Friday, September 4th, 2009

Words is broken

Words is broken
Email to a friend Comments (22)

Dat’s rite. We’z all myxed-ups and I’s nots tawkin bouts the tweensz textn. Nope, there’s something increasingly problematic with the language we employ in marketing. If we don’t make some changes soon, no one will listen to any of our messages.

Wearing-out red pens

Over the past year, I’ve been working on a book called Speak Human: Out-Market the Big Guys by Getting Personal. It has now been sent-out to a few trusted friends for feedback. Meanwhile I’m running it through what feels like an endless number of revisions—scrutinizing every term, phrase, and suggestion. Today’s not going that well; I’ve only worked through three pages, and I’ve been at it for two hours now. (Sigh.)

In part I’m working to expunge my slips in punctuation, grammar, and spelling—of which there are many. More than that though, I’m trying to pin-point holes in my arguments. I use the book to make some suggestions that I feel are largely based on common-sense. As a result, I want to ensure that I’m not oversimplifying or speaking out-of-turn.

Speak Human is in some respects a bit of a handful. I’ve endeavored to make it a resource that one might give to a small business owner. In it I work to provide them with a working understanding of brands, marketing, and social media. The greater theme of the book, however, is that by behaving more plainly and personally, companies can better connect with customers.

Lately, I’ve been using experiences I’ve had with marketers – and companies in general – to test the principles I present. It’s a bit of a relief that I keep finding that my arguments seem to hold water; but, it’s also a rather sad indictment of today’s marketing climate.

Getting back to that whole “language” thing

Words are powerful. The slogan, “A Diamond is Forever” establishes inordinate value for a shiny stone. Some argue that the word “change” was Obama’s secret-weapon, positioning him in way that left others scrambling. Meanwhile, if you ever want to cripple an otherwise sensible discussion with your spouse, just insert the words, “you always…”

As the people tasked with reaching customers and persuading them to believe in our companies, we should be especially keen regarding the power of words. We must also acknowledge just what disastrous results can come back upon us through their misuse. In saying this, I ask why we are so readily allowing social media to bastardize the meanings of even the most basic words.

Perhaps most telling of this epidemic is how we’ve let the true meaning of the word “friend” become almost entirely sapped. For lack of a better convention, this term – and our desire to be polite – have skewed what was an otherwise basic notion. Seth Godin puts it nicely in a recent talk with Tom Peters, “It’s worthless to have lots and lots of friends on Facebook because they’re not really your friends. They’re just people who didn’t want to offend you by pressing the ignore button.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg though. When marketers excited about social media use terms like “relationship”, “conversation”, and “transparency”, I mostly just hear, “bullshit”, “bullshit”, and more “bullshit”. Why? Because these words are cheap to say, but far more costly to back them up. As a result, lots of people use them without really meaning anything. It’s fun to get excited about social media’s potential, but it might prove a “wash” because so many want to reap the benefits without really engaging with anyone.

Test subjects

For the past few months now, I’ve been collecting notes on companies that speak human and those that don’t. For the sake of today’s post though, I’ll focus on those who don’t—but should really know better. Moreover, I’ll concentrate on those who’ve made contact with me, looking to gain attention for their companies through this blog.

On a regular basis, I receive emails from people in marketing roles who want me to write about something they’re doing. Most times I can tell that it’s a blanket message just by considering the general nature of the request. There’s typically some kind of note about how much they like ideasonideas, and that they would love to partner with me and create some kind of relationship.

Lately, I’ve taken to emailing these people back. I figure it’s an interesting test: If they’re willing to get in-touch asking for help, you’d think they’d be interested in “getting to first-base” with me. Sadly, most just want a one-night-stand; worse yet, they’d rather if I didn’t talk too much while they were having their way with me. The general sentiment seems to be, “Stop asking questions silly blogger… and give us some free publicity!”

Sure, you’d expect this of some groups like black hat SEO groups or dodgy overseas web development firms. What’s weird though, is that marketers for well-respected organizations are doing just this. They initiate contact asking to be “friends”, but my friendly reply doesn’t seem to even warrant their response. My suggestion: don’t send an email asking to “partner” with someone unless you’re willing to engage in an actual dialogue.

These guys are using popular social media terms but can’t seem to understand that these words are founded on real human interaction. This allows them to think that using such buzzwords is all that’s required, allowing them to keep on broadcasting one-way messages. The notion that seems so terribly elusive to them is that relationships are about more than just selling product.

The real cost of social media

In part, this is a scaling issue. Even if these marketers like the idea of connecting with others, they don’t have much time to do so. They need to reach a lot of people in order to keep their bosses happy. This is certainly understandable, but I don’t think it makes such behavior excusable, and it shouldn’t be mistaken for good marketing. The simple fact is: If you want a relationship, you’ll have to invest something in it.

Marketers need to pony-up or they’ll find the only place for their messages is in the waste-bin. Engaging in conversations with customers and “partners” is time-consuming, but with each sincere interaction, currency is earned. This presents huge opportunity for those willing to put in some time. I regularly spread the word for companies who I’ve grown to trust – so long as they are good ones – and I’ll bet that you do too. That being said, few of us have much interest in someone who wants a roll-in-the-hay, without even talking to us first.

I say it’s time to cast-aside all of the desire to find “best-practices” relating to social media. Forget about the white-papers and seminars relating to this “revolution”. If you want to establish real relationships with customers, you need to get back to basics and engage in actual conversations. (You know—those ones in which people really talk to one another?)

