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Monday, March 01, 2010

Making Marketing Matter: A Reply to Mitch Joel

Taking Mitch up on a challenge like joining the dialogue as to how we can make marketing meaningful (and not scummy) carries only one danger with it: you can overshoot, egged on by the spirit of the exercise, and say something you really don't mean.

Back before Howie Mandel had a serious(?) career, he appeared on one of those late night comedy shows that was so late that you had to use "late" like five times in the title. This was back in the days when Howie inexplicably put a latex glove on his head and did that thing with his hand when he did standup. Anyway, Howie would appear in a sketch where everyone was sitting around after a couple of drinks, usually near an open window, describing their most edgy or daring escapades. Howie would open his mouth and overshoot the level of the group so far, with the filthiest, most perverted comment imaginable. Even the most depraved members of the group would slowly edge their way out of the room.

Then again, probably no danger of that here. If you've really built your career around Cluetrains, Whuffie, Permission, Life After the 30-Second Spot, and the like, as I have, you've probably reached the point of no return.

Anyway, to throw some fuel on the fire:

I still believe in an abstract distinction I introduced in Winning Results with Google AdWords (2nd ed.), and that is that there is something called "reasonable targeting," to be contrasted with "surplus interruption." Empirical evidence appears to suggest, as Godin has boldly argued for years, that people simply avoid messages if they get too many of them that aren't personal, anticipated, and relevant. But evidence aside, you have to believe it in your heart.

I want to live in a world - not exactly like, but similar to - Google AdWords, where relevance is rewarded and spammery is punished through a sort of "user experience tax". I also want to live in a world where we can freely experiment with a variety of forms of advertising. The "AdBusters" and "no logo" crowd take it too far, not understanding that imposing a moral code that restricts communications is a (totalitarian-style) cure that is worse than the disease.

I do not want to live in a world where:

  • We change the definition of permission (and other things), because we're marketers and hey, it's OK to spam people if you're a big company, right? This just creates a tragedy of the commons and degrades consumer trust over time. See Seth Godin, "Permission Marketers: Did We Blow It?" (September, 2001)
  • The professional association for marketers in a given nation sells me on a membership renewal, in part by telling me they'll continue lobbying to loosen up on those horrible "do not call" laws. As a consumer, I hate to be spammed on my personal phone lines. I'm supposed to feel differently as a "marketer"?
  • For that matter, in my renewal application for the same association, in 2010, it would have been nice if the same trade group had finally put in a checkbox for "search marketing" as a special interest, given that it is nearly half of digital marketing, and certainly more than half of the (targeted, voluntary, granular) traffic to many corporate websites. To go alongside the checkboxes for companies specializing in printing brochures, keeping databases, building websites, maintaining outbound call centers, and emailing people. Maybe next year.

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