A Quick Intro…
Eric here… I’m going to be writing for this publication on a semiregular basis, so it seemed appropriate for me to provide a quick introduction. A few things you should know about me going in: I have a famously volatile temper; I tend to drink too much; I often cuss at inappropriate times; and I’m a basketball fanatic (which means that I probably won’t achieve any real level of concentration in these pieces until after the NBA championships are over).
My Job Here…
I believe my job here is to think “outside the box.” This is like ascending to the peak of Everest — many have tried, but few have succeeded. That is, most people who believe they’re thinking outside the box have actually just stepped into another box. I assure you, I’ll at least change the shape of the box.
A Little Context…
I’m not quite sure why this is relevant, but it seems to be so: It’s 6:23 a.m. I’m on my fourth cup of coffee and writing this while listening to Prince at high volume.
Twisty Little Passages…
These are the thoughts that seem to continually reappear in the twisty little passages of my mind (don’t worry if you miss anything, we’ll be covering these in depth over the next few months):
1. No one pays attention to marketing anymore. This comment doesn’t usually play well to a room full of marketers. But come on, people, we’re among friends — we’ll call it our little secret. I mean, really — since when is a 1.2 percent response rate on an email newsletter considered a fantastic response? Let’s face facts: The best marketing garners no better than a 4 percent response. In my world, less than 4 percent equates to no one paying attention. Something is fundamentally broken with marketing.
2. Marketing is in a state of static equilibrium. Marketing is — oddly enough — a marketplace. Marketplaces have two essential components: supply and demand. Marketing’s current situation would seem to indicate an almost infinite supply of marketing and advertising, and a demand level that is effectually zero.
This state of apparent disequilibrium is actually a much more dangerous condition: static equilibrium. There is an equivalent situation in the futures markets — it’s called “lock limit down.” A lock limit down on the futures means that the sellers have overrun the buyers to the point that the buyers have basically disappeared. The market stops trading at lock limit down until a buyer emerges. This is the static equilibrium within which marketing currently exists.
3. There is demand for people with real voices. Part of marketing’s failure in the current environment is centered on this: There is nothing even remotely interesting about “corporate-speak.” We seem to harbor notions of “professionalism” that prevent us from speaking with our own voices. (David Weinberger has said, “The corporate world’s greatest fear is discovering its own humanity.”)
And as long as we’re on the subject, “humanity” doesn’t necessarily mean touchy-feely, “good” voices, either. Humans speak with an amazing range of diversity — in both opinion and voice. Examples of real voices offline include Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh, Ted Turner, Eminem, and Charles Barkley. Online examples include Christopher Locke, Dana Blankenhorn, and James Cramer.
4. Speaking with a real voice means appealing to fewer people. Notice anything about all of the people on that list? They each have a certain edge (yes, even Oprah), so that it is virtually impossible for them to appeal to a “mass” of people. They appeal to a specific group. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t highly successful, but it does illuminate a couple of salient points:
- Real voices are not too concerned with whether or not they offend.
- Real voices actually know who they are.
The first point illustrates a major carryover from mass marketing to modern marketing: appealing to the widest part of the bell curve. This is classic mass marketing — throw the net wide. And it of course means making sure not to offend anyone (or use big words, or be “too smart,” or sarcastic, or…). But truly successful voices break that mold — they are themselves.
Which brings us to the second point — Plato’s dictum: Know thyself.
Hint: Knowing yourself (at a corporation) has nothing to do with mission statements that drone on endlessly about “people being our greatest asset” and “customers being number one” while you provide “unparalleled X.” Knowing thyself will naturally lead you toward appealing to fewer people.
And that brings me to a doorway in these twisty little passages: If your voice can appeal only to a limited number of people, then your market can be only so big. Which would seem to mean that without the continual redefinition and innovation of your business, your business’s growth has a natural limit placed upon it.
My name is Prince, and I am funky…