When Marketers Give Up

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Vermont’s tourism folks have decided to give up promoting their state to a rotating cadre of residents who’ll tweet whatever they please, following the broad outlines of Sweden’s experiment doing the same earlier this year. Social media evangelists praised both campaigns as “bold experiments” that recognized the immense potential of social interaction.

I think the Vermonter tourism marketers should all resign from their jobs and go home. The best case scenario for the test is that they’re no longer necessary. The worst case scenarios shown them either to be negligent in their responsibilities, or simply just fools.

Let me make sure I understand the theological underpinnings of @ThisIsVt: Nobody believes what corporate or institutional voices say anymore, so traditional marketing no longer works. People listen to one another, which isn’t a new idea, but new tech exists to facilitate those connections on a globally immediate and ongoing basis. So why not outsource marketing communications to people who can share their personal, unscripted, and therefore authentic messages with other people?

Giving regular ‘ol Vermonters the chance to tweet whatever they wish will, according to a description of the campaign in the New York Times, “present a contemporary, humanized narrative as it works to attract more tourists and young residents.”

Got it. It’s a beautiful vision. The problem is that it has absolutely no connection to reality whatsoever, and marketers are supposed to stay glued to that reality instead of giving up. Here’s why it’s a poor substitute for real marketing:

The tweets are boring. Probably the most overwhelming impact you get from reading even the first few tweets on @ThisIsVt is to wonder why you’re reading them in the first place. While they may be utterly legitimate messages from legitimately real people about actual, everyday life, it turns out that all that authenticity doesn’t make any of the posts inherently interesting. Learning that people live in Vermont is no more of a revelation than it was discovering that folks eat, shop, and catch head colds in Sweden. The campaign substitutes authenticity of messenger for value of message. No self-respecting marketer who make that trade.

The tweets are useless. Not only are the posts boring but they aren’t focused on any particular purpose. Like most tweets, they just are, so one message notes the anniversary of Hurricane Irene, followed by one that links to a concert and then a few that reference some direct conversation. There’s no criteria for what qualifies to be tweeted — that would violate the driving faith behind the experiments — no real vetting who who’s doing the tweeting (though Vermont supposedly took it more seriously than the Swedes, so there won’t likely be posters enamored with masturbation or the Nazis), and no basis for user visits, so the needs and interests of the stream’s followers likely ranges from the desperately interested in immediate information on a particular thing…to the subscribed by accident and never visiting Twitter user. Most of the folks on site fall in a somewhat, sometimes, sort of might be slightly interested group.

In other words, it’s a marketer’s nightmare.

Finally, the tweets aren’t about Vermont, they’re about the tweeters themselves. This is one of the most uncomfortable facts that social media advocates don’t want to address, but people post mostly to talk about themselves and not necessarily provide any information about anything else. This is natural and just, not to mention why the concept of social sharing is valid, but to conflate it with marketing purposes is silly, if not an outright contradiction. Posts on social tech platforms market people, not products or services; they’re less bullhorn and more mirror.

As such, they tend to all slip toward the same common-denominator attributes, whether funny, shocking, or just dull. The people in Vermont are like the people everywhere else, and with no criteria for topics or issues that might actually be worth discussing, they…like you, me, and anyone else…will tend to talk about themselves.

No marketer would hire talent for a commercial that ignored or buried the intended takeaways of the spot. But when it comes to Twitter, there are no takeaways other than the “talent.” People aren’t consumers of tweets. They’re the content.

So there’s nothing terribly smart or bold about the @ThisIsVt campaign, other than providing another case of what happens when marketers give up. Even if it prompts tons of followers and chatter therein, there’s no reason to expect that any of it will do any thing to prompt tourism or relocation to the state.

Then again, it’ll probably win marketing awards. So the marketing team probably won’t quit. They’ll just get fired when the state realizes it needs a real marketing campaign.

Image via flickr

Original Post: http://baskinbrand.com/?p=926