What the heck is going on in the business world?
Judging by all the negative stories, one would think that a plague of incompetence has afflicted commercial teams across the country.
However, beyond the obvious blunders (e.g., United and airport security personnel), some of the backlash is a bit perplexing.
Are corporations and their marketing teams failing at higher rates or is something else going on?
I suggest the latter. That’s partly because social media has, for better and for worse, totally disrupted the way so many now get and process their information.
Conclusions are drawn from only headlines. No time is taken to read the full story and/or to check alternate points-of-view, and more importantly, to form own fact-based opinions. Tweets, posts and emails are zipped around the world without even checking for veracity. (By the way, especially for rampant email forwarders, please consider bookmarking the website snopes.com.)
Across the board, we seem to have devolved into a society characterized by this sentiment: I’m Right. You’re Wrong. Spread the Rage. Fast.
Within marketing, this societal phenomenon may lead to a “blandization” effect, where marketers and company leadership are so afraid of any criticism that they self-censor to such an extent that their messages become super-plain vanilla, indistinguishable, and not very effective. (By the way, this is not to disparage vanilla. I love vanilla ice cream.)
This preamble leads me to the writing of Benjamin Franklin. Some segue you’re thinking! Yes, but please read on for the quick connection.
Benjamin Franklin wrote Apology for Printers, a June 1730 essay, in response to criticism he faced for publishing an advertisement in his newspaper, parts of which created significant criticism. It’s amazing how relevant Franklin’s message is today.
I happen to own a copy of Apology for Printers, a tiny, keepsake book published in 1967 to celebrate that year’s Printing Week. My father, who had a long sales and sales management career in the paper and printing industry, acquired it and passed it on to me.
I read it (again) last week.
In the second paragraph, Franklin remarks: “I request all who are angry with me on the account of printing things they don’t like, calmly to consider these following Particulars”
Two of the Particulars stood out and resonate in business and beyond today.
Particular 7. “That it is unreasonable to imagine Printers approve of every thing they print, and to censure them on any particular thing accordingly; since in the way of their Business they print such great variety of things opposite and contradictory. It is likewise as unreasonable what some assert, That Printers ought not to print any Thing but what they approve; since if all of that Business should make such a Resolution, and abide by it, an End would thereby be put to Free Writing, and the World would afterwards have nothing to read but what happen’d to be the Opinions of Printers.” (italics are verbatim)
Particular 8. “That if all Printers were determin’d not to print any thing till they were sure it would not offend no body, there would be very little printed.”
Let’s be clear. Marketers do not write action briefs with the objective of “let’s piss off our customers” or “let’s get lambasted in the media.”
It’s true, though, that sometimes marketers are guilty of poorly conceived, attention-getting stunts.
However, marketers need to be bold and even sometimes aggressive. They face numerous business, marketing and competitive challenges to achieve profitable growth.
At the same time, they shouldn’t maliciously offend, incite violence, promote racism or foster hatred. In short, they shouldn’t do stupid things. Unfortunately, mistakes happen, even to well-intentioned marketing teams and their companies. It’s the frequency pattern, if any, and the accumulated track record and good will, plus the speed and sincerity of the response, as needed, that should matter most.
(For more about marketing briefs and strategy, refer to my post Why Your Business Needs “Marketing Discipline.”)
Don’t Retreat, marketers, communicators and business leaders.
Of course, have a big picture sensitivity and sensibility. Be thoughtful and careful. Set the right expectations. Then, encourage and put in the hard work to be smarter, better, more clever and more creative in delivering the messages and customer experiences that give you the best shot to achieve your business objectives. We can do it.
Franklin ended his essay with this sentence:
“I consider the Variety of Humours among Men, and despair of pleasing every Body; yet I shall not therefore leave off Printing. I shall continue my Business. I shall not burn my Press and melt my Letters.”
Harvey Chimoff is a versatile marketing and business team leader who believes good marketing sells. Contact him at StratGo Marketing, a plug-in marketing department resource for company leaders.