Sunday, December 12, 2010

A new marketing ecosystem: Sustainability, authenticity, and marketing

Listening this morning to Chef Dan Barber being interviewed on NPR's "OnBeing," I felt that my earlier blog about marketing and authenticity was being echoed by a truly unexpected source.

Barber runs a restaurant and farm in upstate New York and has written extensively about sustainability from a chef's perspective. In speaking with the "OnBeing" host, Krista Tippett, he pointed out a compelling symbiosis between sound growing practices and pure, unadulterated eating pleasure.

"Great flavor," Barber observed, is "attached to great ecology by definition. ... You can’t have an unethically raised lamb, an unthoughtfully raised carrot, and have a delicious lamb and carrot. It’s impossible. Even the greatest chefs couldn’t do that.”

Barber later added: "When you are greedy for the best food, you are by definition being greedy for ... the kind of world that you want used in the proper way. That’s the true definition of sustainability."

To me, this represents a direct parallel to the idea of "good behavior" as "good marketing." People come back to a product that treats them well, that they relate to as humans rather than "consumers."

Treating people with respect is good marketing ... Yes, it's a very big "duh" -- but how often do we forget to act on this knowledge?

Similarly, Barber observes that treating the earth with respect is also the best way to create delicious food. All of those "cut corners" are not about great taste -- they are about producing more while spending less.

Call it a better marketing ecosystem ... Sustainable messaging ... Ethical engagement.

Or, just call it good business.

You can listen to the Dan Barber interview here:

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Do no harm": Marketing fails are no laughing matter

With my most recent Ad Age, I received an advert-newspaper from Daily Candy -- an online brand with some cachet. At first, I admired the effort and intent ... going against the tide, setting yourself apart.

I am familiar with the approach; a few years ago, my company launched a print magazine that I happily edited. This magazine is still referenced by clients today. Even then, "going print" was decidedly cutting against the current; and, despite the costs, it worked. (In other words, it made a positive impression; whether it earned its keep is harder to discern.)

But the more I leafed through this circular from The Daily Candy -- inserted, one must assume, at major expense -- the more I felt that the cool factor had evaporated at page 3 or 4.

In fact, I came to feel that Daily Candy was aligning itself with a dying medium -- print on news paper -- without abrogating the things that made it worthwhile to get black ink on my nice white pants. The medium was the only message; Daily Candy had failed to materialize or make sense of its allegiance to newspapers.

I was reminded then that marketing can be a dangerous activity. We often assume that there is "mediocre" marketing and "excellent" marketing. But what about "unsound" marketing? "Deficient and deleterious" marketing?

What about marketing that is radioactive to your brand?

Marketers in particular may feel that, no matter what we do, at least we have done something. I mean, something is better than nothing -- right?

That is a truism we need to question. Particularly among those with little knowledge of our brands, a half-hearted, inept, inappropriate effort can do real damage. And the first rule of marketing should be: "Do no harm."

Think about this the next time you are pushing something out the door -- your eyes almost closed to issues you know need to be addressed. Think about this when you acquiesce to committee-generated creatives that embarrass you to even read in private.

A brand is a higher calling ... and failing to meet the challenge of doing it justice should give us pause. Do good, not harm. We are our brands' only protectors, only advocates.

Give them their due.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Authenticity and marketing: It's about being human

People often assume that marketing is a mask that we put on -- a very polished show intended to convince an observer/potential customer/client. We are very aware of what we don't want to do in marketing, and advertising; and the limitations around what we CAN do sometimes seem oppressive.

* We don't want to mention competitors by name (no free publicity, please) -- but we do want to set ourselves clearly apart from them ...

* We don't want to stray into territory where we may be a bit weak -- but we also don't want to boast and preen to extreme ...

* We don't want to give away too much of our "secret sauce," whatever the ingredients -- but we also need to tell enough about our differentiators to make them real and appealing (if not damned irresistible) ...

With all of this cogitation going on behind the scenes, the notion of "authenticity" may seem laughable. In fact, some talk about authenticity as if it were a commodity, a semblance that can be practiced and turned on at will.

In fact, if we are striving to be authentic, we have probably already failed. The notion of authenticity as a good thing is founded on the belief that people can smell out fakery. In business and life, we usually accept that fakery is part of the package -- that everyone is covering up something; the question is, How many things?

It occurred to me the other day that, in fact, being sensitive is the essence of good marketing. A humane approach to someone is both the right thing to do and the smart one.

Think about the last time you walked into a shop and were immediately approached by a salesperson. "What are you looking for today?" Perhaps it's the economy, but I feel that salespeople are less and less willing to give space to customers. To me, the rule of thumb should be, "Count to 60 before making any move"; but it rarely happens. I make a point of never buying at stores or from people that make me feel rushed.

Similarly, how often we ought to send emails to customers should not be rocket science. How we treat clients calling in for help ... How much time we spend selling versus listening in a meeting ...

We have all been in these situations; we know what it feels like when the shoe is on the other foot. We know when we feel like we are treated like targets -- and when we are treated like humans.

So, to be a good marketer, it's important to your own instincts, to be sensitive even as you try to make a sale. That, to me, is the essence of authenticity.