The Absolute Truth About Marketing
I consume, therefore I am
The newspapers recently reported that a man in Italy was suing the rail network for “existential damage”. He claims its failure to run trains on time has forced him to live with constant uncertainty. The uncertainty forces him at times to doubt if his life has any value or meaning. In other words, he says being treated as insignificant by a large corporation is affecting his sense of self.
Now apparently Italian courts have identified ‘existential damage’ as a real thing. And they’re right: it is real. Consumers feel disempowered and insignificant when they are treated like sh—by service providers and retailers. Humans judge the estimation in which they are held by the actions of the other party toward them. Oily words do not count. So when your actions say: “We consider you to be unimportant and disposable…” the consumer naturally resents the attack on their self image. This is why they are so impassioned when they react – like a spurned lover. The average person has only a limited grip on their self-concept. (Psychologists call it ‘differentiation’ or ‘individuation’. It means the ability to stand alone, free of emotional struts and supports propping up the individual’s stability.) The average person doesn’t like themselves. Even supermodels suffer from self loathing. Few people like what they see in the mirror.
Consumers treated like sh—react strongly not because they disagree with the message sent by the actions. Quite the opposite. It’s because they agree. “You remind me that I am sh—and I hate you for it…” This is existential damage. And this should be actionable at law… because the greatest damage you can do a person is to rob them of their integrity as a human being. Their existential anchor. Their answer to the question “who am I?” On one side of the line lies stability and security. On the other lies madness.
All marketers are liars!
Seth Godin is a shameless self-publicist, second only to Tom Peters of "In Search of Excellence" fame. Seth, like Tom, can spin a good yarn. They can make a lot from a little. He understands marketing to the extent that he understands how to market himself. He's a 'speaker'. I've known many 'speakers' who claim to be marketing gurus on the basis of their own ability to self-promote. I saw him in action in the dot com boom/bust cycle. He took a concept we direct marketers have used for decades and rebadged it and voila: we got "permission marketing". Seth's books are "best sellers". One was 'best-selling marketing book of the decade". But my bullshit meter buzzes when I see 'best seller', knowing as I do how to manipulate publishers' statistics to create a best seller. Now all the above sounds like I'm down on Seth. I am not. I admire his gall. His latest book is called "All MArketers Are Liars!" But on the back of the flyleaf it says "Marketers Aren't Really Liars... It's the consumers who are liars..." Just where is this spin spinning us to? What is the pea and thimble trick?
I won't let Seth off the hook: the title of his book proves its point. Seth's title lies about its content. Seth the marketer in this context is a liar.
I believe, after 25 years in the front lines of marketing, that all marketers are liars. And that the ones who have the guts to tell the truth will win big time in future. (More next blog)
ADFACT#2: Don't do ads for your competition
There is a commercial for beer running during the Cricket Test Match between Australia and South Africa this week. It features household appliances fighting over a bottle of beer. Very entertaining. Very funny. If you've seen the TVC, can you remember who it was for?
Two blunders: 1. The proposition for the TVC was that the beer was so good that appliances would fight over them. But there is no claim that another brand could not make. There was a time when ad agencies thought about the USP - unique selling proposition. But beer ads are now exclusively humourous. Jokey ads that you could simply change the end frame and they would apply with equal validity to all their competitors.
Blunder 2: Joking around. David Ogilvy said "People don't buy from clowns." There's an old saying: "When you got nothing to say, sing it. "He could just as easily have said "When there's no drama in the product, write comedy."
An anti-loyalty scheme
Yesterday I did nearly all my Christmas shopping in Dymocks, The Booksellers. I am a member of their Booklovers loyalty program. I hand over my card and with each purchase I get discount vouchers, entries into prize draws and occasionally free books.
Let's get the minor issues out of the way first. The prize draws are irrelevant to me - the prizes are usually holidays in places I don't want to go to, like Iraq or Uzbeckistan (or similar). The free books are usually books I wouldn't read and can't even think of someone who'd like them. (Remaindered pulp fiction, mainly.)
