Is Quality, Sustainable Marketing the Key, or Is Bigger Better?

We are certainly increasingly “digitally distracted.” How can we not be, with a smartphone in hand, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the toxic Twitter — binging and buzzing with notifications of everything from “the boss wants you in his office right now” to Aunt Mary reminding you of her birthday?

Is bigger better?

That’s a question being asked a lot lately; not only by marketers, but in almost every sphere of our existence.

“In a digitally distracted mediascape of fragmented attention — engagement is the name of the game for publishers now. Whether it is deepening direct connections to consumers, delivering real impact for advertisers, or building trust in your brand — quality matters now more than quantity.” Or so proclaims MediaPost.

There is a plentiful cornucopia for thought in that well-crafted come-on.

We are certainly increasingly “digitally distracted.” How can we not be, with a smartphone in hand, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the toxic Twitter — binging and buzzing with notifications of everything from “the boss wants you in his office right now” to Aunt Mary reminding you of her birthday? There are endless and equally compelling “bits and bobs,” all demanding attention, preferably immediately or ASAP.

There certainly ought to be an app — there probably is one or more that I don’t know about — which sorts through all that incoming traffic, assigns each a priority — based on some measure of quality — and only passes on the ones that matter. The app would pass on the ones which make my digital distraction worthwhile, the ones that truly engage. It may seem simplistic, but perhaps there is a good reason people get engaged before they get married.

But could an app be clever enough to identify quality, or even define it? Quality definitely has something magical about it, the same ephemeral, but indescribable quality which inspired Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s memorable definition of hardcore pornography, “I know it when I see it.”

Some years ago, at a ceremony thanking an American Ambassador for her support of a local NGO, she was presented with “a small gift.” Looking at the little blue box, the Ambassador smiled, thanked the giver and exclaimed: “You men really don’t understand. There is no such thing as a small gift from Tiffany.” She was instinctively crafting what could have been a great slogan for the store: It’s not the size, it’s the Tiffany that counts.

Since forever, commerce has been driven more by growth than quality. How few have been the examples of CEOs’ quarterly statements praising the company’s reducing revenue, even when accompanied by increased profits. It certainly goes against our capitalist cultural mainstream. “But will it scale,” ask the moneybags in evaluating whether the newest idea will become a unicorn? Perhaps something really is changing which will deliver the ability to “engage” to the forefront, rather than simply being able to “attract.” Then the unicorns of tomorrow may no longer be measured just by size.

We all know that almost any amount of attraction is for sale at so-much-per-thousand. Simply by spending more and more on marketing, we can even become household names. If there has ever been a particularly obscene example of this, one need look no further than the mega billions being spent on the 2020 U.S. election campaigns. In an age of “fake” news, will all of this expensive attraction be the best investment politicians can make in suspending voter disbelief and establishing a meaningful engagement with voters? How much of that spend will promote the truth and how much believed? Will the engagement be strong enough to be sure the prospect will vote the “right” way, whichever way that is?

Like what is in the Tiffany box, one of the rarest of gems existent today is the truth.

In a thoughtful column here a week or so ago, provocatively headlined: ‘The Truth Is, There Is No Truth — Let Alone in Advertising,’ Jeanette McMurtry wrote:

One thing we marketers need to also face is the how the “truth” we are putting out there is being received …

If anything has come out of the “fake” news movement, it’s that we are learning not to believe hype and claims that can’t be substantiated …

Marketers can overcome this jaded vision of the world and brands in business today by addressing truth firsthand. You can do this by creating more interaction between your brand and consumers online and in the real world. Let customers experience what you are all about — your products, your persona, your values — more than reading your carefully crafted statements.

Despite existing technology that lets us truly interact one-to-one from great distances, something still seems to be missing. It’s the magic piece of the puzzle that moves us from attraction to engagement, that wants us to comfortably spend time together. That “something” may be the “quality” of truth, in its broadest sense.

If quality and truth are not synonymous, they are at least comfortable bedfellows. As Jeanette says, the truth about “your products, your persona, your values” is much more likely, in these changing times, to lead to the kind of engagement which will generate better (although perhaps not bigger) profits.

