Top 5 Reasons I Hate Marketers

First, let me be clear: I’m talking about what you do, not about you as a human. Second, I’m a marketer, so I’m just as guilty as you from time to time. Speaking of which, you should listen to some of my music or even come to the Columbus Songwriter Circle. See what I did there? Anyway, here they are, the top 5 reasons I hate marketers:

  1. You typically over-promise and under-deliver. It’s like you’re afraid nobody will want your product unless you make outrageous claims. The consequence: nobody believes the marketing claims, and you have to make even more outlandish claims next time to catch attention. You’re making my job harder every time you stretch the truth. Stop it. Learn the difference between True stories and Truth Stories, and tell the latter.
  2. You typically don’t have a shred of actual empathy for the user. Sure, you’ve got your demographic research, feedback from vocal sales people. Stuff like that. You have generalities. Averages. The problem is, there actually is no average user. What if you flipped that thinking on its head? There are no average customers, but there are common trials and triumphs– understand those and your marketing will improve exponentially. Please do this one, k?
  3.  You hock stupid stuff. Let’s face it, most of the products you develop strategies, ads, and PPC campaigns for are pretty mediocre. That’s why they need you– they’re not good enough to spread through organic referrals. Or they are, but only to a niche market… and your client is bent on total world domination. Stop it. I understand needing a paycheck (and I’m fortunate enough to love what I do and get paid for it). I understand that you have to take clients that you’d rather not. But what if you refused to do work for 1 out of 4 new business prospects that you thought kinda sucked? Maybe some of you already do. Maybe more of us should.

Have you spotted the irony yet? A Top 5 list that’s actually only a 3 point rant (over-promise, under-deliver) about how there is no average user… directed at the average marketer. Look, I don’t actually hate you. I hate what you (and I) do from time to time. I’d just like to see more product marketing treat users like human beings.

3 Predictions About the Future of “Social”

The Future

In the US, there are  tens of millions of searches every month for things related to social marketing, social media marketing, and the like. But, if you look at Google Trends, it also looks like that search traffic may have peaked (for now, anyway). So have searches for Facebook, by the way. What that tells me is that, as George Colony from Forrester Research put it at Le Web (to paraphrase), social is running out of people and it’s running out of hours. So, here are my 3 predictions about the future of social media and social marketing:

  1. Social won’t die. But it will become a zombie mutant. When the printing press came along, written stories didn’t die, they mutated. When TV came around, radio didn’t die, it mutated. People are predicting “the end of social” and I think what they actually mean is “the end of social as we know it.”
  2. You won’t care about social media anymore. “Social” will become a parallel offering– not a differentiator. Oh wait. That already happened– even this novelty “flatulence gift underwear” company has a “social” presence.
  3. I lied, I only have two predictions, but who wants to read a post titled “2 Predictions About the Future of Social”?
  4. Psych! Here you go, Prediction 3 about the future of social: in 12 months, all the predictions made by talking heads in fancy suits skinny jeans, flannel shirts, and stocking caps, will look like the intro to the Jetsons. Speaking of which, where is my flying car?

Ok, here’s the point: calling something social doesn’t make it social. Having a Facebook page or a Twitter account doesn’t make your brand social. On the other hand, we humans are social people, so everything is social already. The trick is figuring out what part of your product/service/experience we humans actually care about, and building a clear, compelling, consistent story around that. Easy.

Failure Sucks

You know what? Failure friggin sucks. Seems like there’s been a lot of buzz over the past few years about Failure Chic– how it’s ok to fail. It’s ok to crash & burn. But it seems to me that most of these blog posts and articles are written by people who’ve never experienced true failure. The kind where you’ve put in everything you have (and then some!)– money, emotional energy… even years of your precariously short little life– and yet you find yourself holding the shattered scraps of a once-vivid dream. There are no redeeming qualities about failure. Saying “but I learned from it” is just a lame attempt to rationalize that steaming pile of cognitive dissonance slopping around in your brain. I think our recent glorification of failure is an #EpicFAIL. Like cat-stuck in-a-birdcage-fail

Because we can learn from our successes just as much as we can from our failures. So, what I’d rather see is a switch from Failure Chic to Learning Chic. Steve Jobs said he realized after he was ousted from Apple (sorry, obligatory Apple reference) that making awesome stuff in an awesome company should be the goal rather than profits. Success should be a byproduct of a lifelong love of learning.

