Is your marketing working for or against you? In any case, you are the judge.

I recently took a college course on The Art of Debate. It was with a Wake Forest professor named Dr. Jarrod Atchinson. It contains over 24 half-hour lectures and digs deep into the history, purpose, and strategy of debate.

In any debate, there is an argument or topic that will have an affirmative side and an opposing side. It has three parts:

  1. Warrant – The change of the status quo that you are debating based on the claim and the grounds
  2. Grounds – Evidence or Facts that supports the claim
  3. Claim – An argument position

Debate is an art and skill, and requires a lot of work, especially if you want to win. It demands preparation, and the ability to recognize offensive and defensive moves, while adapting to changes on the fly.

Dr. Atchinson explains that collegiate debate takes an amount of mental skill and talent similar to a college athlete's physical skill and talent.


Dr. Atchinson is also a business consultant who helps businesses learn how to use debate as a business decision-making tool. From the beginning of the course and lectures, he makes the case that debate prompts discussion, and improves your ability to make better business decisions.

So that raises the question, “Who is the decision maker?” In other words, who is your audience and how can you convince them that your point of view is better than your opponents?

In the case of a collegiate debate, we may think that it's the audience, but it's the judges who choose the winner.

In the case of our businesses, we may think it's our audience of potential clients, but it's really the stakeholders who choose the winner.

As a marketing pro, I know the ownership and staff have the ultimate decision of what marketing messages win the day. They choose the claim, grounds, and warrant. Ultimately, that is what is presented to their audience of clients and prospects, and success is based on sales and ROI.

Making The Marketing Argument (Case)

I think that marketing is much like a debate. There is one key point to be argued, “How do we increase sales?”

It has a warrant, “We need to change the status quo.” It requires us to research and provide evidence (grounds) to support our claims (selling points).

In the case of B2b marketers, the audience is a culmination of two different perspectives: prospects and current clients.

The status quo for current clients may be, “How, when, or how often do we need to upgrade, or repair our products, services, and equipment.”

The status quo for prospects may be, “How, when, or how often do we need to change vendors or suppliers.”

Both require setting up the case and evidence that you and your solutions are the best choices for each client or prospect.

The case for the current client may be about how your products and services can increase profits, cut costs, improve reliability, or avoid and sidestep being outplayed by the competition.

Prospects include all of that, with the added need to build trust that you can deliver better than your own competition.

So how do you make the case for your business?

For And Against

As with any debate, I think you have to choose sides. Marketing gets confusing when you are for some things and against others.

For example: “We help you save money by spending more”, or “Increase productivity while decreasing downtime.”

Sure, it's common to bullet point advantages, but I think it confuses the emotional messaging. You generally can't always present everything with a positive slant and avoid the negatives. But I want to challenge the status quo and get you to think about grouping those to enhance the messaging.

Let's say you want a new EV vehicle for your business. Here is a list from an actual car marketing piece:

  • No more oil changes, emissions tests, or engine tune-ups. Gas station stops? Only if you need a snack. There are a lot of positives to an EV.
  • With our most advanced battery ever and several range options based on trim levels, you have a lot of possible destinations within reach.
  • It might be hard to keep up with the (model), especially off the line. But it’s easy to stay up to speed on your range and charging information when you’re using the Services app.

Let's try to group the positives (For) and the negatives (Against) like this.

FOR – Our EV has many advantages

  • Advanced batteries
  • Quieter ride
  • Quick and in-home charging options
  • Futureproof with software updates
  • More affordable cost of ownership

AGAINST – Things you get to avoid

  • No need for oil changes, emissions tests, and engine maintenance
  • No fumes, noise, or oil stains in your garage
  • No more increasing or fluctuating gas pricing
  • Eat fewer gas station snacks

Can you feel how grouping builds with positive and negative vibes being grouped?

You can think of it like a football game where your team is on offense part of the time (to score points) and defense (to prevent points from being scored).

Sell The Sizzle and Groom The Gristle

It's hard to sell steak to a vegetarian, but every steak has some fat or gristle. So when you eat a steak, it's the fat that adds flavor and gristle that makes it chewy.

So if I was to sell you a marketing company like a steak I would present it like this:


  • Our marketing services have been aged to perfection
  • We only offer you only the choice cuts
  • Chefs combine parts of our system like a complete meal
  • We offer healthy, well-balanced messages and campaigns


  • Avoid cooking it for yourself
  • Cut the fat of paying for meat you won't eat
  • We offer no-surprises service
  • No clean-ups after meals

Even though we know eating out is more expensive than eating in, it's hard to argue with the quality and convenience. There is a big difference between food in cardboard and a bag, and getting a well-prepared meal served by quality servers who turn a meal into an experience.

Final Thoughts

I studied debate to help me better understand how to frame messages to you (my audience) and my clients (the judges).

Debate can help you make better business decisions but knowing the skills and tactics can also help you with sales and marketing.

In marketing, we are always challenging the status quo, but with new technology, tactics, and techniques, it's important to know the basics of argument, evidence, and presenting your case.

Now I just have to make a case to my wife to go out and have a steak… I'm hungry!

“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”
– Margaret Heffernan

Comment below and share your thoughts, ideas, or questions about your love-hate relationship with sales and marketing! Do you feel your system is working for you? What tips or techniques can you share that worked for you and your business?

To learn more about this and other topics on B2b Sales & Marketing, visit our podcast website at The Bacon Podcast.

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