If we look around us, sprouting like spring flowers are small, specialized retailers and e-tailers, none of which is ever likely to rival Amazon or Walmart in size. But they’re much more likely to establish that magic sense of engagement, which comes not only from being able to parse all the data out there; but, far more importantly, to fashion enduring customer relationships grounded on a firm foundation of truth.

The Truth Is, There Is No Truth — Let Alone in Advertising

Think about it. Most of what we consume as information about our world, society, events, and brands is “second-hand” reality — let alone in advertising. We didn’t really see what happened in protests covered on national news. We were not live audience members at a political rally.

Think about it. Most of what we consume as information about our world, society, events, and brands is “second-hand” reality — let alone in advertising. We didn’t really see what happened in protests covered on national news. We were not live audience members at a political rally. Or we didn’t experience the results firsthand that a customer claims to have experienced from a company’s products or services.

So can we really trust or should we believe what others “report” to us? The answer to this is widely debated on Facebook and news stations as we face all of the “fake” news we get daily, and as we become more aware that so much of what we see and hear is just that: fake. We are finally being made aware of the fact that many propogandists will overlay someone’s face on another person’s video image to “fake” that someone in the public eye said something harming that, in most cases ,they never did. Scary. We are also learning that so much of the posts we see on social media — Facebook, especially — were created by propogandists and posted to our accounts because of the demographic profile Facebook created from our past posts and those of the “friends” connected to us. We’re really starting to get it, whether we face it or not.

One thing we marketers need to also face is the how the “truth” we are putting out there is being received. As consumers are starting to watch the “news” and read social media with a different lens than before, we need to look at how that new lens affects their vision for our marketing messages. Here’s just two examples.

Testimonials

These have been the foundation of marketing since the beginning of time. They’re claims from one customer at a time about how products or services changed their worlds. We’ve used them, believing prospects will believe them if we attach them to a real person. Perhaps not so much anymore. Celebrity endorsements have been decreasing in influence rapidly for the past few years. We all know celebrities can be bought for the public appeal of their personal image, and that many are willing to put their mouth when the money is, and so these appeals don’t influence our purchasing choices like they used to. The same is holding true for ordinary people testimonials. Especially as more brands offer to reward us for posting reviews about them.

A testimonial is only true for the person speaking, and at the time they wrote the testimonial. Their truth may not apply to someone else, and it may not be true anymore, due to subsequent experiences with the brand involved. Testimonials can also backfire, as the prospects will expect to be just as delighted as those customers they believed, and the reality is that this is not likely the way it will go. Ever. As all customers’ needs, expectations and experiences are as different as the individual using the product or service. We see and judge life’s experiences through lenses of our experiences, culture, expectations, social situations, life’s challenges, and so much more.

Product Claims

Time to drop the hype. We’re so used to making self-proclaimed endorsements of our competitive advantages, product quality, results generated, and so much more. If anything has come out of the “fake” news movement, it’s that we are learning not to believe hype and claims that can’t be substantiated. We marketers need to start writing more like journalists were trained to write decades ago, before they cared more about ratings than news or truth. When I attended to journalism school as an undergraduate, our work was thrown out if we used adjectives or made suggestions that were not attributed to quotable sources. This needs to become the new norm for marketers, many of whom were raised to use big words, project big claims, and spark curiosity, and then explain later.

Many consumers today have become jaded, skeptical, and cautious to trust, and for good reason. They have been bombarded with “fake news,” “fake promises,” fake claims,” and more “fake” truths. Generation Xers, Millennials, and the up-and-coming generations are learning not to believe more than believe. There are a lot of reasons for them not to trust what they hear or see. TV and digital and print news can be manipulated with Photoshop and other special effect tools. Video and comments from spokespeople can easily be taken out of context and, in reality, we are learning to expect that they are more often than not.

What Marketers Can Do About Truth

Marketers can overcome this jaded vision of the world and brands in business today by addressing truth firsthand. You can do this by creating more interaction between your brand and consumers online and in the real world. Let customers experience what you are all about — your products, your persona, your values — more than reading your carefully crafted statements. Apple’s stores are a great example of how this can be done. The atmosphere is open and engaging, not stiff and overwhelming with merchandise and sales signs popping out in front of you at every corner. They simply ask how they can help, educate you about their technology and your options, and let you explore and experience the products for as long you want to, in an engaging, no hype, no hard-sell setting.

