The Marketing Sage - Marketing Consulting

Connect with me at (919) 720-0995 or 


My goal is to help grow your sales.

The Marketing Sage Consultancy offers imaginative marketing advice, counsel, and services. I support small to mid-sized businesses, whose products and services need fresh insights, creative inspiration, and a proven process to reach the right audience. Strategy always comes first, before tactical execution. 

Hire me as a fractional CMO/VP marketing a few days per month when you don’t need a full-time marketing executive.  Other services include marketing audits, brand naming projects, marketing strategy, digital lead generation, facilitate brainstorming sessions and creating targeted brand awareness campaigns.  

Work with a successful entrepreneur and senior global marketing executive who built and sold what INC MAGAZINE recognized as one of America’s fastest growing company. Put more than thirty years of marketing expertise to work for your business.

I sell seasoned advice.

Contact me at 919 720 0995 or 

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The Marketing Sage

The Marketing Sage Blog

~Marketing Insights to Help You Grow Your Business~

Sound Marketing

So many companies come and go. They spend millions on marketing to no avail. They get lost trying to grow faster and faster, forgetting why they even started. There is no substitute for sound marketing.

They make promises they can’t keep, and they wonder why their marketing no longer works. The biggest marketing mistake many brands make is that can’t answer the simple question – what are we all about? The best marketing comes when people come to work each day and do their best and to make a superior product or service that they take pride in creating.

Grado Laboratories – All About The Sound 

For more than fifty years, a small, niche player in the world of headphones decided that nothing mattered except the quality of the sound. They didn’t care about packaging, distribution and the other issues associated with marketing a product. They haven’t advertised since 1964.

Grado believes in one core marketing principle. If you promise consumers something spectacular and deliver on it – they’ll tell other consumers. John Grado would be happy putting the headphones in plain, brown paper bags. He wants the brand to speak for itself.

Sound Comes First

In a non-descript Brooklyn location that the family has owned since 1918, a handful of people make the best headphones possible. Second generation John Grado, bought the business from his great uncle who founded the business decades ago making needles for record players at his kitchen table. He wants growth to be natural. He could get investors who would help him do what others do to accelerate– but he has no interest in spending his days pleasing financial-types. He is content and satisfied with his work and loves what he does. “I’m happy, why do I want others telling me what to do?”

John tells the story that his grandfather had a fruit stand in NY. He would go to the wholesale market an hour before everyone else at 330 AM so he could pick the best that was available. His philosophy was that if he had the best produce, customers would be happy and he would be successful. To this day, that is the guiding principle for Grado headphones.

Their filter for each decision is, how will it affect the sound?

John Mayer, Neil Young, and Steven Tyler are but a few of the artist who won’t use anything but their headphones for their work.

  • They refuse to advertise. They want happy customers to do their marketing for them.
  • They use the same, old equipment and fix it themselves to make components. Faster isn’t better. It is just faster.
  • They assemble their headphones by hand to allow a human being to craft the perfect listening device to maximize satisfaction.

Jonathan Grado is the third generation of Grado’s making headphones and manages their marketing. Their marketing consists of a focus on social media to engage and connect with users. To him, marketing is about the relationship he builds with customers who he knows will share their experience. He invests his time and energy in relationships to build word of mouth. It is slow, deliberative and effective one-on-one marketing effort.

Two sisters assemble the higher-end handmade headphones since 1994. The company keeps production to a level consistent with their vision that sound comes first. A little demand is a good thing, so they keep a slow and steady pace. They make about 20-30 headphones each day using cocobolo wood and lovingly send each pair out into the world.

Three Marketing Insights from Grado

  1. Growth can be a trap. Know what’s important to your daily business life. Business isn’t a race but has a rhythm.
  2. Use your real voice. They avoid a marketing team creating buzz words or language to entice consumers. Be authentic and human.
  3. Connect directly. Speaking through social media allows the brand to build relationships with each customer. The depth of that relationship can’t be bought with advertising, it takes patience and time.

What sound decision will you make for your brand?

This post was inspired by Jay Acunzo’s podcast UNTHINKABLE. Check it out on iTune for some great stories and inspirations.

Need help with tuning up your marketing efforts? Text me at 919 720 0995 or email me at jeffslater@themarketing

Photo Credit: Grado Laboratories







Bowling with Customers

Conducting market research is a key component of marketing.

Without an empathetic understanding of who you are marketing to, the world they live in, and what they care about, your efforts can easily miss the mark. But getting to know your customers first-hand can be tricky.

Several years ago, I advised a client to use an odd technique to help them learn more about those who used their software program. It wasn’t a traditional quantitative approach to research. It broke many of the traditional laws of market research because it was subjective and lacked true objectivity.

My advice was to invite their existing customers bowling in several cities. Bowling with customers – a chance to learn about your target audience.

Yup. Bowling. Bowling for insights.

Striking Up a Conversation

The idea was simple. What happens when members of your team get to hang out in the real world with clients? You meet in a neutral and non-threatening environment without an agenda but to get to know one another. The research wasn’t watching customers bowl – this was hanging out with clients trying to do the 7-10 split.

Up My Alley

  1. We got a chance to see customers as real people – not numbers, not revenue per click, but people.
  2. Through the natural flow of conversation, we got to hear them talk about our product (software apps/online service) without it being a forced discussion.
  3. Customers shared frustrations and passions about our products and services.
  4. We identified several opportunities and gaps in how we do business.
  5. At a modest cost, we could do this in the field research in five cities over a few weeks and gather some rich learning.

Whether it’s bowling, hanging at a winery or brewery or playing ping pong – market research can include a casual, lifestyle format for meeting customers. The research isn’t watching customers “in the wild” like P&G would do visiting family’s kitchens and watching them use products to clean a kitchen. But it does allow engineers, new product managers, and management a chance to rub shoulders with the people who pay their salaries.

Learning about your customer’s by playing together isn’t something to do in your spare time. It is real work that can provide rich benefits.

Could you use some non-traditional thinking about understanding your customers or clients? Let’s bowl? Or text me at 919 720 0995 or at




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