I had an acquaintance, let’s call her “Topaz”, who would overtake any conversation she was in earshot of. Once she had forced her way into the conversation, Topaz would twist any conversational topic into her favorite topic: herself.
A friend and I were discussing music at a party Topaz was at. In the middle of our discussion on indie musicians we loved, Topaz waited a few seconds and then interjected, “I sure hope that Heath Ledger wins for Dark Knight for the oscars. It was one of my favorite movies.” The fact that the Dark Knight (a good movie to be sure) was not at all related to what we had been talking about didn’t seem to bother her and she proceeded to monopolize our conversation some more.
It got to the point where it was exhausting to be around Topaz because she just would “take” from a conversation. There was no reciprocity in her behavior. I mention Topaz because, she was almost a perfect case study of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I’m sure you’ve met people like Topaz and after awhile, no matter how nice they may be, you just don’t want to be around them. It’s too exhausting.
I think there’s a corollary in the way most companies have marketed their products for the past fifty years. Here’s an example of what I mean…
The Car Ad: Marketing Narcissism In Action…
How many times have you been watching an Office rerun when an awful ad just assaults you in your La-Z-boy? I bet that the ad was an ad for a local car dealership. Most local car dealerships seem to think that some combination of the following elements will make you drop $20,000 on a car:
- A listing of the cars they have in stock.
- An overly excitable announcer.
- A testimonial that’s clearly an actor.
- An owner appearing with a puppy or animal.
- The owner saying a pun based on the puppy or animal in front of him (“We do our doggonedest to get everyone credit.”)
- And finally, an earworm of a theme song that haunts you long after the ad finishes.
What’s missing from this formula? Any interest in the customer. Any reason for a customer to buy besides the fact he/she wants to buy a car.
Most people considering a new car aren’t sitting around thinking of nothing but cars. They have to get the laundry. They have to pick up their kids from school. They have reasons they need or want a new car. But none of this enters into local car ads. The dealerships just want to tell you about themselves; there seems to be no interest in actually meeting the customers’ needs.
The focus should always be on customers. I don’t need to know that a car dealership owner can find a puppy to be with him on camera but I need a car that meets MY needs. And this is the sea shift that’s happening now. Specifically…
…old Marketing Is Dying…
Car ads are just one example of the old style of marketing. It’s akin to what Seth Godin calls the “end of television industrial complex.” When there were very few TV channels and all attention focused on those channels, all one needed was cash and production values to sell. And it’s just TV ads that are in trouble. How many print ads can you remember from magazines? How many people still read magazines? newspapers?
We’re seeing the last gasps of this old world. The old marketing was all about battering an captive audience with marketing whether or not they wanted it. Today, people have so many options they don’t need our ads. They want to do business with companies that respect them, that don’t just take and take.
And that brings me back to Topaz. When you’re marketing, try to treat your customers like friends (well, friends who pay you). Don’t treat them like Topaz would. When you’re with a friend, you have a genuine interest in their needs. You’re not always monopolizing the conversation. There’s a give and take. Try that when you’re reaching out to customers. What can you offer them? What do they need?
I should add that this hard to get into the habit of doing. I get better every day but I’m not 100% there yet. As businesspeople, our heads and our hearts are in what we do everyday. It’s difficult to step back and see it from the customers’ perspective.
But if you can, your business with thrive.