The days of marketing speak are over. Show up with a suit and a soap box, making grandiose claims while using words like “revolutionary” will only get you laughed at or completely rejected without a second thought. The rejects corner of the digital world is just as bad as you’d imagine being picked last at a school PE dodge ball game would be. Except coming back from it is more like trying to redeem your reputation from a viral YouTube video of a drunken you dancing to the Macarena in sparkling tights – and the whole thing happened in 2012 at an office party.
Today, customers want something different from brands. They want the things that are hardest to find these days: honesty, reliability, sincere concern for them as individuals. It’s not just enough to just be online, they want to know that that you listen and pay attention to them and truly have their interest at heart. To use picking up and making a phone call as metaphor, they want to be able to call and know you’re going to be there to answer them and help, just like they’d phone a close friend when they need something and know that friend will stop whatever they’re doing and be there to help. With that kind of interaction and trust, that relationship will grow from being one where they only call when they need something, to calling because they genuinely enjoy what you have to say and appreciate your opinion. I always say, I pity doctors, because you never go to see one when you’re feeling great, you only go in a time of need and want the whole experience over as soon as you can so you can get back to life and forget about this ill phase. Hardly anyone ever pops by to say, “Hey doc, everything’s going great. Just stopping by to say hi and see how you’re doing.” Consultation fees not being taken into consideration here, of course…
To truly advance beyond being a tool, a quick fix to a very exact need, the customer needs to see you in a whole new light. You’re trying to build sincere relationships with real people here…treat each of them, whether twenty or two hundred come knocking on any given day, in a way you wish you’d be treated in an ideal world. Ensuring that you take five minutes of extra time to go that extra distance to help solve their problems and give them peace of mind, will give you many months and years of free, sincere good recommendation and brand loyalty from them. And that is something you will never be able to put a price on. Forget looking so strictly at ROI and human resource sapping…what’s the ROI when you care about someone in a personal relationship? Do you expect to see a return on investment whenever you help a friend or when taking care of your child when they’re sick? Of course not. You do it because you sincerely care and want to be there for them, the only reward you hope for return is seeing that they are happy and doing well. Why then, do we treat the brand-customer field with completely different rules? Why is it so unacceptable to be sincere when you deal with your customers or clients? Is it so ingrained in our minds that you need to put up the façade of total straight-faced professionalism or face the guillotine? Yes, you absolutely should provide your service or product in a professional manner, you must maintain and seek to raise your standards at all times. But professional expertise and sincere humans behind those skills and services are not mutually exclusive aspects.
A brand is built from people, a vast range of people, each of whom have their own set of rules, ideals, struggles and triumphs. Each customer base as a whole, consists of the same vast expanse of unique characters, talents and interests. We’re not going to war in marketing, so why do we seem to need this whole Roman battalion formation, this London queen’s guard mentality of not having any semblance of character or spirit beyond the surface? Crack a joke, smile too sincerely or be too honest about what we all already know is a reality during a meeting and suddenly you’re the loose cannon maverick that your company’s peers are aghast at and your customers raise an eyebrow in response to…even though we all know that they silently grin to themselves, upon seeing a real person among all the ones with forced composure and so many response filters you’d swear they were carefully, selectively trying to relinquish golf balls through a flour sifter.
As marketers, we have to put up with playing ball in someone else’s back yard all the time. Facebook and all the other digital platforms we have at our disposal to do what we do, have their own house rules and if we want any part of being part of it, we have to stick to the yellow brick roads they have architected and continuously change while we’re still on it and learning how to get the other kids to join us in a game of hopscotch. It’s a constant case of running a marathon while somewhere from the sideline a voice from a loudspeaker yells “Only allowed to skip on your left leg now, or you’re out!”, and then “Run with both arms in the air or you’re disqualified!”. Meanwhile the route keeps changing and obstacles fall in your way as you gladiator your way through it all. It’s an adaptive trade, this new world of marketing. Fifty years ago you had pretty much one tactic and you stuck to it without every deviating because it worked most of the time and nobody was really educated enough to understand what you were doing was the sales equivalent of a slide of hand magic trick. Today, one trick ponies are pretty much as bad as a standup comedian trying to crack the same joke at each gig for years, expecting the crowd to laugh as hard as they did the first time around.
I believe there is one saving grace in all of this, though, should you be willing to walk that extra mile. If you’ve ever had a really great hair dresser who you go to time after time, year in and year out, because you know they will do exactly what you expect without fail, you’ll know what I mean by this. They become your integral go-to person, a constant that you find solace in when it comes to that part of your life. And, should their lives ever change to the point where they decide to move shop to another location, you’d happily go there to see them, without a moment’s hesitation. Even if it meant adding another half an hour’s driving time to get there. It’s that kind of dedication we should seek to develop in customers, both as marketers and as brands. Idealistic? Maybe a little, but definitely not impossible at all.