A Grain of Salt

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

The Wall Street Journal dedicated a special section in yesterday’s paper to "The Secrets of Marketing in a Web 2.0 World," and made five shockingly novel revelations:

  1. Don’t just talk at consumers
  2. Give them a reason to participate
  3. Listen to – and join – conversation outside your site
  4. Resist the temptation to sell, sell sell
  5. Don’t control, let it go

I know, I know, i’’s hard to catch your breath after reading such insight! It took a partnership with MIT’s Sloan Management Review, and the keen insights of academics from around the country to reach these (and similarly earth-shattering) conclusions.

In other words, it’s hard work getting things so completely wrong.

Marketing experts, whether academic or self-proclaimed, can’t resist issuing rules, laws, or predictions, especially this time of year. It often represents the exact opposite of what everybody else should believe or do, usually due to a combination of factors:

  • They wear rose-colored glasses. There’s an a priori assumption that marketing is all about mental states, and it affects everything said experts, er, think. It also means that they’re only looking for branding evidence in communications media.
  • They have a sales agenda. Whether driving kids into classrooms, or clients into contracts, it’s hard to have an objective conversation about any phenomenon if the thinking is controlled by people who make money on 1) said phenomenon, and 2) controlling it?
  • They’re also confused. Qualitative measures of branding are the proverbial tip of the iceberg to all the behavioral underpinnings of such awareness; like hammer-owners, the experts only see the nails. When marketing experts are busy sending tweets at one another every nanosecond, it’s hard for them to imagine, let alone see, a vastly larger world wherein that’s not necessarily what people choose to do.

Yet it’s these very people who presume to lecture the rest of us at industry events and conferences. And we can look at the sales collapse this holiday season — or the plunge in corporate reputation, dissolution of trust in brands, and the evaporation of premium pricing — and still listen to this stuff without laughing?

Here are the real secrets:

  1. Don’t just talk at consumers — Do things. Behaviors are the drivers of awareness, intention, referral, or any other quality we ascribe to mental states about brands.
  2. Give them a reason to participate — But not to simply participate in/with your branding. People don’t want to talk about ads, or turn the web into a glorified suggestion box. 2.0 activities don’t describe marketing, they are the marketing itself.
  3. Listen to – and join – conversation outside your site — Really? And say what? By definition, "conversation" implies different viewpoints, and third-party sites are only as credible as they are independent. How about making the stuff you write on your sites more honest and direct?  
  4. Resist the temptation to sell, sell, sell — Wrong. Everything you produce should have utility, relevance, value, and meaning for your target consumers; if this isn’t the textbook definition of selling, then it should be. Are we really supposed to expect to distract consumers into purchase?
  5. Don’t control, let it go — Only there’s no "it" to let go of. And you should actually try very hard to control the conversation, in that your relationship with would-be consumers should have some overarching direction, flow, and context. You can’t guarantee everything’ll fit it, but "letting go" is only exciting to people who have no responsibility for what happens next.

Good luck with the other lists (there are lots of them out there already). My advice is to take them all with a grain of salt, if that.

Original Point: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/12/a-grain-of-salt.html