Saturday, May 15, 2010

But we're here to help you!

Many long years ago, I had a friend who was really struggling in life. I had tried to stand by this friend ever since I learned that they were dealing with the continuing weight of a major family tragedy. I balanced all of my reactions to this friend knowing that everything was tinged with that sadness and melancholy. I was supportive, I tried to stand up for this friend during arguments and what-not. But as this friend traveled further and further down the path of drug-induced paranoia and increased depression, they began to take words that I was offering as a friend as me lording over them somehow. They accused me of being too judgmental, a common cry among those suffering with substance abuse and other mental problems.

I was shocked, of course. I was just trying to be helpful. I was just trying to be a friend. But once my friend got the idea that I had different motives, my battle was lost.
I say this because I fear that companies and those in the marketing business could head for a similar face-off, and it worries me. I say this because while marketing has become increasingly more complex, so too have industries like manufacturing, exporting, really anything you can think of. I'm worried that at some point, marketers are going to forget that we are talking to people who are not immersed in our reality every day. Even more frightening - we could lose sight of what companies who need marketing advice are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

This idea first occurred to me several months ago when I attended a Social Media conference. A person was talking about the value of LinkedIn and how it can work for any kind of business, no matter what. A lot of our clients, like many other companies, have vast and complicated sales networks, and it occurred to me that a site like LinkedIn could potentially be really complicated for a company that uses several different reps, firms, or distributors. I raised my hand and asked whether a company might get into trouble if they connect with one firm but not another, or if they give a positive recommendation for one rep but not all reps. The person I was talking to had no idea how to answer my question and didn't really understand the core of what I was asking. And I admit, I was taken aback a bit.

Now, one could argue that a person can't be a master of all trades. If you want to be an expert in something, that means other things are going to have to be a lower priority. I get that. But here's my concern. Us marketers are going around tweeting and posting about everything from converting leads to sales to Facebook to Twitter to Foursquare. We are talking about campaign integration, we are talking about how print is not dead, and we are talking about how mobile marketing will not be the death of Social Media.
Who are we talking to?

To a person who is in middle management at a company, who may wear the hat of marketing director, sales director, and general office manager, the underlying sensation is that all of this marketing stuff sounds really great and important. It may also sound really expensive, not just monetarily but also in terms of time. And if we're not careful, as marketers, if we are not careful about keeping in touch with who actually needs this advice, if we are not careful about who actually is going to have to implement all of these great ideas that we have, the companies that need us are going to hesitate before calling on us. We are going to seem like we are just putting our hands in their pockets for reasons that we have not made clear. "Just trust me" is not going to cut it.

I'm not saying that those of us in the world of marketing should stop what we're doing and catch up on the basics of every single industry out there. But when we're talking about how Facebook is great for business, we should perhaps take pause and say, "Except if you're in this kind of business. In that case this might be better." Our profession is to help companies sell what they make or offer, and with the world economy fluctuating more than the ocean's tide, just that primary goal is endlessly complicated. Let's reach out and say, "Let's talk about you. Let's talk about how you can make sure that your sales force knows that you value everyone equally while you are expanding your use of Social Media. Let's talk about why print might still be the best option for you. Let's talk about why all of this talk about Foursquare is really not going to affect you right now."

Marketers talk a lot about honesty. I think we still have it. I think we still have integrity. But the companies who need all of this reading we're doing don't have time to look at webinar after webinar, article after article. They need to know why they should pay money for this or why they should invest time in that. And we should be able to answer those questions as experts in our business and as caring consultants to theirs.

Image by Charlotte Na.

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