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Provocation is Pragmatic, Personal, or Prescient

Posted by Bob Warfield on May 15, 2009

Provocation is an important marketing tool, some would say the only important marketing tool needed to generate buzz and awareness.  Provocation makes your story interesting, which means others will tell it for you.  Provocation is a measure of the leverage of the message.

What is provocation?  It is Marc Benioff proclaiming the End of Software for Pragmatic reasons related to ROI and cost savings.   It is Apple making fun of the PC or Larry Ellison attacking his competitors, which is very Personal.  It was Netscape proclaiming the operating system was irrelevant because of a Prescient Vision where the Browser was all you needed and the status quo was obsolete.  There is considerable overlap in all of these.  Apple certainly views itself as Presciently Visionary and has earned the right.  Benioff gets very Personal about the On-Premises vendors.  And Larry Ellison has built an extremely Pragmatic acquisition strategy.

Most companies and executives are afraid to be Provocative.  We are trained not to offend Customers, and Provocation is designed to Offend at some level or another.   Focus on getting a stream of prospects who are really fired up alongside a stream that disagree with you so much that they will spell your name correctly when they say so to the world.  Avoid a dribble of lukewarm respondents who are not offended but who have to be evangelized into action after they show up to the party. 

Provoked buyers are self starters.  Moderately interested buyers require too much prodding.  Always seek violent agreement and disagreement over indifference and inattention.

Be very deliberate in your choice of who to agree with, who to disagree with, and why in the following 5 ways:

1.  Agree with those standing next to you, in the place where the puck is coming in terms of market direction.  If you choose well, your provocation is enduring and you need not ever change it.  If the puck moves away, your message will become irrelevant and lose its power.

2.  Disagree with those standing where the puck has been and is rapidly moving away from.  Disagreeing with conventional wisdom is time honored.  People love hearing that the conventional wisdom which has been so hard to live with is actually completely wrong, so you don’t have to put up with it any longer.

3.  Agree as much as possible with those who have a strong say in whether to buy your product.  Be prepared to disagree with some of them if necessary.   Benioff’s “No Software” was brilliant.  It focused the disagreement around IT at the same time it empowered the Business to decide without IT.  Powerful Business Jiu Jitsu indeed!

4.  Agree or disagree about something that matters a lot to your market.

5.  Choose a topic that does not immediately close the sale.  This is the narrative hook that gets them to listen to the sales pitch.  It isn’t the pitch itself.  Anything too close to the pitch will be discarded as spam.  This is a subtle point, but if you analyze successfully provocative messages you’ll see that it is true.  Creating buzz and nurturing leads require different messaging.

Go forth and provoke!

2 Responses to “Provocation is Pragmatic, Personal, or Prescient”

  1. outstanding post Bob. thank your for articulating such a complex thing so simply

  2. rnugent said

    I think this is the single best piece of business advice I’ve ever received!


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