Marketing Should be Fun(damental)

For the love of the game.
For the love of the game.

Marketers have spammed, lied, deceived, cluttered
and ripped us off for so long, we’re sick of it.

–Seth Godin

I love coaching Little League baseball.

This is my son’s third year playing and I’ve been fortunate enough to coach his team each year, experiencing first-hand the beauty of playing baseball for no other reason than because it’s fun. When the kids have fun, their parents have fun, and I get to have fun — as a result, I tend to go above and beyond, doing things like writing team newsletters; buying extra training equipment; and organizing a team picnic at the end of the season.

Last year, our first year out of tee ball, with runs and outs being counted and every game having a winner and a loser, our team wasn’t very good, winning only two games while getting blown out badly in several losses. As a team, we had many Bad News Bears moments — including a couple of my own with one particular umpire and one opposing coach — but despite all of that, we always had fun playing, the parents had a good time, and I slept well after every game knowing that we were achieving our primary goal of learning how to play baseball.

Two of the most reassuring moments were the time between the first and second season when my son, out of left field (metaphorically), told me I was a great coach and he loved playing baseball; and a couple of weeks ago, when the girl who earned the game ball asked me to sign it for her!

Working with seven and eight-year-olds who are learning the fundamentals of the game, my philosophy is pretty simple: Pay Attention; Always Hustle; Have Fun.

That’s actually my philosophy of life in general, and whenever possible, I try to apply it to everything I do.

Thanks to the perfect storm that’s hit the magazine publishing world (where I spend my days, and unhealthy chunks of my nights and weekends), I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the radar — industry press, executives and pundits; tracking layoffs, closures and strategic shifts — trying to get my sea legs without falling overboard or abandoning ship, and looking for any opportunity to get my hands on the steering wheel and turn away from the icebergs.

On Sunday, during my first #blogchat (on Twitter), I got into an interesting back-and-forth with Simon Edhouse about social media and his objections to its being targeted by aggressive marketers and self-proclaimed “gurus”. Edhouse equated their activities to spam, noting: “Seeing SM as an [extension] of CRM is the thin end of the corrupt-wedge.”

I countered that misuse of a tool doesn’t mean it’s not a tool, and that ideally: “People determine their desired level of engagement; companies need to respect those terms and act within them.”

I can be pretty cynical, but Edhouse’s militant stance is far more extreme than mine — “Pigs might fly.” — to which I responded: “I have to believe SOME [companies] can/will act responsibly, or else find a new career! ‘Be the change you want to see.'”

While the actual quote is from Gandhi, the reference is to Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, reflecting my strong belief that if you stand for something positive and don’t compromise that stance, you will attract like-minded people and together you can do some good in the world.

Or at your job. Or on the baseball field.

Edhouse’s response was simultaneously gratifying and sobering — “OK… so that may be your point of difference/advantage in this landscape. Push that differentiation vector…” — and brought to mind something else from Godin, a recent post called “Poisoning the Well“:

Marketers have spammed, lied, deceived, cluttered and ripped us off for so long, we’re sick of it.

Which means that even if you have a really good reason, no, you can’t call me on the phone. Which means that even if it’s really important, no, I’m not going to read the instructions. Which means that god forbid you try to email me something I didn’t ask for… you’re trashed. It’s so fashionable to be skeptical now that no one believes you if you attempt to do something for the right reasons.

Selfish short-sighted marketers ruined it for all of us. The only way out, I think, is for a few marketers to so overwhelm the market with long-term, generous marketing that we have no choice but to start paying attention again.

Disintermediation is rapidly changing the way people get information and their expectations for how that information should be made available, and like the California Gold Rush, there’s plenty of charlatans out there looking to make a quick buck selling fake maps for non-existent gold mines to the gullible and greedy alike. Social media “gurus” are the crooks du jour, and a handful of recent events have left a really sour taste in my mouth about the marketing profession as a whole, seriously wondering if there’s any point in even trying to do things the right way anymore.

Some of the things I’ve come across recently, from the simply clueless to the outright unethical, make me wonder how some people are able to sleep at night.

Can marketers really engage in “conversations” with consumers, or is the focus on short-term returns and developing personal brands too intense to avoid a continued poisoning of the well?

Is it too late for marketing to be considered a relevant, valued and ethical discipline?

Who’s out there doing things the right way, “overwhelm[ing] the market with long-term, generous marketing” and having fun doing it?

Published by

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

As in guillotine. Old/new media pragmatist. Sometimes loud, one-time poet, still opinionated. Reading, writing, running, gaming, soccer, beer.