What does interest me is the discount vouchers. I picked up about $25 in vouchers on around $350 spent. Now the vouchers have proven to be a useless benefit for me because of the redemption conditions Dymocks attaches to them. I rarely have one in my pocket when I get the urge to walk into the shop. So they are useless. And they won't let you use them the same day you earn them. So I couldn't buy an additional book with them yesterday.
Here's how Dymock's have devised an anti-loyalty program for me. First they tell me how important I am. They give me a card and a bunch of discount vouchers after each purchase. No I consider these vouchers are currency. It's just like they've given me money. But they refuse to allow me to spend it. I am not sufficently anal retentive to have my wallet neatly stuffed with discount vouchers. (Coles and Woolworths 4¢ a litre off fuel is a similar deal.)
So they promise me good things and merely set me up for a deep-seated negative "moment of truth" the next time I visit and I feel robbed because I haven't got the currency that was rightfully mine. Dymocks seeks to achieve its goal - repeat visits - by restricting the usage of the vouchers. But while pursuing a behavioural goal, it actively works against the more fundamental emotional goals of loyalty marketing - satisfaction and meeting expectations. Instaed of feeling special, I feel manipulated and dudded.
No it's not the same as if I forgot to bring cash. Cash is useful in all sorts of circumstances and it's relatively easy to carry. Special purpose vouchers are different.
Give me a stored value card - I can carry cards. But I can't always have my pockets stuffed with dicount vouchers.
So if you have a loyalty program, can you be sure it's not pissing people off. And I'm not just people. I buy a lot of books.
CRM scammers come crashing down
I wrote an editorial for Marketing Magazine in October 2001 on the sleazy world of CRM. "CRM: let the buyer beware" was the heading. "Never in the history of hucksterism has so much money been chiselled out of so many companies in such a short time than with CRM. If your company is embarking on a CRM project or contemplating it, please be careful. The odds are stacked against you getting what you think you’re buying." In another editorial at about the same time, titled "CRM: Crooks! Robbers! Muggers!" I stated the obvious: "The one person who matters in the equation – the customer – has been ignored in the hype surrounding CRM. That hype has been whipped up by the IT firms who sell the systems (oh yes, CRM is an IT solution) and the management consultancies looking to invade the territory of ad agencies and marketing (as the cashflow from re-engineering and restructuring has tailed off). CRM has taken over where Y2K left off as the “Yellow Brick Road” for global consultancies."
Today in an ezine called CRMguru I read the following expose of the rort that was CRM:
Good-Bye Yellow Brick Road: CRM's Fairytale Start Fades Into a Pragmatic Finish
By Dick Lee, High-Yield Methods
"It's over, folks. It ended not with a bang but a whimper. That brilliant shooting star we called "CRM," which burst upon our horizon in the early 1990s, gradually burned up in the chilling business atmosphere and descended to Earth—to end its short life, or start its new life, as a mere business strategy. How ignominious...
"For as free and unfettered as CRMers felt, all along, the nascent CRM movement was operating under the thumb of an oligarchy, a small number of large software players; plus a small number of large consulting firms with back door ties to these software companies; plus a small number of large conference companies whose shows were deeply subsidized by these very same software companies. Despite competing with each other on one level, collectively they called the shots. They ran the show. They defined CRM.
"And where was the free press—the Doberman pincer that should detect such goings on? With the exception of this web site and a handful of others, the media was sucking up to the industry oligarchs to stimulate as much ad spending as possible. Not ever questioning industry claims that this shooting star was a second sun that would light the way for all of business.
"But largely unaware of which was doing what to whom, CRMers jammed the conference exhibit floors and packed the "educational" sessions, most of which turned into commercials, breathing each others' fumes, inebriated by self-importance and the smell of riches to be made. Riches to be made by marketers and sellers cozying up to end customers to achieve customer intimacy (which I always took to mean putting both hands in customers pockets); by consulting companies conveniently recommending to these marketers and sellers the very software in which they as "objective" consultants were trained to recommend and install (and, in some cases, for which they were financially rewarded); by software sellers abusing software buyers again by persuading them to invest in overpriced, ridiculously over-featured applications; and even by supposedly independent research companies taking software company money to report glowing customer satisfaction scores for applications most intended users quickly turned into shelfware."
