Herb Tarlek can offer many marketing lessons on how to deal with customers.

For the uninitiated, Herb was the sales manager at a struggling radio station, WKRP in Cincinnati, a comedy show in the 1980s.

Herb was, well, unique.

marketingHe wore polyester suits in loud plaid patterns, white belts, and white shoes.

Although married, Herb had a crush on Jennifer Marlowe, the sexy and super-smart receptionist.

He would do anything to please Jennifer.

One day, Jennifer decided that Herb needed a makeover.

Out went the plaid suits and white belts.

In came beautiful suits, fancy ties, and a professional haircut.

Jennifer was thrilled. Herb was thrilled.

Then, something strange happened.

Herb’s sales disappeared.

While Herb looked great, his customers couldn’t relate to him anymore.

His new image didn’t align with his customers’ values.

His professional appearance made Herb seem different from his customers.

Much his chagrin (and Jennifer’s), Herb had no choice but to go back to Old Herb.

Out went the slick suits. In came the polyester.

And Herb’s sales bounced back.

So, what’s the message for marketers?

Marketing and sales thrive when you’re speaking the same language as your customers.

It makes no sense to have slick or clever branding and marketing if it doesn’t resonate with the people who matter.

Your marketing and how you do it must reflect their expectations, needs, aspirations, and values.

There can’t be a disconnect between what you want to say AND what customers expect to hear.

Even the “best” marketing fails if it’s off-brand and off-customer.

Good marketing makes your customers feel something and then do something.

What you say and how you say it is designed to make a connection.

It’s why knowing your customers is so important.

You have to understand their problems but, as important, know how your brand should walk and talk.

The next time you are developing new marketing ideas, think about the Herb Tarlek and how your customers will react.


Mark Evans is a fractional CMO for fast-growing B2B companies that want to do marketing better or differently. My areas of expertise include brand positioning (aka your story), strategic plans (where tell your story and the audience), and overseeing tactical execution.

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