Sunday, November 13, 2011
TWO EDITORIALS WORTH A “CONVERSATION”
In reading two fairly recent Advertising Age editorials, one by Editor-in-Chief, Rance Crain (October 10th issue) and one by Ken Wheaton, Managing Editor (October 31st issue), we were once again reminded of how important it is for marketers to understand the difference between their role and that of their customers. Mr. Crain was writing immediately after the death of Steve Jobs and so was mainly focusing on how Jobs, unlike so many ordinary marketers, never abdicated to his customers his essential role as a marketer: namely, leading innovation with intuition and conviction. Mr. Wheaton, writing in response to the near hysterics these days around generating “conversations” via social media with customers, demonstrated in a pretty convincing manner that maintaining a dialogue with your customer, while potentially helpful, is no substitute for fundamental, solid marketing.
Because we were so struck by these two editorials, and because it is likely that many of our weekly Dispatches readers do not read Advertising Age each week, we would like to share some of the key take-outs from them…followed by our own quick-takes.
From “Steve Jobs’ secret marketing weapon? Conviction, intuition” (by Rance Crain):
“Can you imagine Steve Jobs getting up at the Association of National Advertisers meeting and saying, ‘the customer is boss,’ as we’ve heard relentlessly from the podium over the past few years?”
No, we cannot. Sure, we’ve heard this mantra a few too many times as well. Didn’t Procter & Gamble actually take a lead on this kind of thinking a few years back—consistently referring to the consumer as The Boss? Okay, we got the intent: incite the company culture to be as consumer-centric as possible, more so than ever before in fact. But, sorry, the consumer is not now and never should be thought of as The Boss. The Brand Manager is The Boss. Or, the CMO is The Boss. Or, the Managing Director is The Boss. The Boss is whoever makes the hard decisions about how to invest the company’s resources, so as to provide the best possible return for the shareholders. Period. No consumer-body is either trained or capable of taking on this role. The consumer’s role is much simpler: provide valuable input for The Boss to consider in making the hard decisions about how to best use the company’s resources.
“Maybe marketing people are settling for less, and are living somebody else’s life. They sure seem all to ready to give up their own, to cede the decision-making process to the people who buy their products.”
Amen. And when the decision-making is handed over to the customer, who then becomes The Marketer?
“Mr. Jobs was bold enough to believe that he knew what people wanted before they did, and he didn’t conduct focus groups to find out. As Henry Ford once said, if he had asked consumers what they wanted for transportation, they would have opted for faster horses.”
Bold enough to believe. Hmmmmm. Now there, in just four English words, is a winning precept for any aspiring “marketect” to live by.
“Steve Jobs had his hands firmly on the steering wheel, and marketers won’t get respect and credibility from their bosses until they feel more comfortable in the driver’s seat.”
Or, as a much-respected former boss (and client) of ours used to say, “If you lack the self-assurance to undress in Macy’s window, you don’t have what it takes to be in marketing.”
From “What we need is a little less conversation, a little more actual marketing” (by Ken Wheaton):
“It’s just a statement of fact—this pleasant social exchange between the food purveyor (Chipotle) and myself had absolutely no effect on my purchasing decision. And yet this simple fact seems overlooked entirely too often. There’s not a day goes by that marketers are told they need to listen and to talk, and to talk and to listen.”
We would never disagree about the value of good listening—to consumers, to trade customers, to the Sales Force, to Consumer Affairs, to Senior Management, and so on. Invariably, the better, the more perceptive the listening, the better the thinking and the ensuing ideas that marketers come up with. But we also have learned—not merely from our experiences in marketing or even in focus groups--that “talk is cheap” (as in, not always worth all that much). Whether from blogs, texts, tweets, Wikipedia—you name it—a lot gets “talked about” that either isn’t really True or all that helpful. So, while it’s okay to maintain some reasonable conversation with consumers and customers, it’s not okay to let those conversations run the show.
“Put simply, conversation cannot build a traditional brand. It might build a personal brand, but when it comes to dishwashers, automobiles, and soaps, no. Talking won’t do it. Only solid products and smart marketing will.”
“Marketing is business; it’s hard work that demands respect and study. Like it or not, it’s not a non-stop social hour. Maybe your teachers were right about not talking too much in class. Sometimes, if you want to succeed, you have to find a quiet spot away from all the noise and do your homework.”
With virtually every one of Mr. Wheaton’s sentences here we are inclined to affirm, “Right on.” But perhaps the one that stands out the most is the last one. Sad to say, too many marketers these days are so buried in emails, presentation deck re-writes, and, yes, keeping up with their customers’ social conversations, that they simply cannot find enough time to get away from all the noise. Their “think-time” is at an all-time low. Is it any wonder they find “smart marketing” so hard to come by? Mr. Wheaton is dead-right: marketing is hard work that demands study. If organizations really want to get into some value-added “conversations,” they need to start by giving their marketers more time to think…which will result in the kind of intelligent, thought-provoking “internal conversations” all brands (and their companies) deserve.
BOATS & HELICOPTERS:
This week, let’s keep it real short & sweet—with the stand-out lessons from the Advertising Age editorials:
- Be The Boss of your brand. Don’t abdicate that responsibility to someone else—especially someone who has no vested interest in return on shareholder value.
- Said another way—the Steve Jobs way—“don’t live someone else’s life.”
- Be bold enough to believe…in your own intuition.
- Work on being the best listener you can be. That way you’ll be much better able to separate the “cheap talk” from the value-added talk.
- Push your management hard for more think-time. If nothing else, seek more of their time to share strategies and initiatives with them.
- Along this same line, put more time and effort into those higher-value internal conversations, rather than into those external, “noisy” ones.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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