Ironically the report's author Dick Lee is founder and principal of High-Yield Methods, "a consulting firm specializing in
helping clients achieve customer-centricity through CRM and proper alignment
of process and technology."
You can be sure, when it comes to CRM, everyone is on the take.
The ethics of commercial radio?
Driving back from "Uamby" last night I scanned the Sydney radio dial to pick up news of the race riots. I found - amid the reports of legions of police patrolling the streets and overseas media focussing on Australia and trashing our image as a tolerant society - 2UE's Stan Zemanic (?) ranting like a reborn Ron Casey, urging all Australians to insist that "lebs" assimilate and become Aussies. He blamed multiculturalism and advocated cultural purity. (Does he know this was a central plank of National Socialism ideology). One of his guests was Pauline Hanson who said "the Shire" was like a second home to her. (Really? That could be the problem here.) She whined on in her semi-articulate, wheedling way, reciting her mantras ("If they don't like it here they can go back to where they came from...") and hitting all the code words for racism, including "I am not a racist, but". Stan then took calls from Lebanese women who he abused, called "halfwits", as is his way. He did point out he was being paid to abuse people on air. And he is. The Southern Cross Network pays Stan to attract listeners to hear their advertisers' commercials. But surely the act of inflaming racial tension and goading rioters should not form part of a company's commercial operation. Especially when the Government and the Police are trying to calm the warring sides down. Such Shock Jockery takes advantage of the freedom of speech in our liberal democracy to endanger public safety, social cohesion, and Australia's international image... for profit. This is the credo of commercial radio. A stick rattled in a swill bucket. Zemanic is a mouthpiece for his nasty views, his network and his industry. As is the king of shock jocks and cultural icon among John Howard's battlers, Alan Jones. (One doesn't need to switch on his show to know what he'll be saying. He's a Pauline Hanson devotee as well. And definitely Alan Jones is not a racist. He says so...)
John Howard: Master Marketer
Recently Marketing Magazine asked me to comment on one of my own editorials from the mid 1990's, one that questioned our retro Prime Minister John Howard's marketing smarts. (They do it to rub my nose in it.) I wrote the following rather balanced appraisal, only to unleash the mighty pen of poison of a reader, quoted below. I received his criticism on the day we witnessed the worst race riots in Australia's history since the Gold Rushes. After a decade of Government-sponsored social change, this is John Howard's Australia...
Retro Marketing: Is John Howard in need of marketing advice?
John Howard is clearly a success story. He doesn’t need marketing advice from me. He is a great leader. He understands the Australian public better than any other politician for several generations. He knows how racist and xenophobic (afraid of foreigners) we are, he knows how greedy we are. He even convinced us that it was perfectly reasonable to confine children from the Middle East in concentration camps in the desert indefinitely, with no trial or recourse to the justice system. To take a nation known for its fairness and egalitarianism and transform it into a nation divided by power, status and race in a few short years is a major demonstration of leadership and marketing.
John Howard understands his market. He understands the deep underlying fear that runs like a yellow streak through our national psyche, living surrounded by Asian countries whose teaming millions would love to escape and take a piece of the Lucky Country (they think). He understands that we think we can’t stop the ‘Yellow Hordes’ if they want to come. Not without the help of a big white world power. For this reason he could convince Australians to happily follow Uncle Sam into yet another failure on a foreign battlefield, Viet Nam style. We would even be willing to make ourselves a target for terrorist bombings (Bali 1 and Bali 2) to stand loyally beside an American President and repeat his lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
He knew he could scare us into staying on our knees in loyalty to the kings and queens of little old England. He knows how we need the Union Jack in our flag to remind us of “home”, whose Queen’s authority is recognised in only a few decaying remnants of Empire, like Gibralta, the Falkland Islands and Australia.