10 thoughts on “Marketing Should be Fun(damental)”

  1. Great post. There is a common ground that when we take off our marketing hats and go into consumer mode that needs to be addressed too. As consumers, are we responsible? Are we fair, or is it too easy and tempting to blame the marketer.

    The spam and cheap with always exist, frankly there are people that are basically fans or enthusiasts of every new Sham-Wow.

    The battle lines really become less focusing on who is doing it wrong, and as you say who is doing it right. @medialogic we consistently point to examples like JetBlue, SouthWestAir and Wells Fargo/Wachovia on places like Twitter and beyond. They have generally embraced the ethos of what Twitter is about. Fun, information sharing and most of all being helpful to their customers.

  2. Thanks, Patrick. I'm generally not a fan of blaming the end user, but your point is valid in this context; there's a challenge to be met on both ends, especially now as the consumer has more power than ever before.

    Focusing on the good is something I'd like to do more of, though, particularly on slightly lower-profile efforts than the major brands you mentioned. (I am curious about Wells Fargo/Wachovia, though. What have they done of note?)

    I checked out Media Logic's site; very nice. Interested in a satellite office in New Jersey? 😉

  3. Blame was probably the wrong word for me to insert, as I am certainly not in this ever evolving landscape suggesting marketers should be ready to hoist blame at their customers.

    I think as those who are or have been inside worlds entangled with marketing we need to be able to access the dual persona of I am content publisher or client advocate and run it through the filter of how we expect to be treated by companies, businesses/brands of which we are customers.

    Admittedly JetBlue and SouthWest are huge, not that Wells Fargo/Wachovia are not, finding those extraordinarily well positioned midsized or smaller brands is not always easy. But they do exist in varying degrees and frankly have been serving their consumer base with the proper mindset long before Facebook and Twitter became consumer advocacy weapons if you will.

    That might an interesting project of consideration. Tallying a list of businesses who have done it right before they had fear of doing it wrong?

    As far as Satellite office in New Jersey, we are of the mindset of never say never. I commuted here from Union County for four months a few years back so 😉

  4. Great post. I think one of the challenges that marketers are up against is the obeisance to short-term returns forced by quarterly numbers. From an earlier blog post of mine:

    “And this is how publicly traded companies behave a bit like teenage delinquents: the calculus operating in the minds of most corporate bees is, “I need to hit my numbers this month!” not “I need to maximize NPV over a five year period.” When one is optimizing over a timeline the length of one’s arm, they’ll tend to make very different decisions than if they are optimizing over a timeline the length of their ken (notable exceptions being someone who is visually impaired, but I’m hoping you get my drift here).”

    Full blog post at http://anittahpatrick.com/thinking/how-publicly

  5. “Before they had a fear of doing it wrong.” That's a very interesting point. I think the most notable effect of social media isn't the “conversational” angle, it's the speed with which word of a failure spreads and the amount of damage that can be done before any response can happen.

    Noting who's been doing things the right way all along, and how, would make for a great case study.

  6. Thanks, Anittah. I liked your “corporate bees are stealing old ladies’ handbags every day” analogy. The emphasis on short-term results has a terrible trickle-down effect, too, as employees at every level tend to become less invested in the success of an organization, simply marking time until the next job comes along. It's typical at publicly traded companies, but I've found that private equity-owned companies suffer from the same problem.

  7. Too true. And what I've seen is that folks who genuinely start with an investment in an organization's success become disillusioned by the kinds of short-term-results-behaviors that are rewarded, so the people who care most about an organization are eventually compelled to leave it. That's why I left Citigroup, to be honest.

    Oh well, what to do? Start your own thing, I guess 🙂

  8. “Before they had a fear of doing it wrong.” That's a very interesting point. I think the most notable effect of social media isn't the “conversational” angle, it's the speed with which word of a failure spreads and the amount of damage that can be done before any response can happen.

    Noting who's been doing things the right way all along, and how, would make for a great case study.

  9. Thanks, Anittah. I liked your “corporate bees are stealing old ladies’ handbags every day” analogy. The emphasis on short-term results has a terrible trickle-down effect, too, as employees at every level tend to become less invested in the success of an organization, simply marking time until the next job comes along. It's typical at publicly traded companies, but I've found that private equity-owned companies suffer from the same problem.

  10. Too true. And what I've seen is that folks who genuinely start with an investment in an organization's success become disillusioned by the kinds of short-term-results-behaviors that are rewarded, so the people who care most about an organization are eventually compelled to leave it. That's why I left Citigroup, to be honest.

    Oh well, what to do? Start your own thing, I guess 🙂

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