Monday, October 19th, 2009

You’ve got a problem. Maybe I’m wrong—perhaps you’re perfect. Could be, your company is doing brisk business and you hardly even have to think about marketing. If that’s the case, don’t read any further. No, really, I mean it. Stop reading right now. It’s beautiful outside—might as well go for an espresso instead.


Hmmm… You’re still here. Okay, so there’s always the possibility that you’re my mom. If you are, thanks for reading. We’re looking forward to having you at the office tomorrow. For those who aren’t my mom, I’m going to test my psychic ability. I sense… that you’re troubled. I sense… that you need to sell stuff, but that no one listens. I sense… that you don’t know if your marketing actually works.

Wait—there’s more… I sense that you call prospects but can’t get past the receptionist. There’s anxiousness here. You feel as though you are bugging these people, especially when you send email newsletters. This leaves you saddened. Although you need to sell your product or services, you really don’t want to pester people. You just don’t know how else to do this.

As bewildered as you may feel, the root of your troubles isn’t hard to find. It’s simply that the rest of us don’t care about your company. We don’t care about they quality you offer or how nice you are. We don’t care about your passion or that you might be the “next big thing.” Honestly, we don’t even care that you won an award or that you’re ranked “best in class.” I know this all sounds a little mean and I’m sorry; nevertheless, there are more reasons for us not to care than there are for us to care.

Spread the word

Be this as it may, most don’t attack the problem at hand. Instead, they try to “market” their way around this lack of interest. Some run clever and expensive ads. Others hire a sales force and go for volume. Meanwhile, a few make fun of all that. “Hah!” they say, “That’s so old school! Ads don’t work any more—we’re smarter than that! We’ll use the interweb!”

They get all the hot new stuff with the hope that it will solve every one of their problems. They get a Twitter feed and start a corporate blog. And that’s not all! Heck no! They get a Facebook fan page—because everyone’s on Facebook these days! They create an RSS feed and put “share” buttons all over the place. Sadly, even this new stuff doesn’t change much of anything. Shitty, eh?

The problem with all of this, you ask? Well, having more ways to tell us about stuff we don’t care about doesn’t really solve anything. That’s why most corporate blogs are a lost cause, and the bulk of their Facebook fan pages result in limited engagement. The novelty will attract a few looks, and give marketing folks some work to do. Any attention gained here is really just latency, though, as we become accustomed with the new tools. If you’re telling boring stories, it doesn’t matter what medium you tell them with.

I can’t solve this problem for you, and I can’t make people care about what you have to say. (Sure would be awesome if I could though, wouldn’t it?) What I can offer is a simple suggestion: Stop talking about yourself. I’m not being facetious here. In order for anyone to pay attention, you’ll probably have to cut your spiel and instead find a way to make us care.

Bigger than you

Instead of just nattering on about features, gimmicks, and deals (like everyone else is) you might be better off to tap into a wave. This isn’t really such a groundbreaking notion. Big companies do it all the time! Think about it:

Apple doesn’t really sell computers or music players. They ride the design wave. They make it easy for us to access well designed objects and experiences, relatively affordably. This also comes with the promise of making our lives easier, simpler, or better. Apple’s promise has much more to do with functional beauty than with what’s in their devices.

Nike doesn’t really sell shoes or gear. They ride the sports wave. They hitch everything they do to the possibility of something epic. Sure, they could talk about materials, stitching, value, or some other thing. Instead, they concentrate on the joy of achievement, the camaraderie in sport, and discipline.

Harley Davidson doesn’t really sell motorcycles, handlebars, leather jackets, or branded hoodies. They ride the escape wave. Even if you don’t want a bike, most can appreciate the thrill of “leaving it all behind” and embracing the open road. Their wave brings with it the possibility of tapping something true, real, and free.

Look at almost every successful company out there, and you’ll see that they’re riding a wave. Eventually they might speak of specifications, value, or details, but most don’t do so until you’re interested enough to ask.

What’s your number?

I can call you right now and tell you what we do at smashLAB. I can talk about the value we afford and show you work samples. I can provide great testimonials and phone numbers for clients who will rave about our work. You know, you might even need what we do. It doesn’t matter though; you won’t listen. You have better things to do.

So, although I make the occasional sales call, and do some of those standard “marketing” things, that’s not really what we concentrate on here. Instead, we ride waves. I’m of the mind that you don’t need to be Apple, Nike, or Harley Davidson to do so. There’s no size restriction here; everyone’s free to ride. In order to do so, you just have to figure out what you care about—aside from the cash.

This blog, for example, isn’t about smashLAB. Sure, I may talk about things we’re doing, but it’s not like most corporate blogs, because I’m not trying to sell you something. Mostly this is a way to share experiences. A byproduct is that we’ve met great people along the way. A few have asked us to give presentations at conferences and others have passed our name along to potential clients. I can’t determine the value of this blog. Any return on investment has certainly been indirect, but it has opened up opportunities for us.

Design Can Change isn’t about smashLAB either. We were just freaking out about climate change (still are, if you need to know) and wanted to do something about it. That project wasn’t cheap for us to take on, but we thought it was important. Because of that project, a few people learned about our company and values. That wasn’t our reason for taking on the project, but we’ll take it anyway.

My upcoming book Speak Human isn’t about smashLAB. It’s about empowering small businesses to outmarket larger players. Incidentally, it wasn’t cheap either. I have bags under my eyes you could drive a truck through, and my wife doesn’t smile when I tell her that I’d like to write another. It’s done, though, and I think it’s pretty darned good. I put everything I could into that book. My bet is that some folks will pay attention to it, because there’s something in it for them.

Thanks for the ruler!

I just received a stack of brochures in the mail. If it weren’t for this article, I wouldn’t have even looked at them.

The first was from a big company called Pizza Hut. (I’d guess that they have a lot of smart people working on their marketing.) They’re offering me a deal on pizza. Additionally, they say that if I buy some, they might send me to Punta Cana. I don’t know what one of those things has to do with the other. I also don’t know why I should care.

A small company called Technovate sent me a shiny sheet of paper too. On it they told me who they are, that they’re very good, and why I should choose them: They are “fast, accurate and professional!” Someone there put a lot of time into this thing. It’s the “Swiss Army Knife” of brochures, sporting a calendar on one side, and a ruler affixed to the other. (Thank God! I so needed to measure some shit today!) Truth is though, I still don’t care.

These companies currently share ad space with four other ones at the bottom of our office recycle bin. I suppose it’s not the worst place to be. It’s a democratic space: I care equally little about all of them.

Whatever you’re doing to market your company, I ask you to press “pause.” As I noted earlier, it’s beautiful out there today. Go for an espresso—perhaps even treat yourself to a double-shot. Lean back in your chair and ask yourself if you’re actually saying something that people care about. If not, I ask you to start looking for a wave. You never know; you might just find some gnarly surf out there.

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