Drop the Control Rock

Another conversation from a marketer who thinks they can control the message. Sigh. I wonder what his company’s customers would say if they heard him saying, “I have more control then my customers do.”

Many marketers and businesses think they have control, and they don’t. It’s a marketer’s classic error to think they have control. I find it funny that this is an illusion that many large companies have and all of the smaller companies follow suit. Small to medium enterprises are the organizations that can least afford this pompous attitude.

Whenever I hear this opinion, I can tell someone hasn’t spent significant time in sales. And that’s a problem because marketing supports sales. It’s also a very good reason why in a downturn, marketing is the first to go. They don’t understand relationships.

Just because your company is talking doesn’t mean anyone is listening. Buyers rarely pay attention or voice anything when things are going right. They only care when their needs aren’t met. Yes, their exceptions to the general rule (Apple and Harley Davidson comes to mind, though my Harley Road king was not a great bike. Yet don’t these companies serve and fulfill needs, not message vacuums?).

We must always remember that buyers have the wallets… Money is the ultimate control. Companies have to serve consumers in order to get them to purchases. In essence, companies are trusted to resolve a need. I’ve sold more than $35 million of marketing services to companies, and I can tell you it wasn’t because of message control. It was because people trusted my companies could do the job. In that sense, I totally agree with Doc Searls: There is no market for messages.

When companies don’t serve customers and start shoving product (and messages) in controlled atmospheres, they ultimately fail. They forget that no company starts or continues without a sale. What was assumed to be control was granted by a buyer in trust. It can be taken away when trust is violated. And customer bases erode.

What social media has done is accelerated the process, but buyers were voting with their feet (and wallets) a long time before blogs started. Think Sears, Detroit auto, IBM consumer products, AT&T phones, on and on.

Interested in more? How about a podcast with Brian Solis and I on message control?

8 Replies to “Drop the Control Rock”

  1. Pingback: Mike's Points
  2. (Haven’t figured out about trackbacks via comments, so I’m repeating much of what I replied on my own blog, Geoff, et al.)

    Essentially, I think we were on different subjects. When it comes to sales, yes, collectively consumers (i.e., the marketplace) have ultimate control. Not the only control, but they/we do have the final say. (Though, theoretically, the back and forth between companies and consumers could go on forever as companies adjust, consumers input, companies adjust again, and so on.)

    But, to say that one side or the other — companies or consumers — have total control is silly. Neither never has had total control. We can only talk about level of influence we try to have — either as companies or consumers.

    Take care, and safe travels.
    Mike

  3. Mike: Customers have final say and thus total control. Even when control is granted to a company, it’s on a permission basis vis a vis a contract. Sorry, but I really cannot agree with you on this.

  4. Geoff,
    That’s fine. If we all agreed with each other, life would be boring and there’d be no need for most of us (duplication of services).

    I think we’re disagreeing on degrees.

    What I assume we can agree on is that companies need to be responsive to the marketplace. And, today’s and tomorrow’s online tools make is so much easier to receive and monitor customer feedback. (At least, the customer population that’s online.)
    — Mike

  5. If marketers insist on having control….maybe you change your tune and talk about “influencing the message”. I think users will not revolt so hard against that.

    However I think just “joining the conversations” and treating customers as peers and realize they have value add as well is the best way to carry your tune.

  6. “Control” is in the eyes, heads and hearts of the “customer”. If the police come to your house, arrest you, put you in handcuffs and take you to jail–you have no choice, you are clrearly being controlled. If your lover breaks your heart and you chose to jump off a cliff and kill yourself your self becuase of this–it is your choice, but you are still being controlled, as you have convinced yourself you really have no choice because you have decided can’t go on because of how someone else’s actions have made you feel. The Giants are in the Superbowl, you’ve been invited to a big party on Sunday of fellow Giant fans and you have decided you must go out buy a new NY Giants jersey, cap and bomber jacket in part because you are impassioned over this team as their success is part of your self esteem and in part to fit in, be cool and feed your ego. This is also a form of environmentally formed control beacuse the customer has willing been manipulated. And when the local sports store advertises and promotes merchandise using local sports celebrities because it is attempted to exploit the situation by influencing the customers, they are manipulating the environment in order to gain some level of control of the customers’ eyes, minds and hearts. It may not be control like the puppet master has over his subject, but it is still a form of control that the customer willing buys into and accepts or even embraces. In marketing it has always been and will always be about measured control and influence. The best markets know how to share information that first and foremost resonates with the customers, and how much influence and control they can inject into the environment before the customer feels manipulated. I hope I don’t burst anybody’s bubble, but marketing in the online world of social media is still about exploitation manipulation…it is just needs to be applied in a much more measured and resonant manner.

  7. OK “Oddjob,” If that’s so, how come you can’t give us your real name? Afraid of being “controlled” or “recognized” by someone higher up? Guess that gives you an idea of how much control your position has over your ability to comment.

    I wouldn’t agree with your definition of manipulation. Too many marketers think they have this power. If manipulating people with sales signs is so powerful, why are retailers slumping right now in spite of their sales signs?

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