In short, “truth” is not in the written word or video snippets, but in the actual experience of each customer. Creating personal realities that are meaningful and relevant should be every marketing team’s top goal.

‘Truth’ — The Secret Marketing Ingredient

It’s getting harder and harder to watch the news and come away with any sense of what is “true,” what is “fake” or what is somewhere in between. I can’t help but wonder if this climate of disbelief isn’t going to seriously undermine our marketing practice; especially where the liberty of exaggeration is permitted to run a bit wild.

truth in marketing
“truth,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Jason Taellious

It’s getting harder and harder to watch the news and come away with any sense of what is “true,” what is “fake” or what is somewhere in between. I can’t help but wonder if this climate of disbelief isn’t going to seriously undermine our marketing practice; especially where the liberty of exaggeration is permitted to run a bit wild.

Watching CNN the other evening, in one of its endless self-promotional breaks, the screen showed a simple, ripe apple. A quiet voiceover explained that this was an apple. It went on to say that perhaps some people would say it was a banana and even some would believe it. But the fact is, it concludes, this is an apple. Facts matter.

CNN is to be congratulated. I cannot imagine a better modulation of all the noise out there, of all the serial lies emanating from Trump, his White House colleagues and thousands of talking heads filling the airwaves with every possible version of the “facts.” The point is that “truth” is so hard to find anymore that Big Brother can broadcast almost anything as a fact and a certain number of people will be willing to swear that a ripe round apple is in fact, a banana.

A blogger, writing some time ago in Balihoo about “roles that truth, disclosure and deception play in the modern marketers’ world” and how they affect marketing strategies and campaigns, focused on the danger not to a single sale but rather the lifetime value of the customer. Rightly, he cautioned, “just how dangerous outright deceptive marketing campaigns would be for your business as it centers around your dependence on customer retention, repeat purchases and ‘trust’ buying.” There is that word “trust” again.

In the Wharton School’s fascinating book, “Driving Change,” the authors analyze why some business partnerships are successful and some are not and argue that “trust is the basic ingredient of any of these networking or cooperative arrangements. You need a good contract outlining the deal; but without trust, the contract will mean nothing.” The degree of trust needed by a consumer obviously depends, to some extent, on the value of the purchase or its use. How are marketers to gain the trust of consumers at a time when skepticism is high and growing and we don’t know whom to believe for what reason.

Not surprisingly, the Balihoo article echoes the lament of marketers everywhere that presenting a totally unvarnished picture of most products would be a complete turnoff for prospects. Imagine an airline promoting economy seating by showing what it is really like when it is even close to full? Or imagine a software marketer telling the truth about how long it will really take to get the damn thing to work properly and to learn how to take advantage of all its bells and whistles?

As marketers migrate to talking directly to well-segmented prospects, a bond of trust can be built, communication-by-communication. And if the product or service performance lives up to its promise, the essential trust can be maintained.

But it’s getting harder and harder. Not only do we live in a world where chaos is increasingly trumping order, promiscuity — personal and commercial — is on the rise. Brand loyalty in the face of attractive competition is a diminishing asset. And despite the continuing surge in Internet purchasing, watching the explosion in hacking and fraud (don’t just think Equifax and the 143 million stolen files; even the CIA and NSA can’t seem to protect their most sensitive data). For how much longer are consumers going to want to complete personal data sign-ins?

There may come a time in the not-too-distant future when the best marketing has more real facts, less hype and when all consumers can agree that an apple is truly an apple.

3 Ways to Waste Time on LinkedIn, but Feel Good About It

Ever feel like beating down all those bad tips for LinkedIn that we’ve all had enough of? You know, the tips and tricks that give us a week’s worth of satisfaction—followed by that sinking feeling. “Ugh… why did I invest any time in that?!” Well, today is your day to call out those time-wasters and discover what to do instead.

