It's been a long day, and I've opted to put aside my session notes for now and post something else. (Don't worry, I'll be posting about WOMBAT all week, so we'll get back to the stuff that went on today.)
The truth is that I took a few hours once the day's sessions closed to relax, meet some of the finest people you'd ever expect to run into in the Marketing world, enjoy some good food, well mixed drinks and... unfortunately, some horrendous music to let all of the day's discussions kind of settle a bit and take on some kind of coherent thread.
I'm glad I did. By the time stamp on this post, you can tell it's late. (Even for a night owl like me.) And the events of the evening alone could fuel a few dozen posts of their own... from the conversations I had with Corante's Francois Gossieaux to the ten minute debate about deceptive Word-of-mouth tactics I just had with some homeless guy trying to convince me to donate money to his child rescue fund. (Don't ask.) This isn't the post in which I will tell you about the new dance moves I learned tonight by watching what may very well be the best damn accidental kung-Fu breakdancer the world has ever known. This isn't the post in which I will tell you about what an adventure it was to walk the thirteen or so blocks to the private after-party that took us right through some of San Francisco's poorest streets. This isn't the post in which I will tell you about what so and so said or did or presented today.
Nope, this is the post in which I am about to tell marketers who are still holding on to their illusion of control, that the game is up. That it's time for them to open their eyes and join the rest of us who have already let go of what we thought was true of our profession.
Yeah. It's going to be one of those posts. Another manifesto. Another diatribe. It was way overdue, and you know it. At any rate...
If surrendering your brand message to your customers scares you, don't worry. That's a perfectly normal reaction. (I would be worried if you weren't at least a little scared.) Marketing has been about command & control, top-down message crafting and delivery for as long as you've been earning a paycheck. Maybe even longer. You've just never really had a reason to question any of it until now.
The thing is... it's all been an illusion. Sure, you can tell people great stuff about the products you're selling. You can tell them how five blades will shave better than four, since four blades shave better than three, and three blades shave better than two, and so on. If the features aren't enough, you can bring a really cool looking guy into the mix and show him using the razor. You can make him look happy. Content. Perfectly satisfied with his perfect five-blade shave. You can make him look at his razor once his chin has been weaned of any semblance of hair in confident amazement, as if to say "dang, this thing really does
work!" If you're clever, you can even bring in a really pretty girl into the frame so she can run the back of her hands against the guy's jaw and be even more impressed by how clean shaven he is. By how handsome he looks, what, with his five-blade-shave and all. That shave made him so desirable, she can't keep her hands off him.
Wow, aren't those five-bladed razors cool and sexy and indispensable? Can you believe how much you've been missing all this time, shaving with a mere four-bladed razor? How did you ever live without them? Tsss...
You can convince people that torque and horsepower is what they need in a pickup truck. You can convince people that your new rust-colored Tibetan goat wool sweaters are their wardrobe's final missing puzzle piece. You can convince people that they're hungry and that they need a triple-decker bacon cheeseburger right now
. (Hey, it's only $1.99 too! What are they waiting for?!) You can talk and talk and talk, and you can sell and sell and sell, but you'd better get ready because that's all you'll be doing for the rest of your lives, and it's only going to get harder.
Your customers, they're being bombarded by hundreds of pitches a day. No, thousands. Billboards. Storefronts. Street signs. Radio and TV commercials. Print ads. Articles. News features. Product placement in their favorite shows and movies. Direct mail pieces. Their neighbors' T-shirts. Their neighbors' trash. The packaging in their own cupboards. Your customers, they can't go an hour without getting a faceful of brands. How do you expect to compete against everyone else? By creating better ads? By being in their faces more than the other guys?
By being the loudest advertiser in the room?
By spending more dollars on advertising and awareness campaigns?
Do you really think that consumers, people, with their busy schedules and their tolerance for the brand carpet-bombing they fall victim to every single day, do you really think they care about your message? About what you have to say
Do you really think that the control you have over your precious "message" and its delivery has anything to do with how they truly perceive your brand? Your products? Your customer service?
