The Problem with Marketing (and markets because of it)
For over 15 years I have been looking at the world of marketing, advertising and public relations and seeing things a bit differently. I was not alone. Countless others also saw the real need for systemic changes, or dare I say reform, across the board. The fundamental challenge became that the broad concept of “the market” was not fair nor efficient – the ones with the power (and money) won, and they often won at the expense of other’s loss.
It has been all too easy for narcissistic leaders in the pursuit of profits that appease the players in the stock market to game the system, even more recently beginning to hide in the open amidst the glut of information. Worldcom, Enron, AIG and Bernie Madoff are the poster children for this problem – the problem with human nature, addiction to power and greed – the problem with entitlement – the problem in an inefficient market with bad actors.
But the sales teams and the marketing teams were given the mission of attacking the market and bringing back as much revenue as possible and expending the least amount of cash (in pursuit of the highest ROI). The support teams were tasked with defending the cash, by doing as little as possible to solve for the customers problems. Occasionally they were tasked with asking, “do you want fries with that?” How thoughtful.
The marketing department set about optimizing their mix of communications channels, studying demographic/psychographic behavior and testing creative before deployment. Some of this is great work. A lot of it is wrong.
It is wrong because it started in the wrong place. It started from an intention of maximizing profits, not maximizing the creation of value in the market. It thrived on the inefficiencies of the market as it studied the terrain to plot their campaigns across the market’s battlefields. Meanwhile, many of the consumers were overwhelmed by a superiorly equipped army. Many still are.
But in 1994, that began to change with the early days of the commercial web. And from there, through my work with virtual communities, to my days at the United States Mint in ecommerce, through the development of a content management and relationship system for Palm and more recently through the growth of Social Media Club I have been experimenting with new ways of approaching marketing.
This is in part, explained further in my post yesterday on The End of Marketing, The Return to Markets, but it is something I will need to write about for a while to explain fully.
The most important thing to understand about being successful in social media is the importance of attitude and intention. It’s starting from the right point of origin and with the right mindset that will ultimately guide your choices as you ENGAGE with the market. But if your intention is to take the most money possible from customers, you end up in a different place then if your point of origin is serving that market.
This is not to say we shouldn’t be concerned with being profitable. We must be in order to continue to grow, to improve and to do our best to create value. Personally, this is something I have put off for too long now, which is why I am excited about the fact that I am going to be working with Peter Corbett in opening an iStrategy lab office in San Francisco. It’s time to put my own oxygen mask on and do more client work.
In living the spirit of starting from the right intentions, my work and my writings will focus on a new framework to replace marketing and return to a fair, open and efficient market. Yes, there have been some great advancements to this common cause from conversations/communities around Marketing 2.0, Social Media, PR 2.0 and even more recently Social Business Design.
Personally, I think about the tactics behind the ideal of serving the market in what I believe is the purest description (but alas destined to still be another buzzword perhaps).
Market Engagement Optimization (MEO)
Ultimately, when I am looking at MEO, I am thinking about how do we prepare our workforce and operate our companies in the way that creates the most value while we are serving the market. To this end, Chris Brogan and Justin Levy have it right in their book Trust Agents. If employees are encouraged to be Trust Agents in the market they serve on behalf of their companies, they will ultimately be more effective and efficient then competitors not embracing this market based strategy.
I talked about Market Engagement Optimization in a recent post announcing the Reality Check Series with Social Media Club and RealPlayer SP. Now it’s time to start discussing it more broadly with you and other leading thinkers to better develop it as a framework that is easily implemented and doesn’t require an MBA to understand. For this revolution to be televised, everyone will not only need their 15 minutes of fame, but they need to be prepared to engage and they need to be prepared to participate while representing the company in the best possible way.
But like brand makeovers that only involve changing the logo and the color scheme, just representing the company in the best possible way is not enough. The very core, indeed the soul of the company also needs to be in alignment with the current and future market dynamic. Last night at the Social Media Club Palm Beach County launch someone mentioned that within 6-8 months it is expected that consumers will naturally come to expect of all companies customer support within Twitter and other social sites. If true, this is happening even faster then I thought.
What is MEO then?
As I answered the question of what is social media? I take the same approach in looking at MEO. In fact, to me, MEO is just another part of Social Media, it’s a better framework for holistically leveraging social media and other emerging technologies as a primary point of participation with the market.
Simply put, MEO is the art and science of serving the market and maximizing the return on participation. It starts with a culture that respects customers and that harnesses the passions of its employees to engage in the market. Whether you call them ambassadors, evangelists, team members or an employee doesn’t matter. What does is the understanding that when they are better able to engage in the market on your behalf, your company will benefit.
Of course, if your product sucks or your employees hate working for you, this approach will not work. This approach is for real leaders, not egomaniacs who rule by fear and worst practices.
In comparison to SEO, which is natural, MEO there places a greater emphasis on the human over on the other side then who’s competing over relevance of keywords.
An example of this is the adwords campaign I ran with Gilbert Guide in 2007 where we figured out what people would be searching for and actually promoted the link for a well-written blog post that answered the question searchers were asking. We got 2.34% click through rates on that.
What we did then, and what I am proposing now under the framework of MEO is that the best way to make money in a given market is to serve that market and create value. In an increasingly transparent world where Social Media is making more and more information visible everyday, it is of paramount importance to optimize your interaction, communication and collaboration (aka engagement) with the market you serve.
This requires much more then a uni-dimensional approach and even more then a multi-channel integrated marketing approach. It requires a holistic strategy that encompasses tools, talent, methodologies and time.
