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Eleven Marketing Lessons to Be Learned from Driving

Learn marketing lessons from your every day activity - Driving

I drive my kids to all the places they need to be and tackle a zillion questions along the way. If you have an inquisitive 7 year old son like mine and drive around with him as much as I do, every minute with him in the car becomes an opportunity for many fun games, storytelling, being silly and also teaching him life lessons. As I keep dolling out these life lessons to my son at every opportunity I can while driving, I have been reflecting on the many marketing lessons we learn from an activity you and I do every day - Driving.



Get behind the wheel and learn to drive. Do you remember the first day you “learnt” how to drive? Or, how you kept falling of your bike and hit every light pole along your street. Well, eventually you did learn to drive and bike, didn’t you? As you kept driving, it became second nature - almost an involuntary action.

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. - Walt Disney

Start the campaign instead of just talking about it. Practice marketing and you will become better at it. Learn, unlearn and then relearn. The marketing landscape is changing and you need to adapt in order not to become an "old world marketing dinosaur". Get out there, start and work your marketing campaign. You will hit road bumps, fall, then get up again, brush off and finally “know” what to do. Pick a direction and move forward.


You wouldn't start driving without a map or a GPS, would you? When driving to a place you have never been, you wouldn’t start driving without knowing how to get there, would you? You will figure out how best to get there and what road conditions (bad weather, traffic etc) to account for.

If you don't know where you're going, you might not get there.- Yogi Berra

Know your short term and long term marketing goals. With any new marketing project, identify the goals and how best to reach that goal. At a minimum, you need to identify the following - Vision(1 short sentence on what you are trying to achieve), Strategy(3-5 bullet points) and Tactics(3-5 bullet points). What is your 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years marketing plan? Knowing where to go is not enough. Executing on your vision will ensure that you progress every day, slowly but steadily, towards your destination point.


Check the rear-view mirror while keeping your eyes steadily on the road ahead. You drive with our eyes on the road ahead. However, your "driver" part of brain is also trained to keep a check on the rear view to see what lies behind. Is there a crazy weaver in the back? Is there an ambulance you see in the rear view mirror that you have to make way for?

The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. - Thomas S. Monson

Learn from marketing mistakes of the past but focus on the future. In marketing, while you move steadily forward, it is mandatory to know the road you have traversed. What did you learn from your best and worst marketing projects? Which one of your biggest marketing blunders you shouldn’t repeat again? Which of the best practices from your most successful project do you want to carry across to the current marketing project. Which of your competitors are chasing you and want to get ahead? Listen and stay tuned. Uncover the new ground. Learn new marketing tools/vehicles and adapt to the changing marketing landscape. Customer needs are evolving. Competitors are getting more aggressive. It is a new world out there every day. Evaluate the new marketing tools and vehicles. Learn what makes sense for your business. Leverage the marketing tools that will help you reach your goals.


Don’t focus on the pole. Focus on the road you are on. Be honest. How many times did you hit the pole when you started to ride a bike? How many times did your driving teacher (dad, aunt or friend), tell you to hold the steering wheel straight so you won't get the car over that curb. They yelled "Don’t focus on the pole. Focus on the road you are on."

Focus on competition has always been a formula for mediocrity. - Daniel Burrus

Focusing on your competition instead of your customer is suicide. Keep your eyes steadily on what your competitor is doing. However, too much focus on beating your competitor at their own game won't get you far. Focus on your customer instead. Provide them a great product and excellent service. Customer focus should win over competitor focus for the simple reason that excessive focus on a competitor is plain suicide.



Kids are observing me from the back seat all the time. My kids notice everything I say and do in the car. They’re constantly observing, and unfortunately also learning from both my good and bad driving. My son is old enough to say “Mom, Why did you cross the intersection when the light was turning yellow?”, “Mom, You just did a rolling stop. Grandpa told me that a stop sign means coming to a full STOP” or  “Oh Mom – Don’t get pulled over by the cops. You should use your headphone instead of holding the cell phone in your hand”.

Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching. - Thomas Jefferson

Your customers are watching you constantly – play nice. Whether or not you like it, your customers, prospects, partners, analysts, bloggers, press and competitors are watching you constantly. Don’t just play nice on your website or at a tradeshow. Every interaction with a customer - whether it is a pleasant first meeting with a prospect or an unpleasant call from a disgruntled customer - is an opportunity to show what you and your company stand for. Use that opportunity wisely.