Paying lip-service to all of these silly terms, while we really just engage in one-way communications shows how stuck we are in an advertising world. Sorry folks, all these social things just don’t work if you use them like that. And sure, this sucks for marketers, because it slows them down. What few think to acknowledge is that it’s actually pretty hard to have thousands of meaningful conversations running concurrently; nevertheless, that’s simply the world we live in. Relationships, friendships, and trust don’t come overnight. It’s time to stop tossing around these words while marketing the in the same crappy old way we used to.

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Comments & Trackbacks

  1. Great stuff. I really enjoy reading your posts. I often tell people who ask me what I do for a living that I listen/read and talk/email/chat with customers and staff. I have the benefit of working for a community bank and I can get personal with my communication. In fact, my intent in my email newsletters is to have the tone of a conversation. And when they send me a question, they get quick answers. Sometimes they wonder why they may receive an email at 3am. Of course, I tell them it is because I am dedicated to our customers rather than the fact that my 4 year olds have woken me up again!

    Anyway, enough blabbing. Good luck with the book. Sounds like a good read.

  2. Those 4 year olds do muck-up otherwise decent sleeps, don't they?

  3. Truly don't remember what a decent night's sleep is ... the 4 year old happens to have a twin!

  4. Amy Owen says:

    Eric - your blog is one of the few things that I really bother check out on a regular basis. Your posts are insightful and your writing is razor sharp! Keep it coming! Can't wait for the book!

  5. Thanks Amy--very nice of you to say that!

    And David: I just drink before going to bed. That way I don't hear when our kids are crying. ;-)

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  7. arayans says:

    i'm an undergrad-student, and well, we have to apply for summer interns. at such times, most seniors often advise me to send out 'sucks'. mainly, 'sucks' are tailor made templated mails that go out to about a 1000+ firms\etc with hopes of getting 5 positive-ish replies and 1 materialising correctly. i found this absurd, and in most ways, self-depreciating. then again, i got told that since the firms don't know me and i don't know them, there probably was not need to worry about getting personal. and my seniors seemed to be bouyed by the fact that firms have gotten used to this and that this is an accepted practice (with thousands of co-iitians getting interns every year on the strength of this despicable practice) and no one takes offense to it; and seemingly, this is that way it ought to run-on, because firms are too busy to care about 'getting personal with undergrads' and so are students, who're obviously occupied with finding a thousand+ firms to (figuratively) suck. and all the blah.

    me? i sent 3 applications, spending a day making each, researching about the firm, and crafting an appropriate application for the same. and i got 2 responses (yeay), albeit negative (still, i stick with yeay). i also got a few tips from one firm wrt my portfolio, out of good-will, because i could strike a conversation with the firm on the heels of my initial email. i considered some of those tips, and a few weeks later, i chanced to walk into another design firm's office (i was passing by, and took the gamble!) and speak with them directly.
    ..i got the internship.

    no emails, no phone calls. just an apology for turning up without an appointment, and a discussion and display of some works. and presto!

    taught me that it is important to be meticulous and get personal. it ALWAYS helps. maybe walking into the firm's office stretches it a bit too far, but hey, it worked :) not to mention that it also fetch me some important advice from the other firm..

    ps. i just wished to add an example to the discussion, hoping for it to be of some help. genuinely not trying to advertise myself or anything as-such, hence have kept out all names and any such relativistic info.
    regards.

  8. I agree with the part about needing to pay lip service to the social media world. In reality, the central concept behind the media site should be understand, and used. Aside from that, I'm getting a little tired of all the bandwagons, and corporations trying to jump on board to look cool. They end up presenting a number of different conflicting faces to the world, and that hurts branding IMO.

  9. Matt Robin says:

    There's so much of this I agree with Eric, excellent post with great observations about how some Marketing people are getting things very, very wrong. I got here via the undrln rss feed by the way...nice! :)

    Can't wait to see the book when it's done.

  10. Anna says:

    AMEN! I work in marketing, and to me the biggest challenge is trying to please people who know little about the philosophy. From the different bosses I have had, it seems to be determined by the ones who manage the business by numbers verses vision.

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  13. Leksaker says:

    When is the book ready?

  14. Should be available late October, or early November. More details here: http://www.smashlab.com/news/archives/some-notes-regarding-our-upcoming-book/

  15. Glenn Hilton says:

    Eric, I've been meaning to ask this for awhile but I really like ideasonideas, so would you partner with me and be my friend?

  16. Totally. It would be a "relationship". ;-)

  17. bwe says:

    I work for a company that actually uses the social to a) listen for problems b) ask to engage and c) inform immediately if there's an upcoming problem.

    Personally, I think that's the right way for companies to think about interacting with social networking. I agree that's its not about "best practices" and don't try and make it what it is not. It's a conversation. Not a dictate.

  18. Pingback: Perception is Reality » Blog Archive » Fibs, Damn Fibs and Marketing - 5 Simple Rules to Keep It Real

  19. ash says:

    this made me want to buy your book. Couldn't agree more and sadly I've been guilty of not speaking human myself

  20. I really want to buy this book!

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  22. Virtual Office says:

    I have a big issue with the social media. Actually no social media provides any kind of privacy. Just a simple email asking details from an email id like ****@***police.gov.* will expose your private data, regardless of any issue. It doesn't matter who sent the email, from where and where you are from.

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