This confession may surprise you. I am an anti-marketing marketer. There’s a lot to dislike and distrust about marketing, so I know I’m not alone in hating it. I also know that it’s not a blanket hatred. There is plenty of marketing that I admire, and enjoy, and there’s some that I’m not even aware of as marketing.
So let me start with a rant about the bad stuff, before exploring some of the good…
A lot of my anti-marketing stance comes from years spent in the IT corporate world (large, US-based, publicly-listed companies), where it was very evident that marketing is all about showing your products in the best possible light. Well, of course, it is. My concern was that the process behind the scenes went something like this:
- Engineers would spend years designing and perfecting a product, for very specific reasons, but also aware that there were some shortcomings they couldn’t get around that might mean a less-than-perfect fit in some environments. Often they were on deadlines that meant certain features would have to be left out of the product (to be held over until version 2.0).
- Then the marketing department would spend months creating and polishing their message to the world. Accentuating the positives. Burying the negatives. Glossing over the facts.
- Then the sales force would be bombarded for a week with marketing hype. Taught how to sell this shiny new product that will solve every customer’s problem.
Meanwhile, we “techos” (ie. the more technically-minded ‘solution architects’) would feel like mushrooms in the dark. We knew there were major gaps in this process. Who was going to warn us about those engineering shortcomings, so we could understand and be prepared when things weren’t quite a perfect fit for a customer?
I didn’t want to hear only ‘sweetness and light’ as being spread by the marketers. I wanted the nitty gritty darker details. They weren’t forthcoming. And so we would learn by experience. Bitter experience sometimes.
I would sit in front of a customer as the salesperson spouted off what they’d been told by the marketing department, and I’d squirm. One of my favourite clients, who’d been the victim of one of those bitter experiences, would sit out the sales spiel and then turn to me and say “So Robyn, is that true?” Or “Ok, now tell us the downside.” He called our sales team ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ – I was ‘fact’. The salesperson was ‘fiction’.
And hence I learned to distrust marketing, because they never tell the whole story.
Over time I became more savvy – and more cynical – about any marketing that is being directed my way. And there’s a lot of it!
- Our TV shows are constantly interrupted by marketing and advertising.
- Our sports events are littered with logos.
- Our Facebook feeds get hijacked by sponsored posts, sometimes masquerading as ‘friends’.
Being marketed to is unavoidable, but I choose now how to respond to it.
- I never just accept what ads tell me about a product. I read labels on the back of packs, rather than the gimmicks on the front.
- My favourite weekly TV show is Gruen Planet (ABC1 on Wednesday nights, or catch it on iView).
- I no longer trust online reviews, knowing that some businesses pay to have nice things written about them. And that some negative reviews are just as likely to have been faked by subversive competitors.
Marketing is a necessary evil part of business life. Now that I’m a small business owner and learning how to market myself online, I still find I’m left in the dark by marketing experts. Marketing loves to look on the bright side. To make easy guarantees that if you do as they say, you’ll reap rewards. They often back it up with cool statistics, sometimes even a case study.
But there’s still a gap…
- Marketers always say you need to measure results, but never tell you how.
- They tell you that if your marketing is failing, you haven’t understood your target audience. But they don’t tell you how to develop that understanding.
With all the information and content available online, these seem to be well-guarded secrets. Or perhaps it’s just another thing that marketers brush under the carpet, because it might prove that in many cases marketing is nothing more than hot air.
So I’m still a marketing cynic, on both the sending and receiving ends. As I’m sure I’m not alone in this attitude, does this mean that marketing is losing its effectiveness?
FINALLY… THE GOOD
“People buy from people” was a favourite saying of my old manager. How can you market your business to the new breed of cynical, distrusting people? The good thing is, the new emphasis is on “inbound marketing”. Instead of outbound marketing where you push your message out to the world, hoping to convince as many as possible that your offer is the best, you instead draw them in to get acquainted.
You do this by giving them something of value, without necessarily asking for anything in return. As people get drawn in to your story and gain value from your content, they hopefully come to know you, like you, trust you – and want to do business with you.
Building trust takes time. You can’t hit them with your full repertoire on first meeting and expect them to fall head over heels. The best marketing forms relationships and incorporates more humanity into products.
Remember the old Nescafe ads, where the couple’s relationship slowly unfolded over many campaigns? Or the more recent AAMI ads, developing a ‘rom-com’ with Rhonda and Ketut. The viewers enjoy following the story and feel a part of it when they buy into the product. Facebook and other social media outlets are great ways to feed out your story in snippets, and hook people in to feel part of something.
Do this right and it won’t even feel like marketing! Either to you, or to your customers.
It is a fact of life when you start a business that you will need to do some form of marketing, and a lot of people hate doing it. The funny thing is, I now love it! I enjoy the creative side of marketing my business, and that of my clients. I enjoy helping people by producing useful content, that I hope explores the cons as well as the pros of online marketing. Spreading the word on what’s good, but not glossing over the bad and the ugly…