Do you think any of them would like you more if they were gently massaged with your mission statement and then body-wrapped in your growth doctrine haiku?
Do you really think that you have even an iota of control over what they say about you, how they say it, and who they say it to?
Do you really believe you ever did?
Since the dawn of time, since people started communicating, they have been sharing their experiences with one another: These blue berries are good. These red berries taste like cow dung and will give you terrible bellyaches (among other things). Hey, if you let the deer meat sit over the fire until it turns brown, it tastes pretty good and it's easier to chew. The water's cool, but once you're in, it feels great. Don't stand out in the rain like that; you'll catch a cold.
Fast forward to 1239 BC. Fast forward to 501 AD. Fast forward to 2006 AD. We're still talking about our experiences. In fact, that's almost all we talk about. All day. Face to face. On the phone. On the internet. We talk about what we like. What we don't like. What our favorite TV show is, or our favorite band, or our favorite restaurant.
What the worst customer service we've ever experienced. The worst tasting cola. The worst hotel in Paris. The leakiest faucet. The mp3 with the shortest battery life.
Not only do we share these experiences, but when we find people who have similar stories to tell, we instantly form a bond with them. Meet more than one, and you have a community. What we now call social networks. And now we use these social networks to share our feelings, our experiences with each other. On our terms. Whenever and however we want.
We talk about music. Politics. Religion. Brands. What we love and what we hate. What we wish companies would do to make our experiences better.
Now... again, I ask this: Do you think that your message has any bearing over how we experience your products? Over what we talk about when your brand comes up?
Do you really think that you ever had any control over any of it?
If so, think again.
Accept that your customers are in control of your brand's reputation. Accept that the message is nothing compared to the conversation that is already taking place out here in the real world. There's nothing to be scared about. There's nothing to let go of. Nothing to risk losing. You have been holding on to an illusion.
The truth is that your customers have been talking about their experience, not your message, and there has never been a time in human history when this wasn't the case.
So let go. It's okay. What you need to focus on is right over here, and it's this: Your product. The delivery on your promise. The thing that your customers actually get in their hands and/or interact with. Focus on the experience that your customer is going to have whenever he or she interacts with any part of what you make available (whether it's your customer's interactions with a website, a human touchpoint, or even something as simple as your product's user guide). Focus on turning your customers into empowered and passionate users.
It isn't to say that the message isn't important. There's context to define. There's information to share, There's positioning to establish. These things are important. Let people know you're there. Tell them what you'll do for them. Do so with style and panache and class. Entertain. Engage. Seduce. Win over. But above all, deliver.
Listen to what your customers want, and then give it to them. If they complain, fix the problem. If they don't, find ways to make their experience even better than it already is. Ask them what else they want, and then deliver that too. Listen. Learn. Create. Deliver. Become part of their dialogue. Part of their culture. Part of their everyday lives.
Word-of-mouth can't be bought. It has to be earned. If you want to be WOM-worthy, you have to create experiences that are worth talking about. The best shave in the world. The yummiest ice cream. The coolest customer service reps on the planet. The most hassle-free wireless plan ever put into action. At long last, the one laptop that will always interface perfectly with any projector, anywhere in the world, the first time you plug them together. The most engaging consumer-generated-content campaign you've ever seen. Whatever. Something. Anything. Whatever defines you, your product and your brand. Whatever sets you clearly apart from the rest of the guys spending millions of dollars trying to get your customers' attention for just thirty seconds. Twenty. Ten. Maybe five. Whatever they can get.
You want to be authentic? You want to be transparent? You want to be part of the WOMM game? You want your customers to love you and give you the kind of publicity money can't buy? Don't outspend or out-yell. Instead, outshine.
Yeah. It really is that simple.
It's really late. I'm going to bed. Tomorrow's almost here already, and it's going to be insanely long.
Tags: word of mouth