Ever feel like beating down all those bad tips for LinkedIn that we’ve had enough of? You know, the tips and tricks that give us a week’s worth of satisfaction—followed by that sinking feeling. “Ugh … why did I invest any time in that?!” Well, today is your day to call out those time-wasters and discover what to do instead.

No. 1: Share Quality Content Focused on Providing Value
“I have seen little (okay, I’m exaggerating) to no success using LinkedIn,” John Reeb of the Colorado Leadership Institute told me.

“I have tried to add value to anyone who reads what I post … so that they gain some kind of expertise or learning that helps them in their day-to-day work… yet I’ve receive virtually no feedback nor any sales from it,” Mr. Reeb told me in a candid LinkedIn exchange.

LinkedIn gurus claim being seen as an expert in your field is the killer strategy. But it’s not. It’s the reward for having an effective approach.

We’ve been told “share and they will come.” But merely sharing valuable content on LinkedIn won’t help you find clients. Instead, start bold, truthful discussions in LinkedIn Groups. Post updates on issues that competitors wouldn’t dare go near.

Give potential buyers a reason to listen to you, to care about your words-to pay attention to you. Tell the truths your competitors don’t want told. Tell the truths you’re a little scared to tell!

Ask yourself what shocking truth can you reveal that:

  • Gives insight on an idea customers never heard before.
  • Busts a myth your clients have been told is true—that isn’t!
  • Confirms their suspicion that some sellers are telling “white lies.”

Successful social selling often means helping prospects believe in a new, more useful point-of-view-in a way they can act on. That’s where your lead generation offer plugs in. In fact, what to post on LinkedIn updates isn’t nearly as important as how you post.

No. 2: Comment Frequently on Group Discussions and Prospects’ Updates
You can’t throw a cat without hitting an expert espousing this time-wasting tip. Let the truth finally be told. Participation on LinkedIn is the cost of entry. Learning how to apply social media copywriting is the force multiplier.

Success depends less on how frequently you update your profile status, how often you participate in Group discussions or what you say. You’ll get more responses (and leads) by investing time in structuring words to be provocative.

Instead of wasting time patting people on the back, disagree once in a while. Invent ways to make potential buyers curious about your ability to solve a problem, remedy a pain or fast-track a goal.

Don’t get caught up in the popular nonsense: show you’re human, give-give-give before you get and (my personal favorite) tell a good story. As with any relationship in life, having personality and being interesting is the entry fee. It’s essential. Makes sure you know how to write social media posts so they provoke a response.

The key to turning LinkedIn interactions into business leads is following a social media copywriting process.

At the highest level, this process involves:

  • Getting to the point immediately.
  • Having something honestly new (and useful) to say.
  • Not saying too much too fast. Being a little mysterious.

No. 3: Connect With Prospects
Perhaps the most dangerous tip is connecting with prospects you don’t know. Again, self-appointed gurus are the problem, not the good people (you) using LinkedIn.

Have you ever been banned by LinkedIn for requesting connections with prospects you don’t know? Know anyone who has?

Being temporarily banned by LinkedIn for this practice is very common. Yet we never read anything about it or hear anyone talking about this problem at conferences.

Fact: If your connection requests are not accepted often enough, LinkedIn will remove your ability to make requests.

LinkedIn prohibits contacting distant prospects. LinkedIn is not a good place to contact people whom you don’t have (at least) a second degree connection with, and whom you don’t have specific knowledge about.

If you have a new prospect—who you’ve never spoken to-it’s probably not a good idea to request a connection on LinkedIn (outside of an InMail message). That is, until you have better proximity to the prospect … better ability to approach once they know you or have a high probability of accepting the connection request.

From a practical view, here’s why: Because this is not what LinkedIn is intended for. It’s not what the founders built LinkedIn to do for sellers.

In fact, LinkedIn wasn’t originally built with “social selling” in mind. Just like Facebook wasn’t built for marketing.

That said, LinkedIn and social selling are evolving into a great match. In fact it’s the bedrock of their growth plan as a business. But be careful. Connecting with prospects is where a lot of sellers go wrong and pay the price!

Questions about any of my tips? Disagree with my perspective? Let me know. Good luck to you!