I admire the way he manages his ‘brand’ so that the politician who, more than any other in recent decades, has mislead the public by his words (remember the ‘never ever GST” or “Lazarus with a bypass’) has managed to come across as “Honest John.” He understands that people have short memories (and beside, when the economy’s on fire, who cares?) In his dictionary ‘never, ever’ means ‘not until I think I can get away with it.’
He brings out the worst in us to do it, but he’s a winner.
> ------ Forwarded Message
> From: Damian Young
> Date: Sun, 11 Dec 2005 22:12:23 +1100
> To: sam.mcconnell
> Subject: Comments on "Retro Marketing" article in Dec / Jan 2006 issue
> Hi Sam,
> As a long term subscriber to Marketing Magazine, I would like to offer
> some feedback on Michael Kiely's "Retro Marketing" piece in the Dec /
> Jan 2006 issue.
> His whole commentary was out of place. An editorial on morality
> masquerading as a marketing viewpoint.
> There was no real marketing analysis, just a left wing viewpoint,
> pitching everyone that votes conservative as evil.
> If Mr Kiely does not like our current democratically elected
> government, may I suggest that he run for parliament, start writing for
> The Age, or stage a coup with Mark Latham so that they can institute a
> fascist regime where he decides on what is right for the rest of us.
> Does he really think that the alternative of Mark Latham was a better
> option at the last election? Latham has truly shown the state of
> disrepair that the Labour Party has unfortunately fallen into.
> Indeed, his lip service comments on massive social issues tended to
> trivialise them and their importance to Australia's future.
> I would be interested in reading analysis of the issues from each
> election and commentary on the messages that each party focused on,
> without the moral judgements. Just the science.
> If I want political commentary or editorial, I will consult the
> relevant mainstream media. I do not expect to open up Marketing
> Magazine and virtually be yelled at that I am evil and in need of
> If I want to hear about the latest trends and ideas in Marketing I love
> consulting Marketing Magazine. I trust that this will not be an ongoing
> trend for Marketing Magazine.
> I hope that you understand my need to give this feedback.
> Damian Young
> My reply is this:
Damien, I am sure you are a nicer person than you sound.
Turning human beings into revenue streams
My latest column in Marketing Magazine (As executive editor of Australia's only national marketing magazine I contribute a monthly spray in the "Kiely" section...)
Bringing the consumer inside the circle
Recently I have been talking to groups of marketing people about issues that run a little deeper than the latest marketing gimmick. Issues that drill down to our personal ‘philosophy’ of life as it applies to marketing activity. The response has been significant, astounding even. Many readers commented on the column that recently appeared in this place on ‘The Philosophy of Marketing.” Many in the audiences I have addressed want to talk about their feelings. I sense a great need in our industry, post 9/11, for a spiritual “anchor”.
The phrase that resonates most powerfully with audiences is this: “are we simply turning human beings into revenue streams?” That is my definition of the objective of marketing most companies and individuals unconsciously cling to. It is the clear intent of loyalty and CRM programs. Since Day 1, Marketing has been the same top down, linear, one way, self-centred, ego-driven, male, mining-mentality, exploitative, dehumanising process of shoving things down consumers throats. It reduces human beings to revenue streams. How could it be otherwise when our definition of the purpose of marketing is ‘to move product’ in order to achieve our chosen definition of the purpose of a business: ‘to make profits’. Consumers in this process are the passive recipients of whatever we decide to send them or sell them. Consumers are “outside the circle of trust” (from Meet the Fockers.) The fact that we call them consumers says it all.
In the article on Philosophy I described the dominant paradigm, automatically revealing another alternative: a bottom up, lateral, omnidirectional, other-focussed model. This may take some thinking about, but the place to start is – as always – with the customer. Bring them inside the circle of trust and see what happens. Look what happened to Harley-Davidson when the company chose to follow product design innovations introduced by customers, such as the Hell’s Angels who first ‘chopped’ the bike and attached extended front forks, creating the Easy Rider look that is so much of the bike’s brand.
