Most Popular Article Ever - "Don’t Confuse Any Old Communication With Selling"

This article was prompted by my ex-colleague Katrina sharing an article in Marketing Week, and by specific incoming traffic from LinkedIn and Outlook, all of which simultaneously made me think about how we are trying to market and sell things.

In my case, last Thursday’s quick LinkedIn reading included someone who posted a ‘Top Ten Things that advertising agencies need to understand about digital’, rapidly followed by some guy who responded by mockingly suggesting “nobody needs advertising agencies any more anyway”.  His suggestion was that companies could grow and prosper just fine without ever indulging in  traditional, advertising/PR/brand type communications.

Now, as you may know I violently disagree with that viewpoint, and get frequent online opportunities to showcase my contrariness, usually in opposition to young, bearded types who are trying to build up their digital agencies for sale. On Thursday, just as I was wondering whether I could spare 10 minutes to get involved – hey presto! Outlook lit up with an email from Expedia that illustrated up my viewpoint perfectly. I was so please I thought it deserved a full post.

To explain. I recently went walking in Bavaria. To do that you need to go to Munich. So I looked online, back in February, and bought a Lufthansa ticket to Munich. From Expedia. Lovely Lufthansa have been in touch twice. My subsequent relationship with Expedia has involved in the region of 15 communications, all one way, in which I have been congratulated for booking, reminded about my trip, reminded about the reminder, asked if I want a hotel (no), asked if I want to pre-book to see any of the sights of Munich (no), asked similar things with a similar response and probably a few other things I’ve forgotten.

Today, the guys were in triumphant mode. “Shout about your travel experience with Expedia” was the headline. The picture showed a sunny sky and a giraffe. (This made me wonder if they had actually been underselling Bavaria in all that stuff they’d been sending me since February. If I’d known there were Bavarian giraffes I would certainly have wanted to see one.)

On investigation the reality was less inspiring – Expedia now wanted me to recommend them, using marks out of 10, as a service.  On the basis that I bought a flight and they sold it to me, I guess I would award them, gosh, an 8. But it did make me wonder how many holidays to the Maldives/bars of Cadbury chocolate I have previously bought without the whole thing turning into a sort of workstream.  

Arguably their choice of headline was the most interesting thing, with its strong implication that having gone to Munich I would now want to yell about it from the rooftops.    

The fact that I might not want to, and under similar circumstances you might not either, doesn’t stop post-purchase reaction being the Holy Grail nowadays for marketers. They are under huge (arguably at least half self-inflicted) pressure to demonstrate a ‘conversation’ with their consumers. In extreme cases, the incredible convenience of online purchasing starts to get diluted by the cloud of unwanted bullshit that increasingly accompanies it.

Think I’m exaggerating? Who uses eBay? If you do, you’ll have noticed that over recent years eBay has started to insist on its sellers achieving high scores not just for selling things but for “communication”. So, when I bought some fuses online last month, for two quid, I subsequently got messaged informing me of the current/ready for dispatch/dispatched status of my order, all followed by a request that I make sure only five-star feedback was left. Or get into a conversation about why. I suspect that only the absence of a Facebook-page like interface on eBay prevented the company asking me to post details of my 13A fuse purchase to everybody I know. With a picture.

Of a fuse.

(Or maybe a giraffe.)

Nobody, surely, has ever attended a focus group and pleaded for all this to happen. But we seem to be stuck with it. Why?

Well, seems there are quite a few people happy to build the minutiae of their lives around interactions like those I’ve mentioned.  So, one-off, forgotten-by-next-Monday purchases can be used to drive metrics and give the impression of something genuine and lasting being developed.

This type of marketing has the supreme advantage that it is accountable: you can definitely say something happened as a result of the money/time you spent. Even better, the amount of resource you deploy needn’t be very great, in clear contrast to those terrible, wasteful advertising budgets that people used to spend in order to make their products into household names with millions at a time.

Unfortunately for all of us, there is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy here. Because once the contrast is drawn between accountable, small, short-term interactions (“We got 27 likes on Facebook for that”!) and less accountable, longer term effects that cost more money, like Cadbury’s brand awareness, there are no prizes for guessing which the CFO of your company will prefer.

Add, to this, the fact that most board level company directors are not marketers, indeed many see marketing itself as a tax not an opportunity, and you have the perfect recipe for the discipline descending to the level of influence it now suffers in many organisations. 

Anyway, I don’t have a simple solution to this. But before you mail me calling me some sort of Luddite, I’m not the only one with the issue on the radar. In fact, as my introduction says, later the very same day ex-colleague Katrina pointed out this article, (from a proper magazine and everything,) which makes a similar sort of point.



Friday 16th September 2016

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