Marketing Cynics Never Win

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading a roundtable discussion on marketing strategy with a group of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Halfway through the exchange, as often happens during conversations about marketing strategy, the discussion eventually turned to social media.

As a devoted advocate for the use of social media as a business tactic, I explained the marketing successes I have witnessed and been a part of using the communications medium.

While most people in the room were very curious and asked excellent questions, I’ve found that there is inevitably at least one vocal cynic in every group I speak to. This group was no exception.

One of the attendees who owned a small business in Washington, DC (I won’t mention the business) didn’t believe in social media and seemed more focused on criticizing it than learning about it or even trying it (for more than a few weeks). At one point this person even asked everyone in the room who used Twitter to raise a hand. Only two people in the room did so, me being one of them (there were 12 people in the room). While this didn’t surprise me since everyone in the room was there with the goal of learning more about marketing strategy and social media as a component, the lack of hands seemed to be all the evidence this small business owner felt she needed to prove her point that “no one uses Twitter” and that doing so would be a waste of time.

It took every ounce of energy I had to refrain from pointing out that her cynicism might be the reason her business was failing. Instead I held my tongue and replied that “social media may not be right for every business (although if properly executed, I believe her business would be PERFECT for it), but social networking is how people communicate today and its use will only grow. Therefore, ignoring it could be a mistake”.

While I don’t think I convinced her to reconsider, I couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of pity. Her dedicated cynicism is unlikely to lead to success. Do any of us know a hard core cynic that is a successful business leader? Of course not; because successful business leaders are willing to learn and take risks. They embrace change and innovation. They seek out new opportunities. Many of the most successful business leaders in the world failed many times before they succeeded. But they picked themselves up off the ground, brushed themselves off and got back on the horse.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t take precautions to minimize risk. But to avoid the unknown or fail to recognize and adapt to change will never lead you to the pot of gold. Anyone remember Smith Corona? Once the most successful manufacturer of typewriters and word processors in the world; they failed to adequately adapt to the advent of the home computer. Now they only manufacture word processor supplies and portable typewriters. I didn’t realize anyone actually used typewriters and word processors anymore. What a lost opportunity!

If you know of anyone who is a virulent cynic, do them a favor and get them a copy of the book Who Moved my Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson, M.D. It will change the way they think…unless they see it from a cynic’s point of view….

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Are they still Immutable?

Here is an interesting quote from a recent Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey :
"Recommendations by personal acquaintances and opinions posted by consumers online are the most trusted forms of advertising globally. The Nielsen survey shows that 90% of online consumers worldwide trust recommendations from people they know, while 70% trust consumer opinions posted online."
Wow! Trusting recommendations from people you know doesn’t surprise me. However, the percentage of consumers who now trust recommendations from people they don’t know and have never even met is pretty staggering!

I know this may sound like a cliché, but we really DO live in a new world. Brand loyalty and corporate reputations can both be built or destroyed across the globe with the touch of a mouse. Some businesses might look at this an extremely dangerous paradigm. However, to smart businesses, interactive global communications makes goal setting a whole lot easier. Focus on product quality, value, customer service and transparency. Do these well and your odds of succeeding improve substantially. Do these poorly and your reputation will be smeared around the world faster than you can cash an unemployment check.

This morning a colleague shared with me the philosophy of another marketer with whom we do business. He said that good companies cannot succeed with an average product regardless of how much money they invest in marketing. My immediate response was “This is certainly true, but hardly enlightening”. However, his comments led me to go back and reread The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.  Remember that book by Ries & Trout? For years it served as the marketing bible!