Harley-Davidson was, for a period of its history, in the hands of professional managers, not the bike enthusiasts who started and built the company. Naturally during this period the brand became irrelevant to ardent followers because they knew these guys in suits just didn’t get it. They weren’t in the Brotherhood of the Bike. The company went broke and was bought by the sons of the founders, who returned to the good old neighbourly ways. And profits returned. Not that profit is the company’s most dominant motive. The individuals who work there love the bikes just like the customers do. They are enthusiasts making and selling bikes to enthusiasts.
Which leads me to an 18th century Hasidic saying I use as the theme for my presentations on this subject: “When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you – and then they are purified and become and holy fire in you.” This may have several meanings, but what it means for me is that we are not separate individuals, like atoms, making our lonely orbit around some centre of gravity. We are living parts of a living organism called the human race and an organism called Planet Earth. What we do as individuals affects everyone.
How can you plan for marketing (which is, afterall, a form of warfare between competitors) . How can you bring the consumer inside the circle of influence? Holistic Resource Management – a radical methodology invented by Zimbabwe’s Alan Savory for managing enterprises – brings all stakeholders inside the circle by getting them to contribute to an “Holistic” Goal – a vision of the enterprise and the community it lives within and serves as they will be after a period of time. It is a shared goal, not something dashed off in a minute. Everyone must contribute and sign off on the Goal which is consulted each time a major decision is made, and is revisited as time passes to ensure it remains relevant and resonant within the hearts and minds of stakeholders.
The Hasidic saying contains the powerful truth for people in business today. What you carry in your heart determines the value and validity of what you do. The same action, done for exploitative and non-exploitative motives will have significantly different outcomes, if only in the heart and the soul. If you think of your customers as so many sheep to be sheared or suckers to be fleeced, eventually that attitude can’t remain concealed. But if you ‘love’ your customers and genuinely want to serve them, the feeling shows.
Bringing the customer inside the circle means relinquishing power to them. Letting them dictate company policy. Most companies are too scared for their future to try something different. After all, managers have to manage, don’t they? Managers make decisions, not customers (except whether to buy or not – pretty much the most important decision taken by anyone).
While lying on your death bed, will you look back on your life and say, ”I sold a lot of people a lot of crap.” Or “I made a difference in many people’s lives for the better. I helped a lot of people.”
I know what I would prefer…
Practical Branding #1
Brand is impacted more by what you do to affect the experience of the consumer than by what you say about your brand. Personal experience drives the emotional message home far more deeply that mere advertising. The way a luxury car owner is treated when they contact the dealer or the company's customer care centre or attend an event... that says the brand more than the eccentic advertising for the marque. Seeing people using the brand is also more powerful than seeing an ad, yet agencies act like they believe they build the brand. If only. Research in the US indicates that recent buyers read ads, prospects don't. The first brand to grasp this reality and pour its money into fuelling word of mouth via its customers will leave the dinosaurs for dead. (See The Anatomy of Buzz and The Tipping Point for case studies and statistics about the power of word of mouth.)
Clients who lack courage
A breakthrough in any category can change the order of leadership, taking an also-ran to market leadership. I spoke to a client today for whom I had written two scripts. She said I nailed the first TVC but not the second commercial. The latter uses mild humour to address the issue of death. Without giving the game away, I have done the analysis and can defend the idea based on human psychology. But the client won't even test the concept. (They are destined to be an also-ran. They were 2nd into the market and they are underspending the leader... so that can never catch up, without a breakthru.) Clients without courage get what they deserve - mediocre results
BRANDFACT#1: Be like Donald Trump
I just watched an episode of The Apprentice. Donald Trump is a brand. He's his own man. He stands for something. Excess. People are dying in Iraq so that other people can enjoy the right to aspire to be like Donald Trump. Let's face it, if he didn't exist we'd have to invent him. He's a symbol. He is uncomplicated. He has a simple message: "I am so wealthy and successful that I can get away with this hairstyle. But you can't..." He has everything a great brand needs. So don't worry if your brand looks a little daggy. If it's outrageously successful, you can give them the bird. Donald Trump, you're hired!
