Marketing: Up Close and Personal

Enjoy irony? You’re gonna love this. Like Thoreau, we’re always looking to simplify. Some of the simplest rules for living in general apply to life in e-biz. The irony is that the simplest rules can be the hardest to apply.

Take “To thine own self be true.” What? I thought marketing was about listening to customers.

It is, but you’re listening through your ears, filtering information about customers through your brain, and speaking to them with your voice. If you want them to trust you, you have to let them know who you are. Two tactics: Reveal yourself, and give your staff a public voice.

First, don’t be shy. On your site, staying true to yourself can be called “internal consistency.” It’s part of your branding strategy. Scott Bedbury, former marketing exec for Nike and now for Starbucks, suggests a long-term approach beginning with knowing yourself the core of your product. How? “The real starting point is to go out to consumers and find out what they like or dislike about the brand and what they associate as the very core of the brand concept.”

Your style of reaching out to your customers says something about who you are. The follow through, with stellar customer service, continues your story. You can take customer service a step further into customer education as a differentiator of your brand. Bedbury makes the point that a great brand taps into customers’ emotions. A few weeks ago, we talked about making your customers feel smarter than they were a minute ago. That’s an emotional connection they’ll return to again and again.

Involve the troops. Speaking of the emotion factor, the key players in your business have feelings, too. (You, yourself, may have a few.) Your own emotions, if your eyes are on this page, don’t make you run screaming from the thought of marketing. That’s not true for everybody. Some folks who create the products and services you’re trying to sell feel uncomfortable with the kind of manipulation that is central to marketing. Call it “perception engineering” all you want, the software engineer who holds the patent on your product thinks of marketing as a nonstop ride to the Seventh Circle of Hell, if he or she thinks about it at all.

The problem is that this “owner” of the product is probably its best advocate but he or she won’t give you the time of day. He or she (or the robot) believes the product is a category killer and the best value for consumers but fears that you’ll spin anything he or she tells you into some hyperbolic claim that will embarrass him or her. (You wouldn’t really do that, now would you?)

Try this tell the engineer you know he or she has something worthwhile to say to customers, and all you want to do is let him or her say it. Do not smirk! Let the product owner write his or her own message to customers. Have an editor correct linguistic errors, but let the owner’s personality and conviction about the product’s merits – shine through. Nothing conveys sincerity like, well, sincerity.

Then spread that strategy around. Give the people who answer customer service emails a voice on the site and newsletter. How about the folks who make and test the product, too? If you show respect for the actual words of employees speaking directly to their customers, at least two good things will happen:

  • The employees who think marketing is Machiavellian will realize that it’s just another packaging of communication no more vile or virtuous than the speaker’s intent.
  • They’ll come to trust you and bring you good ideas spontaneously, which makes your job easier.

Sometimes virtue is its own reward, and sometimes it has even more rewards.

Here’s another reward: Your customers might just find somebody they can identify with among your employees’ voices. Your staff members become known to your customers for the articles they write, their helpful hints page, and their responses to postings on the message board and to feedback or email. This puts a very personal face on relationship marketing. Customers who would have been critics flaming your site or product flaws on or with Third Voice will instead write to their helpful friends inside your shop with suggestions for improvement instead.

Don’t ya love it when one strategy makes your job easier and your business richer?

Homework: Next week, we’ll think about another global strategy that can have the same effect. Meanwhile, if you need coaching, you know where to find me.

Recess: If it’s later than 10 a.m., you need to take a break. Deskercise of the day: your ankles. I find that a delicate chain of gold and diamonds relieves pain better than magnets.

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