the sky floor

Is Your Trough as Attractive as It Could Be?

May 18, 2023

You have heard the phrase, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” which is objectively true. But it isn’t the whole story. Why? Not all troughs are created equal. 

The entire adage is a matter of marketing; we are all in marketing, whether you want to be or not.  

A quick detour there, in case you haven’t realized you are a marketer yet: 

  • When you have to convince your spouse about your vacation destination;
  • When you have to lead your team at work toward a new goal;
  • When you drop hints all year for that Christmas present you want;
  • When you curate your Insta feed;
  • When you advocate on behalf of that non-profit you donate to;
  • Whenever you have to convince someone of anything, you are marketing. 

There are two components to this idiom: the leading and the drinking or awareness and action. 


How are you leading the horse to the water? Are you optimizing that experience? Are you testing what messages, what harnesses, and which paths will generate enough awareness that there is water to bring the horse to the trough? We think of marketing as generating awareness, but that is not the end of the process.


Once the horse is at the trough, will it convert to drinking?

Here is my point: we all have horses that come to the trough that never take a drink. I have been in meetings where this phrase is used to say, “look, we led them to the water, but if they don’t want to drink, that is on them… maybe they just weren’t thirsty enough.” But that isn’t the whole story. Yes, we need to address both awareness and action. 

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You will never force the drink, but you can make it more appealing! Is your trough fine-tuned for drinking? Is your offer attractive enough? Are you making it easy to take the drink? Is there a innovative novelty to the experience which increases the chance of action?

The bottom line is, while we can’t enforce action, leading the customer towards it is merely the beginning. By continuously testing, measuring, and refining the dual facets of awareness and action, we can ensure no stone is left unturned, leaving no opportunities untapped.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink – while true, you must consider all the ways you can enhance the trough to encourage the horse to drink.