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.

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