CUSTOMERFACT#1: Be a Good Guy
I can't believe I am writing this one... James Hardie Industries (a name Australians have learned to trust for building products) recently gave the world a lesson in how not to conduct a compensation case. It has been forced to pay $4billion to people who are dying from asbestos-related diseases. Naturally you owe it to shareholders to minimise outgoings. But when a tribunal of the land has ruled that your actions have killed people and are killing others, it's time to take your medicine, admit your mistake, and come clean. You can rehabilitate your name that way. WHAT did James Hardie Industries do? First it moved its headquarters out of Australia to the Netherlands to minimise the legal risk. Then it stonewalled and sandbagged every step of the way until it was forced - at the barrel of a gun - to cough up. The State Government of New South Wales had to threaten special legislation to force the company to pay to get it to act. James Hardie made no attempt to explain its actions. Every day that passed, victims died. It looked as though James Hardie thought that if it waited long enough they'd all die and it would get off scot free. The name James Hardie now stinks in the nostrils of the marketplace. It is a symbol of corporate greed and irresponsibility. The trade unions supported the company in its fight because of all the jobs at stake. Unions that have no principles are often bedmates with companies which have no principles. James Hardie as a brand is forever compromised and stained by this incident. If they have corporate relations consultants, they should hang their heads in shame at entertaining such a client. James Hardie Industries now represents a name risk for every company associated with it. Shareholders should consider the ethics of their continued support for such an unethical company.
AD TRUTH #1: Avoid generic images
This is me, holding the Pitchfork of Absolute Truth. I intend to prick the pretty balloons of illusion or lance the boils of insanity that marketing people suffer from... The first victim is Optus. Ever since I can remember any Optus advertising they have relied upon images of animals - cute penguins and polar bears, etc. The headlines tried valiantly to make the animals relevant to the message. The most recent evolution of this campaign has the animals singing. Clever. Entertaining. Effective?
Only Optus could know... But my experience in the ad game for more than 20 years tells me that, while animals test strongly as a positive, attractive image, they are generic. Anyone can... and does... use them. It wouldn't take long going back thru the archives to find the last time they were used, and the time before that, and the time before that. Optus can't ever own the images because they are everyones'. Therefore it costs a vast amount more to get audiences to register the imagery as being associated with the brand. Any generic image is hard to link in the mind. David Ogilvy's ad "The Man In The Hathaway Shirt" put the model in an eye patch to make the image distinctive. In O&M circles, the term "eyepatch" came to mean a visual hook that linked the brand to the image instantly. Optus not only suffers from animals. It has too many animals. If they focussed on one animal they'd have a better chance of linking the image to the brand. An animated animal is a stronger candidate: look at Louie the Fly. He says Mortein. The animals of the world don't say Optus. They don't sing it, either.
What is "Truth"?
This is the question that Pontius Pilate put to Jesus. He spoke for Western men and women in all ages: How can I trust anything I am told? You can't. Everybody's pushing some barrow or other. Everyone offering access to free information on the Internet has an ulterior motive. The difference is whether they're upfront about it. While I hate bullshit, I'm probably as full of it as the next guy. My motive is to make a connection with you and impress you with the information I supply that you'll feel inclined to pay for access to more of it... Even a consultation, online, by phone or face-to-face. You can reach me at email@example.com
What is "absolute truth"? "Absolutely" is a cliche, meaning "Yes" in some circles. "Absolute" means nothing, as any philosopher will tell you. But a copywriter will tell you it is a provocative word to use in a headline.
So if "truth" is uncertain and "absolute" means nothing, what can "the absolute truth about marketing" be? At best, it means you'll see some sacred cows slaughtered here. Bullshitters exposed. And the tinsel torn away from the tin pan alley shysters who seek to confuse and bamboozle the innocent.
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