Thursday, July 22, 2010

Marketers and Other Sex Workers

An interesting Seth Godin piece on marketing describes the friction between a marketer who's trying to seduce versus the intractable reluctance of some consumers to the amorous advances.
It's a lot easier to seduce someone who's worldview and attitude makes them open to it....and yet as marketers we seem to want to treat everyone the same, want to please everyone, want to come up with the magic words that open every heart.
I think a much clearer idea of the dynamics could be gleaned by substituting "prostitute" for "marketer".

By identifying as a marketer, you unfasten yourself from the things you might happen to market (much as a self-styled Lothario is detached from any deep loving devotion for cherished Other). Of course, for most of us, the notion of a "marketer" existing independently from whatever's being marketed seems perfectly normal. Indeed, many careers revolve around exactly that. But from my peculiar vantage point, this puts everything ass-backwards.

I was fairly successful at guerilla marketing Chowhound, but it never occurred to me to think of myself as a marketer. I was just spreading word about something I deemed cool and useful. In so doing, I often felt quite alone amid myriad other web entrepreneurs who appeared to be doing the same, because nearly all of them were coming from a very different perspective. They were
pretending - some very skillfully, others not so much. And to market for the sake of marketing is to feign passion...i.e. to whore.

I recall a meeting at CNET shortly after they bought Chowhound, where the brass was discussing strategies for cultivating a brand image of "passion and authenticity". I sat there listening with the uncomfortable sensation that my brain was about to explode.

It's jarring to find oneself decked out in cheap mascara and fishnet stockings en route to an evening with one's true love. Yes, marketers want to "open every heart". Because they're marketing, and the gig is about getting over. It's not so much about the product as about "about the product". This involves an agenda of manipulation, rather than sincerity or love. And that's precisely how big, bland, crappy crap gets foisted on us.

For most people, who consume in lockstep with this untethered marketing machine, it's never really about the product, either. We feign to enjoy soulless products marketed at us via canny feint. As in any bordello, feigning rules supreme, and neither side wants reality to intrude.

Chowhound wasn't feigned, and it certainly wasn't for everyone. In fact, the last thing in the world I wanted was for all of humanity to blow through our doors. I wasn't marketing to market, and it was never about "about the product". I wanted to find kindred spirits and genuinely delight them - not
make them feel delighted (hoping they'd take action beneficial to me). The latter is a very different - and distinctly sex-workerish - objective.


Seth Godin said...

What to call people, Jeff, who have a product or service they'd like a lot of people to try and buy, but just the right people, the people who will appreciate it, the people who will get the love that they put into it in the first place?

These people (for all of our sakes) would do well to learn how to communicate their passion, price it properly, put it in front of the right people so we can actually find out about it and so they can make enough of a living to continue.

I'm happy to call them marketers, but marketers of the good kind. If you have a better word for them, would love to hear it.

Seth Godin said...

"Jeff", of course, being a combination of Jim and Leff.

Sorry about that...

Jim Leff said...

No problem re: "Jeff"...I actually answer to that at this point!

Such people won't experience the frustration you described in your article, because marketing isn't their thrust; evangelization flows as natural communication about a truly worthy thing. Not fake. Not cold-blooded. Not manipulative.

Professionals seducers focus their attention on the stagecraft of seduction rather than the truth of it all...and if that's the focus, your very livelihood hinges on your ability to, er, "close the deal" in some way/shape/form. Period. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

And that's the reason for the seduction dysfunction. Loveless overtures from a seduction professional will only go so far, and only appeal to a certain element. And this is inevitably a source of frustration for those, er, professionals.

I disagree about the value of giving the tools of the trade to sincere evangelizers. Recall, please, the migraine I had at that CNET meeting. My simple-minded earnestness had taken my product leagues beyond what their clumsy tools could offer (later at that same meeting, I was asked to consider, if Chowhound were a color, what COLOR would it be?).

The spontaneous, honest expression of true love is just way better. And feels better, on both sides of the equation.

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