According to the book, the first law of marketing is “Better to be first then to be better”. I found myself reading this law over and over again. After eyeballing the statistics above on consumer recommendations, I couldn’t help but question whether or not law #1 still holds true. In 1993, to be the first to launch a new product meant you were likely to control the market for years to come, regardless of whether a competitor launched a better product just months after you. However, that was before consumers could so easily influence one another so quickly, and in such large quantities, through the internet. Social media, didn’t exist (in digital form anyway) when the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing was first published sixteen years ago. And I certainly don’t believe the authors could foresee how technology would soon have such an enormous impact on consumer behavior. As a result of these technological innovations, it appears that “first” and “better” may be showing signs of balancing out on the scale of marketing laws.
So in today’s value based economy, combined with instant global communication; is being first still more important than being better?? With just a bit of tentativeness, I have to say “yes”, but certainly “better” is gaining ground.
Anyway, I could go through my opinions on all 22 of Ries & Trout’s Immutable Laws of Marketing, but I’d love to know what you think. Which laws still hold true today? Which ones are outdated? And do you think any new laws should be added to the list?
And for those of you with supervisors who still don’t believe in the power of social media…share the statistics above when you’re developing your next strategic marketing plan. I can’t think of a more powerful argument to support your case.

A Marketing Lesson Learned in High School

As the President of the Washington, DC chapter of the American Marketing Association, I recently had the privilege of speaking to a class of high school students about marketing. I won’t mention the high school, because some of you may have students there.

When I first arrived, I wanted to get a lay of the land. So I spoke to the teacher as I had several times before. She explained the students’ level of marketing knowledge in a bit more detail than she had in previous conversations, and outlined the course curriculum, so I was aware of what subjects may be a bit too advanced for them, and what might require just a little more explanation.

My plan was pretty simple. I wanted to give some information about my educational and professional background; explain the mission and goals of the AMA; discuss some recent marketing trends; and facilitate a dialogue about what they were learning in their marketing class, followed by a Q & A.

That was the plan…

What I quickly learned was that there was ONE question I should have asked before I ever agreed to the presentation: “How many of you are interested in pursuing marketing in college or as a profession?”

When I finally did ask that question at the start of my discussion, I was disappointed to see only a few hands go up out of a class of 30. I suddenly felt a surge of heat pulsate through my body as it became painfully clear that to most of the students in the room, this may very well be the ever-popular…”blow off class”! This was not a core class, it was an elective. Since few wanted to pursue marketing, they must have thought it would be easy. I should have known!

OK I thought…If they’re not interested, I’m going to win them over. I’ll engage them with some compelling information, humorous anecdotes and fascinating case studies. Wow! What a marketing geek I am!

My intro started out fine. But once I got into the discussion portion of the presentation, you would have thought that every student in that room believed they would spontaneously combust if they raised their hands. From there things just went downhill. The heads started to fall down on the desks, the cell phones came out, the yawns seemed to last for days, and the eyes began looking in every direction but mine (mostly inside their eyelids)! Now granted, it was 7:30 in the morning, which is pretty early for a group of adults, much less teenagers, so that may have played a role.

Regardless, I found myself starting to dig for additional subjects to touch on, going back to my days in the radio business hoping that discussions about music, DJs and concerts might pull them back from the point of no return. Unfortunately - I don’t think I the rope I threw was long enough. I had lost them.

It was a humbling feeling.

I have given successful presentations and interviews to professionals, graduate students, the media, and conferences of hundreds! But somehow, someway - I managed to lose a class of 30 teenagers. How could this happen?! Here I was, a seasoned marketer – yet I couldn’t adequately reach a group of “consumers” sitting right in front of me.

It certainly taught me something though. I’ll definitely know how to prepare for my next presentation to a group of high school students…if one is ever offered! I will engage them in a discussion about products that are important to them (which is at the core of my presentations on social media. Shame on me!). I made the mistake of believing that marketing was important to them, simply because they were in a marketing class. Why? Because I didn’t ask the right question until it was too late. I didn’t do my basic market research.

I guess it just goes to show you - know your audience, and don’t make assumptions. Chalk one up in the “lesson’s learned” column for me.

However, to the three students who seemed to find value and interest in my presentation…I humbly thank you.