So, forget failure. And forget success. Let’s learn how to make awesome stuff.

Process, People, and Sacred Cows

“I’m sorry. I can’t do that. It’s not part of our process.”

“I’m sorry we billed you three times for the same thing. Our process had some hiccups.”

“Sorry, but our process requires [insert absurdly long time frame] to make the changes you’ve requested.”

Milton, from Office Space, and his red stapler
I worked at a place once the had TPS Reports. For real.

Sound familiar? When we’re making the process, we’re doing it to make life easier. And it sure does work. It makes our life so much simpler. Don’t have to rethink every project. Don’t have to brainstorm an answer to every question. But then it becomes a real boy, and we focus on the process, rather than the people we built the process to serve.

Or, it could become a sacred cow. Maybe it’s time to make a steak out of that cow.

You’re Wrong

you're doing it wrong

When someone is clearly wrong about something, my first reaction is to tell them so. I’ve never really found that to be a great way to get someone to see the Truth, though.

Think about it this way: we make choices based on the information available. We used to know that the Earth was the center of the universe. Until it wasn’t. The speed of light was as fast as anything can go. Until it wasn’t. (Well, maybe).

So, if your customer is always right (even when they’re wrong), what’s a marketer to do? Help them feel validated and understood with some active listening. Ask questions about their assumptions. For this, I love to use IDEO’s Five Whys.

You can’t help shift their perspective until you truly understand it.

Truth(iness) In Advertising

Pacific Ocean Sunset
Pacific Ocean Sunset via jxb345 on Flickr

I had a poetry professor tell me once “don’t tell. Show.” We were supposed to write a poem about the color blue. I picked a trip to the California coast. She wanted me to show what that smelled like, felt like, looked like, sounded like. She didn’t want a true story– she didn’t want me to simply inform her. She wanted me to tell a story about the peace I felt watching the sun slink into the Pacific. She wanted a story about Truth. She wanted me to inspire.

When you tell stories about your product, are you informing or inspiring?

If you’re informing, you’re telling true stories about the product. But you’re not telling me why I should care.

If you’re inspiring, your product is telling stories about Truth. You’re making meaning, and connecting me with it. That’s way better than some lame feature dump.

The best stories inspire and inform.

P.S. If you’re not quite sure, you’re probably telling Truthiness stories– the kind of stories that give all marketers a bad name. So stop it.

P.P.S. Check out Tom Nies excellent Change This Manifesto about True stories, Truth stories, and storyselling.

Facebook Doesn’t Get It

Facebook has begun the The Inevitable Letdown. It was innovative. It was cool. It was fun. But Zuckerberg is so damned paranoid that some little startup is going to deflate his behemoth, that he’s clearly created a reactive culture. They are focusing on competitors more than customers (users). Let me count the ways:

  1. Geolocation & checkins: Facebook saw Foursquare and its ilk getting users to produce vast amounts of time & location data. Data that could be harvested to create revenue streams from partners & advertisers. Voila, Facebook Places. People predicted it was the death sentence for all the “smaller” players. Facebook would essentially be the schoolyard bully and squash them (by sitting on them, I guess). What they didn’t consider is who the average foursquare user is, and how they compare to the average Facebook user. The average Facebook user plays Farmville and believes Facebook will start charging unless they paste a stupid message (from their other stupid friends) to their wall. Ok, that’s a little harsh. How about this instead: the average Facebook user has a real life outside the interwebs, and they see Facebook as relatively passive entertainment experience. Checking in to a Place is not passive.
  2. Privacy and Google+: Ok. Most of Facebook’s moves lately [cough]Timeline[/cough] are me-too responses to Google Plus. Privacy, particularly. Sure, Facebook introduced new privacy control tools. But they don’t want you to be private. Their privacy strategy is a classic example of Confusopoly.
  3. Photo filters and Instagram: I can has filters? Apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram make even the most bland pic of a sleeping cat look artsy and fun. They’re kind of like autotune, but for pictures. Facebook wants in on this trend. Adding filters to photo uploads means more time spent on Facebook. Wich means more ad revenue. Here’s what I think they’re missing: using a third party app let’s me share to places other than Facebook– Twitter, Flickr, etc.

