Are You Scared of No?

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I know I’m a dim bulb, but I was at a conference last week full of marketers who sang the praises of engagement, conversation, and the other descriptors of endless social activity that are supposed to take the place of overt selling. And then it dawned on me:

They’re all scared of being told “no.”

Think about it. For all the talk of being intimate with customers and listening to their interests and needs, the metrics of those pursuits are utterly easy and woefully inconsequential. Likes. Forwards. Chuckles. Even comments. They’re actions without any lasting meaning or relevance past the moment they’re clicked, yet they’re what marketers strive toward. More clicks, and more often, are a good thing. Consumers are engaged. They like the brand.

I wonder if something else is going on…or not. How can you count such behavior as a “yes” if you don’t give consumers the option to say “no?”

By “no” I don’t mean simply ignoring your marketing, since lack of attention is not the same thing as rejection, any more than a click or view is synonymous with being interested. I mean giving people the overt, conscious choice to accept or decline whatever it is you’re throwing at them. Do your best to be relevant, meaningful, useful, inspirational and immediate, and have enough respect for your audience to equip them with the information necessary to make a decision.

Stop being scared of hearing “no,” and maybe you’ll get to hear “yes” more often?

Being “liked” or forwarded on a social tech platform is kind of like a voter declaring her or himself an “independent.” What they’re really saying is that they’re uncommitted…they’re pre-Democrats or pre-Republicans, and many of them won’t choose a side until they’re nearby or inside a voting booth. Engaging with consumers in a muddle of glib likes and clicks is no different and, while there’s math that can correlate those gestures into predictive models of future behavior, you’ve not really sold your product or service until you’ve sold your product or service. Elections come around one in a while to force such resolution.

You face elections for your brand every day, only your social media strategy is to avoid them as often as possible.

What would be so horrible about allowing consumers to say no to whatever you’re offering them? At least it would move them out of the indeterminate state of what-if into a category you could study and understand. Did they need to know more? Know differently? If their answer is a “no” now, what could turn it into a “yes” down the road? How long is that road?

Risk being relevant and providing utility instead of being complementary and providing entertainment. Consumers of your content are not the same thing as consumers who actually buy stuff from you. You can glorify their status into whatever you want, but the real measure of customer engagement is transactions with dollar signs attached to them.

Such clarity would be a welcome respite from the vague learning we get from constantly giving consumers stuff they may or may not use for anything. It’s free, it’s constant, and that means much of it just adds detritus to the what-if state of indeterminacy where most customers live.

Sales people live in the binary world of yes/no, which is why they can’t understand what marketers do (especially now). So why not come up with a strategy that doesn’t purposefully avoid this distinction and instead provide your customers with the opportunity to embrace it…or not?

Are you scared?

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