If you are successful with MEO, you will generate a wealth of good will and trust within the market for your brand. It’s important to remember that it’s not your brand, your logo or your ad campaign that will do this for you – it’s your people. That’s where it all starts and where it all ends.
What about “Market”
What matters most in understanding the market dynamics in an open, web-based market is:
1. Have a clear understanding of the unique aspects that define the market (sets the context for engagement)
2. To identify where they interact with each other in the real world and online
3. To earn their trust by looking out for the mutual interests you share with them
4. To act from a place of integrity, with good intentions
5. To develop true leadership while encouraging and enabling the development of individual capabilities, emotional wellness and intelligence of the workforce
This is where the ideas from the social media playbook model really works well. The best insights about the market(s) comes from participating within it and building close personal and professional relationships. A simple framework for participation is Look, Listen, Learn, Join, Lead, Repeat.
Of course, we always should be learning, in fact being a learning organization in today’s knowledge economy is a fundamental necessity if we are to optimize our employees for successful market engagement.
So What About Engagement?
While this is still being debated hotly, I take the simple route. It’s about any interactions that are intended to open a dialog of some sort and the activities that result from that dialog. So it includes all forms of communication (even the ‘old world’ stuff), participation within open communities, and discussions in closed communities, collaboration on market issues, customer advisory boards, customer conferences and more.
The most valuable form of engagement I have found is when one has earned the trust of the market sufficiently that they are able to convene the market together for a conversation. This is exactly what NPR has done with their Digital ThinkIn I am joining on Friday and what I have recently been doing with JR Johnson and Lunch For Good. It also takes the form of the Reality Check series we are doing with RealPlayer SP and several local Social Media Club groups around the world.
Optimization is Just That
When we add optimization to the idea of Market Engagement is where we really get busy. This is where we really figure out what works and CHANGE what we are doing as a result of the lessons learned. It’s a constant feedback loop and it’s where I expect to be spending a lot of my time over the years to come. The optimization of market engagement is an ongoing process that often happens in real time.
This is particularly true at live events, which require grounded facilitation skills in addition to subject matter expertise and the ability to think creatively. Whether that is an internal strategy development workshop, or it is an open community event or workshop, shifting people’s thinking requires the gentle nudge of insight that is akin to the light touch of a yoga instructor moving you into the perfect position.
Optimization also comes from a post activity review, which is all too often missed or skipped due to a lack of time. It’s sitting around and giving an honest assessment of what happened and why it did. It’s changing it up for the future. And if it is focused on serving the market while being profitable, you can get an excellent return on participation.
Return on Participation
Its not just how many dollars we got out for effort expended, though that can be a fair measure. But just like the triple bottom line suggests we pay as much attention to the ecological and social impacts as we do the economic ones, ROP requires us to look for the value created in brand equity, in trust, in relationships earned, in relationships retained, in new opportunities discovered, in stories collected to be shared with others, in new ideas co-developed with the market and in lessons learned. These intangibles are hard if not impossible to quantify, but failing to consider them (as we would do if we were SOLEY concerned with profits as the only thing that matters) is a mistake.
To this end, I propose a new measure that will measure a return on participation (and a bit more really). In my discussions with Adrian Chan about his fabulous ideas around a brand’s sociability it struck me that my market model (above and below) was qualitatively expressing an indicator we could actually measure. It struck me that we need a new tool to replace the NetPromoter Score.
We need a Net Trust Score©.
The question would be asked in the same way as we do with NetPromoter. The question is, how much do you trust our employees? Or perhaps its simply How much do you trust our brand? Or both? What else might we be measuring in this way that would be a good barometer.
While likelihood of promoting a company or product is a great indicator for word of mouth and to a degree implicitly includes trust, it could often hide real problems and issues with the company that are being ignored, because they seemingly don’t affect the short term bottom line. For instance, many people in the US would give the iPhone a high NetPromoter score, but the how much do I trust Apple and AT&T question would get a tremendously lower score. Then again, the company’s leadership would need to care about other people rather then just themselves, so this is also a good example of the problem with marketing and some aspects of corporate leadership too.
Ultimately, as I demonstrate here in my model of the market, the barrier between a company and its market acts much like a trust filter. When it is low, the ease with which trust flows in and out of the company is impeded, diminishing the potential value creation and chances for collaborating with the market for word of mouth benefits and collaborative innovation. If the company has a high Net Trust© score, it will be easier for it to engage with the market and garner the benefits – lower cost of customer relationships, higher return on participation, increasing innovation, increasing ability to hire the best and brightest and ultimately, though this, being a world class, highly profitable and effective company.
The end of marketing and the return to markets is a complex idea, but one that is already taking hold in certain corners of the world. I hate citing the usual case studies from Social Media, but it’s true that Zappos, Dell, Best Buy and many others are already on this path. Others like GE have been doing so many aspects of it right, that they just need that little nudge from the anti-marketing yogi to put them on the right path.
Where From Here
Well, this is my first post published over here on PR 2.0 really, and it marks a new beginning for me in putting my thoughts out and collaborating with you to help figure out how to improve on them, and to an extent, how to even define it. So I ask you, what do you think about Market Engagement Optimization (MEO) and the much-needed revolution in marketing? Is it ready for prime time or does it already belong in the buzzword rubbish bin?
Personally, I am going to use the phrasing no matter what. And Unlike many people out there today, I am not going to try to ‘own’ it or copyright it. It belongs to the market. And that’s the point.