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Marketing: Marketing as Opportunism

Brenda is surviving the troubled waters of a difficult estate settlement for her deceased husband with resilience. In a recent discussion with her it seemed as though she was swimming in the shark infested waters of human greed, materialism and want - not only with family members but with people called "marketers" as well. These "marketers," it seemed, regularly scan the obituaries as a means to "prospect" new clients. They do so not by having a conversation with Brenda, for they don't have a relationship with her but now desire one based on "sales," but by mailing investment information to her. So it seems that her loss is another person's opportunity for gain. Arriving in her mail are "sales packages" from major banks and investment firms outlining the benefits of their "products" and "services" and promoting the "integrity" of their "brand." There is an important message for marketers here...

This kind of marketing strategy is based on ignorance, selfish opportunism, greed, and want. At its core, it's insulting. If there was a collective wall of marketing shame, this would need to be in the top ten. It is a practice that reveals a brand stupidity, a brand insensitivity, a brand insensibility. Brenda recognizes this clearly, "They never wanted to know me before, and now all of a sudden they want to be my best friend." It amazes me to realize that there are some sad marketers out there that scan the obituaries on a daily basis for sales opportunities. What do they expect their reception to be? It's hard to see how this practice is any different from spam.

In behind all of this is, of course, an industry that pays on performance. For the most part, an investment advisor earns a living based on commission, and in some cases 100% commission. If a base salary is present, then there are usually required sales quotas required to earn a reasonable enough income to live in our grossly over-priced society and/or simply to remain employed. So for the sales person, simply making the sale is closely linked to an act of survival. If they are "always closing" then they are at a minimum always able to pay the bills and retain their employment.

Brenda's story is really a clear and present warning to marketers...

You are an endangered species. The "prospects" you seek are not objects - they are people. If you want to pan for gold then go somewhere out in the backwoods and do it, you can't pan for people. If some authority figure has told you that it is a "numbers game" then tell them, politely but firmly, to get a life. Treating people like a numbers game is for those authority figures that choose to be ignorant and ethically inept executives and partners.

These people you call "prospects" have depth, feeling, intelligence and experiences in life you cannot imagine. And now, all of a sudden, you pretend to "help" them, to build a "relationship" with them, to "care" about them, to "provide" for them, to "protect" their best interests - to desire a "conversation of quality" with them. If any marketer is able to suddenly see an opportunity from an obituary, then they have already become a victim of the own delusions, and their own lies. People are not part of some grand transaction that spells opportunity for you. They are aware of your superficial wares, and most of all, your own lack of real concern for them. And most especially, your inability to use language and words with integrity.

A marketer that sends mail outlining the "benefits" of their "company" to someone on the basis of a tragedy in the family is someone that should be fired. You have not promoted your brand, you have degraded it. You have not created an opportunity, you have revealed a deep sense of ignorance. People, not prospects, know this about you. A prospector is someone that searches for objects not people.

If you are yourself trapped in a situation that demands a "people as numbers" approach to your own personal income, then it is time to find something else to do. Don't worry about being fired, if this kind of approach is going on and you find yourself trapped in it, then you need to fire your company and then share your experience with other people so we can all learn from it, and more importantly, take action.

And network marketers... this isn't the age of "dreams and goals" or "how to make $100,000 in six weeks" or endless blabbering on "time-sensitive opportunities." Stop it. This is called false hope and vicitmization, not marketing. This is trite foolish nonsense. You are embarrassing yourself. It is true that we are in unique, and challenging, times with respect to our careers. We are all familiar with "right-sizing" and the quick cycle of extinction around certain skills and competencies. Many people have found themselves marginalized and are indeed suffering. If you have a personal story to tell about how you overcame serious and difficult situations in life, then you have something of potential value to share. If you have nothing personal to say, you have little to offer. But please, stop it with the dreams and goals, the quick money, the best opportunity ever stuff, the time sensitive offers, and the endless cycle of a lot of writing about very little.

People don't want to be told what their dreams and goals are, and in any case, it is impossible for you to tell them what they are anyway. And if making a $100,000 is six weeks is so easy, then why aren't more people doing it? None of us want to see your fancy cars, your house in the mountains and your jet-setting lifestyles. If you have a business opportunity then state it. If you have a product or service to offer use facts, not flowery language. If you've taken a copywriting course, then forget everything you've learned. This isn't writing anything of value, it's routine and your writing will eventually wind up in the digital junk yard. Moreover, never offer a "time sensitive" offer. It's a childish practice and we all know why you do it. If your product or service cannot endure the test of time then you are indeed already sliding down a slippery slope toward the edge of the cliff. If you can't give people time to think over your offer without annoying them to death with closing tactics, then you may have nothing to offer of lasting value.

It seems that in network marketing everyone is a marketer. The copywriting industry has taken a close note of this judging by the overabundance of training programs on the market now. These programs generally teach how NOT to have a personal voice in writing, but to instead follow a process of using "power" words, tag lines, and "killer"phrases - some would turn you into a guerilla. Welcome the dawn of excessive scrolling down web pages. It is true that anyone can learn to do this, that's because it isn't difficult, but the real question is why anyone would want to learn to do this in the first place. Hopefully new Internet technologies such as weblogs, social networks and RSS will provide firmer ground for a better voice. A voice that isn't tainted with a whole lot of "persuasive" writing about very little, unless of course the medium is co-opted once again. All of this remains to be seen.

And along came niche marketing. Now everything is some kind of niche. Of course, everyone needs to find a niche, in the sense of discovering our true position or purpose in life. But the premise of niche marketing is more about finding an identifiable and suitable place for a product or service. For network marketers, this is viewed as a way to build credibility, trust and a degree of expertise. Yet it seems odd that the biggest niche market is marketing itself - the is a gross excess of marketing marketing. Everyone's home is a commercial center. A niche is also a recess or hollow in a wall. A niche is a way of digging the same hole deeper. We seem to have entered an age of marketing marketing as some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. It is of course true to say that each of us has expertise, whether we recognize it or not, and therefore each of us has an opportunity to connect with other people that share this common bond.

But a niche market is more about how people build relationships and connect with each other on a variety of interests and needs than it is a specific and limited area of knowledge and expertise. Knowledge, and therefore expertise, is already disconnected and classified into oblivion. The real niche market is one that attempts and helps to put our wide variety of experiences back together into something that more closely resembles a unified whole. The benefit of niche marketing is that it recognizes that everyone has a place and something to offer. I believe this is true. The danger of niche marketing is that it leads to increased fragmentation and isolation of experience. If all marketing turns to niche marketing, what will we be left with?

The market needs to take back marketing. The "target market" is not one of consumers, the real targets are the marketers themselves. It needs to wrestle it away from slogans, logos, inept and vacuous advertising, false lifestyle associations, robotic writing tactics, endorsements that are empty, and connections to rich and famous athletes and performers that in the end mean very little.

Brenda's story is not really about marketing - it's about life happening. And life unavoidably happens to all of us. Marketing is not a science, nor is it an art. The end of marketing is not sales or profits.

The legacy of marketing is a collective story about one of the ways in which we choose to relate to each other in life, the ways in which we choose to give and to take, the ways in which we choose to offer help or victimize, the ways in which we authenticate or trivialize the experiences of people, the ways in which empathy and greed battle for attention, and the ways in which we choose to ultimately value life or degrade it.

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