18 February, 2010

Tweet Unto Others As You Would Have Them Tweet Unto You (and other marketing advice)

I’m neither a Luddite nor a technophobe nor a late adopter but I was able to predict what a mess Twitter would become because I am old enough to remember the last time technology made it possible for people to never have an unedited, uncensored, unbroadcasted thought. Remember CB radio?

And some of Twitter’s worst offenders are the so-called “social media marketing experts” who, it turns out, were probably irritating CB radio operators in a former life.

From the start, while I admired the technology of Twitter, I knew what happened when you put a microphone in the hands of anybody who wanted to broadcast so I knew what would happen when anybody could tweet to anybody foolish enough to follow those tweets. No, I’m not talking about those harmless but trivial tweets that say something like “I’m at the Town Center mall. Anybody want to meet me for a cup of coffee?” I actually had a cup of coffee with my old schoolmate, Rick Lee, as a result of one of those tweets and it was nice. Rick and I hadn’t talked much since high school so we had a lot to catch up on.

No, I’m talking about the people who want to take the “social” out of “social media”, people who see every new surface as a place to splash a logo and every new technology as a way to extend their marketing careers for a few years by selling themselves as “new media marketers”.

Ever since a friend of mine warned me that he had given my name to a professional society made up of techies and engineers and scientists who want a one hour speech on the topic of “Marketing In The Electronic Era” I’ve been thinking a lot about what I might say to them if, indeed, I get the invitation. I might tell them this: Tweet unto others as you would have them tweet unto you.”

I might tell them what I told a non-profit group recently – that Elvis Presley’s old manager, Colonel Parker, was on to something when he protected Elvis from media overexposure. There’s an old show business axiom that says, “Leave them wanting more.”

I’m not one to block and tell but a few months ago I blocked several of Charleston’s “marketing experts” from tweeting me because they seemed to think if they tweeted a dozen times every day whether they had anything to say or not that they had “marketed” to me.

Here’s a news flash: your Twitter followers don’t want to be marketed to. Shouldn’t the people who portray themselves as “marketing geniuses” or “marketing gurus” actually know something about humans and that humans are likely to block their tweets if those tweets become annoying?

For the record, I have never called myself a marketing guru or a marketing genius. Some men are born to marketing, others achieve marketing while still others - like me - have marketing thrust upon them. I had marketing thrust upon me about 100 years ago when my general manager fired the ad agency and suddenly put me in charge of all things communications. His reasoning was that I did some freelance writing so I, presumably, knew how to write so, thought he, I could write radio ads, TV ads, newspaper ads, billboard ads, brochures, etc., and manage a budget. I'm sure the boss figured that if I screwed up he could hire back the ad agency. I won't pretend that I didn't make mistakes but he never rehired the ad agency so, over the years as I moved to other companies and on to GM jobs I retained the marketing function for myself.

If I get invited to speak to the techies about “Marketing In An Electronic Age” I may tell them it’s much more important for a marketer to know people than to know technology. It’s not cell phones and computers and Apple iPads that make buying decisions, it’s the people who own those devices who make buying decisions. If you don’t know people, if you don’t have empathy for people, you can’t market.

Here’s a good use of Twitter – one that’s welcome to followers who voluntarily signed up to follow exactly such tweets: a restaurant that tweets EXACTLY one time each day to tell followers their special of the day. Now that’s a good use of social media because there’s a kind of relationship and trust between a restaurant and its “regulars”.

Again, I won’t name names but here is a poor use of social media: a certain retail clothing store that used to send out expensive mailers advertising their spring and fall sales now has a Facebook page on which they “announce” these sales. But there’s a problem. You have to actually go to their Facebook page to see this info because, apparently, nobody at the store knows how to create an “event” or an invitation so that Facebook will actually SEND this announcement to page followers who have – let me remind you – signed up to receive such notifications. This is an example of knowing neither humans nor technology. Humans – even humans who like to spend money with you – won’t go to your Facebook page or your website to look for your sales and your marketing.

Oh, and there’s another problem: the retail store’s clerks don’t ask customers to sign up for the Facebook page. And there’s no computer on the retail sales floor where they can show customers what they’re signing up for. Customers have to remember to go home, look at the page and then sign up.

Humans won’t do that. Not many of them, at least. When I first checked the retailer’s Facebook page they had 52 followers or fans. Yesterday I checked it and they have 49 followers.

You can’t save money replacing post cards with social media unless you actually use the social media properly. To do this, you have to know something about the technology but you have to know even more about humans and how humans behave, think and feel.

Now, if I speak to a group of scientists, engineers and techies, I might have to establish my own techy bona fides so I might have to tell them that I worked in the R&D area of a Fortune 400 hi-tech company for years before some of my own R&D brethren realized I wasn’t a marketing guy. Why? Because I was the guy in the room who was always predicting how end users and retailers would react to various proposed courses of action. I used to think being human was the only qualification needed for having empathy for humans but that was before I knew about sociopathy, Asperger’s and engineers.

There goes the speaking gig.

But if there were a speaking gig maybe I should tell them what I learned from recruiting marketing people for clients: that advanced degrees and 20 years of highly-paid marketing jobs at IBM or Ford don’t make someone a marketing guru. Maybe I should tell them that even so-called marketing geniuses who taught marketing in college might not know that an advertising schedule isn’t a marketing strategy.

Or maybe I should tell them that they are going to hear sales pitches from so-called marketing gurus who haven’t read a book on marketing or branding since college. No, I’m not making that up. When I interview people I always ask them to tell me what they read and how that reading has influenced them or informed their work. You’d be appalled at how many so-called marketing people don’t actually read anything about branding or marketing and then get mad at me when I cut the interview short and tell them they’re not what I’m looking for.

In fact, you’d be appalled at how many so-called marketing people can’t read a very simple case study on a fictitious company and identify the obvious marketing challenge that I went to great pains to describe.

But most of all, if I am invited to speak to a roomful of entrepreneurial engineers, maybe I should tell them that most so-called marketing gurus who want to market their widgets for them will want to build them the same website they built for a plumber and a gas station and an accounting firm and that these so-called marketing geniuses won’t know how to come up with a marketing strategy for their own unique business because they won’t first take the time to actually learn what’s uniquely different about that widget business and its prospective clients.

And, of course, I have to suck up to them by quoting HP co-founder, Dave Packard, who correctly said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” In other words, while engineers shouldn’t have to learn marketing they will have to learn marketing if they start their own company so they can spot the charlatans and the snake oil salesmen.

And, of course, wherever I go I quote Harry Beckwith who said, “Marketing is not a department.”

But if they remember to tweet unto others as they would have others tweet unto them I have served mankind.

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