A good marketer doesn’t have to advertise

The real power structures behind the advertising industry appear to be staring at the Internet for the first time. The big agencies, in particular, are wondering how to make money as the vehicles they once relied on lose influence in the market. It was probably people like Warren Buffett who finally convinced them that something actually really scary is happening:

Photo: Thomas Hawk

“The outlook for newspapers is not great. In the TV business, a license from the government was essentially the right to a royalty stream. There were basically three highways to people’s eyeballs, and companies like P&G, Ford, Gillette, and GM would pay a significant amount of money to be get on those highways and advertise their products to a mass audience. But as the ways to get in front of people’s eyeballs increases, the value of those highways goes down.”

What’s a marketer to do? They are desparate for attention. In many cases they even threaten to drop campaigns if they don’t get editorial coverage.

“Almost 50 percent (48.9%) of senior marketing executives reported paying for an editorial or broadcast placement – and almost half of those who haven’t said they would…If 65% of consumers assume that the products, companies or services they read about are there because someone paid for them – and half of marketers have actually paid for media coverage – the press, PR industry and news consumers are all in trouble.” (via Forbes.com)

Buying coverage isn’t how you get people to spread the word about your product. It’s also shortsighted if not suicidal to damage the credibility of the vehicles that you rely on to communicate trusted messages with your customers.

There is another way, however.

I’ve been watching Colin Roche turn his PenAgain invention into a real story with real coverage from big outlets over the past 3 years or so now. I don’t think he has spent a single dollar in marketing, yet media coverage only improves and as a result sales keep soaring.

This stratgegy is not for the weak. Colin keeps a handful of pens in his pocket at all times. He hands one out to everyone he talks to pointing out the latest enhancements such as the new packaging or the new flip cap spring. He makes people feel like they are helping a guy startup a cool little company with him.

He slips it into conversation whenever he gets a chance. He sends his pens to famous people. He sends them to reporters and editors. He chats with store owners who are selling his pen knowing that they are going to help sell it, too.

Everyone is not only a customer in Colin’s eyes, everyone is a potential marketing vehicle for him.

Colin has also refined the “story” of his company. It’s all true. He did in fact dream it up in detention in high school. And the name did come to him after someone woke him up and he said, “I was dreaming about that pen again.” But it’s these anecdotes that make his company feel human and interesting to talk about.

Colin also just started blogging and is now collecting photos of people using the PenAgain on flickr. His flickr photo stream looks like the walls of a New York City diner covered with images of people shaking hands with the owner.

He’s doing all the right things to help people who love his product share his enthusiasm for it.

Contrast his marketing efforts with traditional advertising agencies and you’ll find people stuck with a system that doesn’t work. Agencies get paid more for the expensive print and television campaigns than they ever will for search marketing. They have no incentive to jump into the online space and will continue to sell their clients on the virtues of big expensive branding efforts.

And then you have the media buyers who get paid for allocating a big budget across media vehicles that meet the agency’s campaign goals. But since the goal is usually wide exposure, media buyers have to use vehicles like TV and big circulation magazines to justify their existence. And there’s no incentive to spend less than the budget…quite the contrary. The more they spend, the harder their job is which means they can justify billing for more.

Agencies and buyers are both wrapped up in a dynamic that profits from the waste they create. This worked when there was more friction in the distribution process, as Umair Haque will tell you, but media has taken a lube bath on the Internet and the need for an expensive shoehorn to squeeze expensive campaigns through no longer fits. (yikes…bad mixed metaphor there. sorry.)

“Edge platforms have a number of key features. The most familiar are that they’re often massively distributed, and open-access….they can usually almost completely vaporize the fixed costs of production from most of the resources that are necessary and sufficient to compete in those industries.”

Similarly, Jeff Jarvis sees a tipping point coming for the advertising industry:

“Advertisers can get away with moving slowly – for now – because they are the ones with the money. Funny how that works. But this won’t last for long, as one client and then one agency discovers that the lazy, traditional, one-stop-shopping of TV upfront and the big-media lunch circuit is inefficient, wasteful, untargeted, irrelevant, and ultimately damned irritating to your customers.”

At the end of the day, the product vendor doesn’t want to work as hard as someone like Colin to sell their product. If they did, then they would be inventing their own things and selling them to the world. The moment they hire an agency to take on that work, they have jumped into a spending whirlpool.

What they should be doing instead is talking about their product every day with everyone they meet and crafting the story that will get other people talking about their product for them. They need infectious enthusiasm for their products, not clever billboards.

Photo: jjjjjjj

Product sales isn’t getting any easier. In fact, it might be getting harder. Since the Colin Roche’s of the world are learning how easy it is to manufacture interesting products, and anyone with a computer can tell their story on the world’s stage, it probably means that selling things is more competitive than ever before.

If marketing industry leaders want to retain the downtown office spaces, nice chairs and designer clothes by riding on cushy vendor marketing budgets, they have to reinvent themselves in ways that make them invisible again. Forget about the Clio awards. You need to get back to work finding ways to get your clients and their customers talking with eachother about eachother.

I recommend starting out by pretending you have no budget before that becomes the reality.

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