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Shallow Marketing

February 5, 2014

I really love this guy,  .  And I totally agree with him in his second episode “Why a Personal Media Brand Beats “Marketing” Every Time“.  In fact here I am again asking myself, ‘why couldn’t I have expressed my thoughts as well as he has on… thought leadership (I never liked that term, it felt pointless—I get that people who loved to call themselves thought leaders may have shared some excellent ideas, but what good is an idea if it only stayed that way?  The real leaders were able to influence their followers into transforming their businesses or even personal lives into something better, and along the way have given them specific guidelines to assist them in their success); shallow marketing (when marketers try to make a lot of noise to keep reminding people that a certain brand exists though they have nothing new to offer, or when they try to hoard ‘likes’ that mean nothing for the long-term relationship of the brand with its customers and stakeholders); and design without substance (when designers only focus on the eye-candy but not the overall user/audience experience and with very little thought for purpose, information architecture, data tables that scale appropriately, or a pleasant site process).’  I may not have the right words to elaborate the whys of what I feel but I’ll give it a try, and hopefully I can make a reasonable defense for my observations and somewhat outrageous reactions.  Today I have focused on shallow marketing.

There are many things I don’t like about marketing and advertising, but I’m not sure how to say them without sounding (maybe) dramatic.  I know that marketing and advertising are different but related disciplines, and I talk about them together because their bottom lines are the same.   At a very young age I believed there was something wrong with the advertisements or campaigns I’ve seen which I didn’t trust because of the obvious motivation behind them; usually to distract people from what was really happening, to get people’s money, or win their votes before the object being advertised is proven trustworthy.  I always felt the purpose of advertising and marketing was to con people or make them believe something that isn’t true, especially when they get a clueless celebrity to endorse a product or candidate, and that celebrity has no real authority or knowledge about the truthfulness of the claims they were endorsing.  Even after new media (or the internet) has developed, I still have a certain distrust with the terms ‘marketing’ and ‘advertising’.  Especially since I witnessed my dad who was a freelance jingle producer (…he made music for TV and radio commercials back in the day when its music was played live with real instruments in a recording studio, up to the time when music production made its shift to digital with synthesizers and computers… ) found that it was getting more and more difficult to get paid on time by the agencies that hired him—between a month to a year, and that was just ridiculous!  Even if he was keeping himself up to date with the latest equipment and produced memorable music, the industry and the business was changing with younger musicians demanding far less for their talent while producing mediocre music, and the agencies prioritizing cost-cutting while prolonging the release of payment for their contractual hires in the project.  After that I learned that the real motivation behind producing commercials and any marketing effort was simply to make money.  An agency will take on any project that would mean a profit even if the product or celebrity was bad, and to get more profit they won’t pay the people they contracted for the project on time, if at all, because my dad has also experienced not getting paid.  So he left that industry to focus on church service and became a happier man.  Meanwhile my distrust for advertising and marketing evolved to disdain.

You might think it’s unfair that I let my feelings about advertising affect a broader discipline that is marketing.  But to me, that’s like blaming the messenger for the bad news and not the message itself or the author of that message.  Bad advertising starts from bad marketing… and if you were to dig to the deepest roots, it could begin with the bad motivation of a bad business, person or entity.  Everyone is affected when the root is bad business… the people asked to do the marketing strategy will have to lie and bend rules, advertisers have to cheat and cut corners, and the audience is once again made a fool.  To mask bad business (or bad marketing), marketers resort to ‘entertainment’.  Keep the audience amused, dangle a carrot to give them hope, pick a few lucky ones to make that hope believable, and no one will complain about the real issues.  Shallow.

I find it a useless activity to participate in promotional contests for a chance to win temporal things, when I would prefer the company behind the product to give me better quality, better service and best price every time.  I don’t want to rely on luck to be satisfied, what I really want is consistency.  How can they win my loyalty when all I am to them is some statistic or peso-value?  Maybe even worse is while I already am a loyal customer, the company gives more incentive for new customers to join than for me to remain… I think when marketing thinks that way, they’re missing the point.  You should reward your loyal customers so that new customers have something to look forward to if they stick with your brand.  Otherwise your existing customers will feel used or cheated, then they leave.

Let’s talk about clever ads… Seeing something clever is only enough to make me notice a brand, but it won’t be enough to make me trust it.  A ‘Clever ad‘ is the formula nowadays to make people change their minds about something or buy in to something.  But regret usually follows after being hopeful that you’re transferring to a ‘better’ brand or service provider, when you realize that they’re actually no different from the other one you just left (or they might be even worse).  And how about this one… Let me just say that I see no point in advertising a company that already has monopoly over a business or industry.  It is insulting when a company that knows its customers have no choice but to acquire their services, come out with an ad that demonstrates a completely opposite scenario from what their customers actually experience… that’s blatantly making a fool out of people.  And marketing is used to make this sad state of consumers look good.

Alright.  It appears I’m blaming the weapon (marketing or advertising) and not the murderer (the true motive of the business or personality) for the harming the victim (the audience).  But oftentimes marketing is used for deception (revealing only partial truth) and exploiting a bad situation (adding flame to controversy).  And this exploitation has also become the trick of the trade, a common practice, the norm.  If the marketer doesn’t take advantage of an opportunity to exploit, he’s the marketing dumb-dumb… so the practice itself has been corrupted.  But let me be fair, I don’t assume that all marketing/advertising agencies operate the same way.  Many do, but not all, just look for the gems out there.

