Monday, March 10, 2008

Self-Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing

This panel was full of really great pearls of wisdom. It had some of the same themes we’d heard, but delved more into the philosophy of social marketing. And to be honest, after listening to it, I had two opposite but instant feelings: a) Oh shit, we’d better start thinking differently, and b) for a big company, we have some pretty good, innovative things going on.

The big idea I took away from this panel was that we need to shift thinking in two ways. First, we need to “come out of the ivory tower” as one panelist put it. Stop talking at the community, and start being a part of it.

Secondly, as part of the community, it’s less about message and more about social gestures. Think about it as if the brand is a person in a community of peers. If you want to be a liked, respected member of the community, do you go around telling everyone what you stand for? No. You just act nice. You contribute meaningfully to the community.

In this new model, we’ll have to let go. It’s messier. We’ll have to embrace the chaos. It’s less about the “big idea” and more about lots of little ideas. Stop trying to sell to people and start helping them buy. And for Pete’s sake, stop talking and start listening.

The marketing of no marketing = how much can you give away?

Crazy, right? What client wants to give stuff away? A few examples, though:

Panelist Hugh MacLeod, former Burnett copywriter and current grand poo-bah at, when he was trying to help a winery in South Africa launch, started sending out free wine. A bottle to influential bloggers. Cases to dinner parties. No strings attached. Just be kind, get the word out, make people feel good about your brand.

What if you can’t give stuff away? Give away an experience. An idea. Audi has been trying this out, putting dry cleaning services, spa treatments, wi-fi, and coffee shops in at their dealerships. Would everyone agree exactly on how to articulate the message of those gestures? Probably not. Would they like Audi more for it? You bet.

Another company gave a handful of consumers access to their internal website. Gave them a look behind the curtain, so they felt like they were part of the team. A small gesture, but it built trust.

What are you giving away? If not a physical product (and no, we’re not talking about keychains with your logo) or a service, then is it useful information (Armor All Owner Center, Glad 1000 uses), entertainment (, or something else for them (not you).

This approach is an art, not a science. It’s more long-term. It’s about programs rather than campaigns. It builds sustainable relationships. Because the relationships are the important part. If two people are talking about an iPhone, the important part is not the iPhone. It’s the talking. It’s the relationship.

Transactions are the byproducts of good relationships.

So I hear all this stuff, and I’m all fired up because it sounds really really smart. Social gestures. And I walk out. It’s been rainy and shitty out all day, and we don’t have umbrellas. And there are people from handing out free ponchos. It’s perfect. Lots of people are very very happy about these ponchos. They take them with a big smile and before long there are several hundred smiling people walking around in the rain with these ponchos on, looking like Casper the Zappos ghost. Zappos sells shoes, not ponchos. What gives, right? Who cares. I now love Zappos.

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