Stop and ask for help along the way and be aware of your blind spots. Pride doesn't carry you far when lost on a highway. Just stop. Ask for help instead of traversing the wrong road and beating your head against a wall and hoping something will give. Help is out there - along every gas station or a friendly passerby on the road who knows much more about his neighborhood than you will ever know. Blind spots exist. Check them as you make lane changes.

Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful.- Ric Ocasek

Marketing expertise is distributed – seek help and learn. There is never a shortage of new marketing paradigms, tools and vehicles. Let us get this straight - no one person or one marketing organization knows it all. There are many great marketing books and blogs to keep track and learn from. Reach out and ask for help instead of trying to figure it out yourself. Us marketers will forever be the "cool" folks. Asking for help and using every opportunity to learn is the defining trait of a "cool" person. Reach out to that partner organization that has mastered email marketing and that Red Bull chugging, green-colored spiky haired young fella for your social media. They "get it" and you need them on your side. Knowing the weakness and blind spots in your marketing organization is important. With this awareness you will be empowered to tackle surprises.


Drive defensively and tackle roadblocks, dead ends, detours and red signals to get to your destination safely. I used to live in the Midwest for a couple of years. People there treated fellow drivers on the road very courteously. Nobody was in a hurry. Even if I did some crazy things on the road (back then, I just had started to drive), drivers would give me a beautiful smile and patiently wave me on. It is very different experience from the hurried drivers on the Bay Area roads. There are those mad weavers, the crazy ones who will recklessly move back and forth between lanes. Then there are those that appear out of nowhere and zip past you and are gone from the horizon in less than a second. You and I have seen enough of those thrill seekers - again and again. They will never go away. We just have to adapt to the craziness of the road and tackle the crazy drivers, roadblocks, dead ends, detours and red signals. If a fellow driver on the road does something crazy or treats you badly, shock them with a big smile and thumbs up.

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. -Bill Gates

Hope for the best and prepare for the worst in your marketing campaign. Partners, suppliers, customers and competitors will constantly throw curve balls. Marketing strategy is a game of chess. Think a few steps ahead. Play both offense and defense - as the situation calls for. If you hit a marketing dead-end, come back. All a marketing roadblock does is to make you try a little harder to get your message across to your customer. Handle negative feedback swiftly and with grace. Bloggers might post something nasty about your service. Analyst or press might give your product a negative review. However, these entire curve balls can he handled gracefully. Move swiftly and address your customers concerns. Always take the high road. Ask them for constructive criticism. Tell them you appreciate their feedback. No one marketer died because of some good and honest feedback. Treat every feedback as an opportunity to make your product or service better.


Luxury cars command more respect. A luxury sports car will always command more respect on the road. Have you noticed the admiring looks as you drove a sportsy looking car? If your brand is perceived as the second best or as a commodity, you have to try harder (Avis slogan "We try harder") to differentiate, to attract and retain customers.

You have to decide what 'image' you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the market place. - David Ogilvy

Always easier to sell a branded and great product. Marketing a great product is much easier. Notice how the Mac brand is considered cool as compared to the PC? The Mac brand image even rubs off on the product owners and we call all our MAC buddies "cool folks". However, whether you own a great product or a commoditized product, differentiate yourself with what makes your product unique - more convenience, great service, easy to use etc. Ensure that your marketing message has both steak and sizzle.



Gas up enough, stay nourished and refreshed for a long road trip. Don't you gas up enough on that long, windy road trip? Along the way, you get down, take a walk, smell the fresh air, get a cool drink or coffee to stay refreshed and nourished along the road trip. You keep a check on the gas meter and on tire pressure and adapt your driving to road conditions. Low speed on steep, windy roads and high speed on flat, straight highways.

Toyota Prius comes well-equipped with multi-information display panel that is integrated into the dash. This easy-to-read display provides instantaneous feedback - featuring features fuel consumption history, energy flow, and a new hybrid system indicator - to the driver through an improved multi-information display. The display empowers the driver with information to help reduce fuel consumption and acquire economical driving habits.