This is why I’m loving Brian’s articles so far, because he explains beautifully how marketing and advertising don’t really work when exploited—at least that’s my take.  To be clear, Brian’s point of view in his second episode is faaaar from my darker point of view.  He talks about an attention-hungry generation that wants to be famous for fame’s sake without proving their value to society or giving back anything to their audience other than amusement.  Brian says to call someone “famous for being famous” is an insult, and I agree.  Now imagine a similar scenario at a much larger scale… a company or brand or business that is hungry for publicity and resorts to all kinds of gimmick to keep people talking about them and buying their products.  But apart from that, they do very little to address complaints about their poor customer service and overpriced substandard products, and overall they offer far less value than what their customers pay for.  But here’s the deception, they make it appear like they’re doing something about the problem as they repackage the same banana and remove what little value it has left.  Because instead of spending more money for developing a better product and a more efficient customer service, they thought it would be cheaper to spend it on advertising so that they can trick people into giving more for much less, and with marketing’s help the company still looks good ripping people off.  Evil, isn’t it?

Wow… I’m too negative… maybe it’s one of those days…  But to be fair, I also believe that marketing can only be as shallow as the motives of the company or personality behind it.   Most of the time.   Putting aside the bad business and the bad motives, sometimes you find good businesses or well-meaning personalities involved in bad marketing strategies.  Most especially when that strategy is comprised of today’s unholy trinity: A celebrity pretending to be an expert (or what have you) + an overly reused and repackaged campaign + very heavy push to get social media ‘likes’ as if that was the only thing that mattered.  It’s really annoying when customers are encouraged to like a brand for its gimmicks rather how good the brand really is… I’d probably understand it if there’s nothing exceptional about what they offer, but how sad if a brand is truly exceptional and yet marketers still have to resort to that.  It’s one of those tactics used to get that short term spike in their analytics and whatever tool they’re using for measuring ROI, because it gives the illusion that things are getting better.  But if a brand were really that good or has that much potential, wouldn’t it be worth the time and effort to develop a long-term strategy that slowly develops both the brand (its products and services) and its customers so that a deeper relationship is formed?  A relationship where the brand is sincerely committed to improving itself because they want to give back more to its customers, and the customers are not just loyal to the brand, they have also become its evangelists.  But because this approach is a very long and costly process, very few take it.  Many marketers today are lazy because they prefer the quick fix though its results are superficial.  You can also tell the product of lazy marketing from the quality of content produced.  Borrowed, saturated topics, you can tell they hired some copywriter to rewrite them but nothing really new is presented.  ‘Genuine‘ is very hard to find nowadays.

Now I’m not a fan of Oprah and I have my own personal reservations about her, but let me try to be objective.  From what I’ve seen in her shows she strikes me as someone who embodies authority, authenticity and leadership in that she gets her followers to trust what she says.  She appears to be an expert in ‘living life to the fullest’ and inspiring people to be the best that they can be… and partly I think what made her seem authentic and such a lead-magnet was her grand generosity and how she reached out to people.  She also loved to share the success stories of other people, especially women.  I think Oprah understood the value of “Personal Media Brand” in a way nobody else has in her early years, because she patiently established her brand which is her name and herself all these years, being consistent in her persona, being more thoughtful each year of her audience to establish a relationship with them, and perhaps being more careful in keeping a pleasing reputation for the majority.  She did something no other person or entity invested on, and now all her (and her network’s) efforts are paying off.  Because she took the time to earn her audiences’ trust, the role of marketing/advertising and her brand name has somehow reversed.  If before, marketing and advertising would promote her and her shows to build her up, now Oprah is the perfect endorser for any of her network’s campaigns, or even the campaigns of other personalities she is friends with.  Her network’s marketing efforts and numerous campaigns are benefiting from the pull of her name… this is the power of a personal media brand that mere marketing or advertising doesn’t have.  Her words are gold, many people will believe it just because she said it, which is why today marketing her smaller campaigns have become effortless.  People watch her shows, visit her fan page, her audience makes the effort to reach out to her and even defend her—meanwhile it takes Oprah minimal effort to reach her 9.4 million fans on her fan page and 2.2 million for the “OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network” page (as of this post).  Her very name has been a long-term campaign that carries on her purpose to this day.  This long-term campaign is where many marketers, advertisers and brands miss the mark or don’t even aim for at all.  Most marketers are so preoccupied with the now and the activity-for-the-month that they lose sight of the future and what-the-brand-really-stands-for.  Quick results (though short-lived) appear to have have more value than the longevity of a trustworthy brand name, and that requires patience to develop which many don’t have.  This is why I agree with Brian when he said “…Personal Media Brand Beats Marketing Every Time”…  he articulated very well what I’ve always felt about the pointlessness of shallow marketing, and in a way he just described Oprah.

(Are you sure you’re not an Oprah fan?  Yes I’m sure, because I’m a JESUS fan.  He takes the cake on “Personal Media Brand”, no one else comes close.  For a Jesus fan you’re so negative.  Shut up.)

There is one exception…

Boo.  Boo is the cutest dog in the world. He has nothing else to offer but amusement.  His demeanor and willingness to dress for the occasion gets him 9.5 million fans (as of this post—but I kid you not it was 9.4 yesterday) in just six years (since he was born).  People just love him and are drawn to him for the ball of cuteness that he is.  But even if he is a dog, his master knew that to make him memorable he needed to have purpose.  He stands for cuteness, freedom of dogs, a dog’s right to live happily with a loving family, and his lasting friendship with his best pal, Buddy.  Because of his fame, he has also become a very effective endorser of designer products.  Life is really good for Boo.  The point is this; his campaigns are simple, the marketing strategy might be considered shallow, but hey, he’s a dog and that’s all he needed to reach people’s hearts!  So unless you’re a dog who is as cute as Boo, to be a successful personal media brand you’re going to have to do it the long way.  Establish your authority by being an expert and a valuable source of information (it might also help to invite other experts in your ‘show’), be authentic and might I add sincere, be generous without expecting anything in return, and be a real leader that knows how to care for your audience.

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