The list actually goes on and on. But here’s the point: sure, understanding your competition helps you avoid getting sucker punched by some startup. But if all you’re doing is dodging punches, you’ll inevitably lose sight of the one thing you have in common with your competitors: the customer. If you truly understand your customers’ trials and triumphs, you’ll be able to satisfy their unarticulated needs. And then the competition is chasing you!

Understanding your competitors is good. Understanding your customer is better.

The Grayscales of Justice

I saw this from a friend on Facebook today:

Remember when teachers, public employees, Planned Parenthood, NPR and PBS crashed the stock market, wiped out half of our 401Ks, took trillions in TARP money, spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico, gave themselves billions in bonuses, and paid no taxes?
Yeah, me neither.

I understand the sentiment. And I agree. But I don’t like it. It furthers the us vs. them mentality that’s plaguing our culture. Creating and demonizing an “other” is good for trying to differentiate yourself in an election. Well, that and bumper stickers. But it’s terrible for actually trying to live your life. Because life isn’t us vs. them– there is only us. Most of the time.

Extremes make for good story arcs. But stories– with heroes and villains– are just how we try to make sense of the chaos of our existence after the fact. We look back at the series of events that got us here (wherever “here” is), and find patterns. We like patterns– they’re shortcuts. They require less cognitive effort than decoding, analyzing, categorizing, and acting on every stimulus life throws at us. So, it’s easier for us to look back at the fucked up things that happened over the course of this Great Recession and demonize the greedy bastards that caused it.

We’re the victims, after all, right? Yes. And no. Yes, because we truly were damaged when our nest eggs got scrambled. Yes because some people will never have as much as they did prior. No, because our insatiable appetite for More– more house, more car, more More— meant we consumed as much as we could at the cheapest price possible. Corporations– and the very intelligent imbeciles on executive teams and boards of directors– are no different than Pavlov’s Dogs: reward them for making cheap shit and they’ll make even More cheap shit. Reward them for subsidizing our consumption by reducing their costs however they can, and they’ll keep doing it. Then, of course, we lament when “our” jobs– manufacturing, sofware development, whatever– are outsourced to cheaper labor markets. We’re at fault because we were just as greedy as those Wall Street assholes. We’re at fault– all of us– because we forgot that More doesn’t equal better. It might be comforting to tell a binary story of good vs. evil– a story of us vs. them– in simple black & white terms.

But life isn’t black & white. It’s grayscale.

How To Be An Awesome Blogger In 3 Easy Steps

1. Break a complex subject into
2. Three arbitrary & meaningless steps
3. Title your post “How To [insert complex subject] In 3 Easy Steps”
4. Always include a fourth “bonus” step. E.g.: Profit! Eat a donut! or (my fave) Skip to Ma Lou My Darlin!

See? It’s simple. Like this stick man walking up some stairs.

stick man walking up stairs

I’m Sick of Clever

Superman logo graffiti
"Falling Heroes" via Pensiero on Flickr
Rick Liebling just wrote an interesting piece about bringing real storytelling back to advertising. I’ve been thinking along the same lines. So many ads try to be clever– and many succeed. But I’m sick of clever. Pardon me for a sec while I mix metaphors, but clever is the bubble-gum pop music approach: all sugar, no substance. Ok, back to storytelling. If your product or service is truly good– awesome, even– you have an emotional connection with your market in there somewhere. Even with commodities, like milk & eggs.
So, how would you do it? How would you tell a compelling story, 30-60-90 seconds at a time, over three months? What if you used Joseph Campbell’s monomyth framework of a hero’s journey from “Hero With A Thousand Faces.” Each stage of the hero’s journey could be broken up into a couple 30, 60, or 90 second spots. The three meta-stages stages of the hero’s journey could be divided up as follows:
  • Month one is Departure: Call to Adventure, first part of Road of Trials
  • Month two is Initiation: second part of Road of Trials, The Boon
  • Month three is Return: Return to the Ordinary World, and Application of the Boon

The trick will be getting a company with enough money and daring to take on such a project. A hero company, even.