We were driving along, watching only the speedometer, when in fact we were running out of gas.  - Michael Dell

Budget wisely and use metrics to measure success of your marketing campaigns. Any marketing campaign is an adventurous road trip. Budget wisely. Don't use up dollars and resources without proper planning. Separate the important projects from the urgent projects. Use metrics to measure how your marketing campaigns are performing and how you should fine tune them.


If you are on the wrong road, don’t hesitate to turn around. There is a reason that U-turns exist. It is quite natural to take the wrong roads sometimes. You might not know the landscape well enough or how to go where exactly you want to get to. However, once you realize you are on the wrong roads, you correct course quickly by taking a U-turn or turning into a road that will get you to your destination.

A dead end street is a good place to turn around. - Naomi Judd

If you have invested marketing dollars in a project that gone bad, quit or change course. In the real world, it takes a lot of guts to take a U-turn and correct course on a marketing project. Dropping a bad marketing project is viewed as failure. So, marketing dollars and resources are still pumped into a project that has gone bad. Why? The simple reason is that a marketer who makes a wise decision to drop a bad project is not viewed as hero. The marketer who "supposedly" navigates his ship through turbulent water is viewed as a hero. This mindset should change. If you have invested marketing dollars in a project that gone bad, quit or change course.


The only thing you control on the road is your steering wheel, your brake and your attitude. On the road, do you control anything at all - road conditions, weather, traffic, accidents? Nope. The only thing you control is your steering wheel, your brake and your attitude. Also, any road trip is about the journey and not just the destination. How many times have you said or heard "Are were there yet?" on a family road trip? I have beaten it into my son that it is not just about the destination - whether it is a simple one day trip to the beach or a 4 day camping trip. It is OK to have fun along the path before you get to the destination.

It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over because there's nothing you can do about them, and why worry about things you do control? - Wayne Dyer

There are several knobs that you can control in your marketing projects. In any marketing project you can’t control anybody - competitors, customers, partners, good reviewers, nasty commentators. You only control your attitude, your budget, your product and the quality of your service. Each of these knobs you can control give you tremendous leverage, don’t they? Move the knobs on the plenty of items that you control instead of worrying about the items you can’t control.

Also, along the way, focus on your team's well being, celebrate small wins and stick it out to the end. Every one of us marketers is travelling a path. In fact, we travel several paths. Stay focused on your goals. Keep yourself and your team nourished and refreshed. Don't forget that it is not just about reaching the goals. It is also about having fun along the way. Not every day is easy and fun. There are always ups and downs. There are those nightmarish days which you don't know how the heck you got through. Celebrate the small wins and learn from the goof ups as you march steadily forward to your destination. At the end of every destination you should see happy customers - again and again.

Hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks to my buddies Rajesh Setty, Jagan Nemani and Kumar Nagarajan for their enthusiastic feedback to this blog post.

I could elaborate for a long time on each of these marketing lessons, but you get the gist. If you went "Aha, that is right" and smiled knowingly as you read this post, stop and pat yourself on the back. You are a pro at marketing, just as you are a masterful driver. Go conquer your marketing world.

Over to you…
I am curious. What marketing lessons have you learnt - from your running, golfing, reading, blogging and most importantly from your customers?

More Stories By Ambal Balakrishnan

Ambal has robust 17+ years experience working at and partnering with high-profile technology companies in both B2B and B2C marketplaces building scalable, reliable, high performance products (both hardware and software) for business with multi-billion dollar in annual revenue. She has done various roles that includes engineering, program management, business development, strategy and marketing for premium and fast growing product divisions at Cisco, Telecordia (prior name Bell Labs) and strategic marketing consulting firm ClickDocuments. At Cisco, she focused on world wide marketing and positioning of Cisco's Cloud & Data Center switching business. She brings both strong engineering & marketing skills with verticals experience from many different industries. Ambal received her Masters in Computer Science from Purdue University and an MBA in Marketing, Strategy and Entrepreneurship from Wharton University of Pennsylvania. Ambal is an avid reader and hiker. Her hiking pursuits have taken her to several mountains including Mt. Whitney at 14,500 feet (which she managed to climb in 1 day). Ambal lives in Austin, TX with her family of 3 boys (that includes her husband!) and a border-collie+lab mix dog named Rainbow.

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