Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Marketing Quackery - Sneaking in through the back door

Don't you just find this kind of thing aggravating -- some senior exec in the organization approaches you and says, "I just got this call about this interesting marketing opportunity and I was curious what you think." Of course, a lot of times it isn't a call, it's an email, and the opportunity could be anything from being included in a magazine story or a video, participating in some exclusive executive conference, or maybe even advertising on the side of a race car.

It's not the just the "this is a big waste of time and money" advertising program that's annoying, it's the selling approach. What could be more annoying than the salesperson who's entire methodology revolves around bypassing the established marketing strategy/spending decision process in an attempt to sell their program. Could anything scream "scam" any louder?

Just for fun, let's dissect this. Consider the established company with the established marketing strategy, budget and programs. The odds are pretty good that, in going through the preparation to develop their marketing plan, they've probably identified their program strategies, targets, and commitments. Assuming that this "new marketing opportunity that just came up" was really something that matched an existing strategy, the marketing group within the organization would probably already be pursuing it. If not, the contact points within the marketing vehicle would probably approach the organization's marketing person -- for example, the opportunity for a last minute distressed ad placement in a target pub.

Instead, these borderline (some are way past the border) scammers reach out to the CEO, the president, or any other senior contact that they can get into their system. Their goal is to bypass the normal process for reviewing marketing opportunities and instead work "other channels of influence." They are looking for a mark. Selling isn't really about the opportunity, it's about playing the mark -- playing on their vanity, their fear, or some marginally uninformed or overly simplified perception perception of advertising and PR, and twisting it in such a way that it sounds like a good idea.

Vanity is a powerful driver on a personal level, but it has a terrible effect on marketing strategy and program ROI. Vanity marketing is all about making some individual or group within the organization feel important by spending their way into something that they associate with prestige. Big buildings, big tradeshow booths, billboards, Superbowl ads, airline videos, or even the top paid position for a keyword in a search -- there are reasonable strategies behind all of these programs, but they're also tempting ego-snacks. To me, the funniest thing about vanity as a marketing driver is how normally level-headed, analytical people can get sucked into it.

The problem with these marketing scams isn't that you can't debunk them, it's the time that it takes to run them down and debunk them -- and the potential for political "ill will" that you might develop with their mark. And that's a big part of why they target who they do.

I must say that in trying to develop a tip list for addressing one of these situations, it's hard to take an objective point of view. I find the people who market this way equivalent to those robocalls that crawl phone numbers pumping mortgages or some other crap -- the same ones that invariably wind up calling your cell phone. You keep hoping that some aspect of the legal system will track them down and drop the hammer on them so that no one would ever consider doing it again. Unfortunately, in the world of marketing quackery, that probably isn't going to happen. But ultimately, that's why it's so important that these people, the ones that sell marketing services outside of the proper channel, are not rewarded for their efforts.

We may not be able to make them stop, but we can try to take away their customer base, one mark at a time.

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