attached with data doesn’t mean that those are not important things. 

That is sort of another reason why disappointment happens because CEOs would insist, “Give me data. Unless you bring data, unless you can show me the ROI, we won’t do the project” then guess what? The marketer says, “Okay, we won’t do this” and they don’t do it. 

Data Isn’t Everything

Drew Appelbaum: Now, you say that data isn’t everything but it is important, right? What are great CMOs, let’s say, doing in terms of data and just overall strategies versus what the not-so-great CMOs are doing with data and strategies? 

Atul Minocha: Not-so-great CMOs would also align themselves with folks who say, “Data is everything.” In other words, they’ll also say, “Yep, if I cannot show you the ROI, it must not be the right thing to do because I could not prove it to you, therefore, we won’t do it.” Great CMOs will try to understand the distinction between the ability to get data and separation from, “Is it really a useful thing to do or not?” 

Let me give you an example from the book. If you drive down Route 101 from San Francisco to San Jose— and by the way, this story can apply to almost any busy metropolitan area. I’m giving you this example because this is so stark. So you drive down from San Francisco to San Jose. The distance is about 50 odd miles and depending on traffic, it could take you anywhere from 30 minutes to two and a half hours, you will see no less than 15 huge billboards by Apple, mostly about iPhones. 

They keep changing them but they are usually about iPhones. There are 15 or 16 billboards in just one direction and there are 15 or 16 going the other way. Now, you think about it, do you think the senior management at Apple is ever going to be able to answer the question, “How many more iPhones were sold because of the millions of dollars being spent on those billboards?” Can anyone point to any single sale of an iPhone, which can be attributed to that? 

We all know that Apple is a very smart company. I mean it’s a rich company but it is not a foolish company. They are not going to just waste away money. Why is it that they are spending money even though reasonably no ROI number can be attached to those billboards? The reason they’re doing it is because they know traffic is getting worse and worse and more and more people are spending time on Route 101. And it’s always a good thing to remind people, whether users or potential users, of what your product can do. 

Even though they cannot attach an ROI number, they are still spending millions of dollars on those billboards. That’s one example of how if you insist on an ROI, you’ll not do the right thing and Apple is obviously doing the right thing even though they are not getting the ROI number attached to it. 

Drew Appelbaum: Now, besides the book itself, do you offer other resources for readers of the book? Or are there other resources that you can suggest after a reader finishes the book if they want to dive further? 

Atul Minocha: Sure. I mean, I’m always open for a conversation with anyone with no obligation, no cost, nothing. You know, in fact, in my hometown, people take me out to Starbucks. If you want to just set up a phone call, it won’t even cost you that because I am never going to ask you to send me a Starbucks card. So, that’s the simplest thing. They can reach out and just share their story or share their concern or share their problem and I’ll be happy to chat with them. 

I am also a partner at a national marketing firm called Chief Outsiders. They can engage with me or any of my colleagues who are all expert marketers, who have a very similar viewpoint that I just shared with you and in the book. That is sort of another avenue for our audience to engage with me and with my colleagues. I am always open for a more formal seminar or keynote or anything like that. Yeah, there are different ways people can reach out and have a dialogue. 

Drew Appelbaum: What steps do you hope readers will take after finishing the book? 

Atul Minocha: Very good question. Thanks, Drew, for that! First of all, I would hope that even before they put down the book, they’ll sort of say, “Ah, it looks like I am finally getting the real true scoop on marketing and why I’ve been disappointed in the past.” I want them to feel reassured. I want them to feel as if they’ve learned something, learned something useful that now they can take back to their work and get more out of. So that’s the first thing. 

And frankly, if that is all they’d get, I will consider that to be a success because what they do after that is really up to them. 

Drew Appelbaum: Well, Atul, you know, we just touched on the surface of the book here but I just want to say that writing a book, which will help marketers and non-marketers out there is no small feat, so congratulations on having your book published. 

Atul Minocha: Thank you. Thank you, Drew. 

Drew Appelbaum: I do have one big question left, it is the hot seat question. If readers could take away only one single thing from the book, what would you want it to be? 

Atul Minocha: I know many of the readers— or many of the potential readers, people for whom I’ve written this book— have been disappointed by marketers either within their organization or companies that they have hired to do marketing for them. It is quite possible that they have been so disappointed that they are on the verge of giving up on marketing. In other words, they said that “I’m better off not wasting my dollars on marketing.” 

What I want the readers to take away is to sort of say, “No, I now understand the value of marketing and I also understand how to do it right.” That’s my one big takeaway from the book. They should understand the value of marketing, if they’ve been so close to just giving up on it but more importantly, to see how they can actually get a much higher value than they’ve gotten in the past. 

Drew Appelbaum: Well Atul, this has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, Lies, Damn Lies in Marketing, and you can find it on Amazon. Atul, you said that people can reach out and connect with you. Where is that and how can they connect with you? 

Atul Minocha: The easiest way would be to get to my website, which is www.atulminocha.com, and that will give you different avenues, whether it’s email or phone or text or even a chat function there. 

Drew Appelbaum: Well, Atul again, thank you so much for coming on the show today and giving us some of your time, and best of luck with your new book. 

Atul Minocha: Thank you so much, Drew, it was a pleasure to be here.