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The Death of the Hard Sell: Why People Don't Trust "Marketing" (and What to Do About It)

Stephen Denny, Denny Marketing

We’re delighted to share the following guest post from Stephen Denny of Denny Marketing, an Averetek Partner.

The single biggest macro trend we could put our finger on in 2016 and beyond is what we call “Seeking Control in an Out-of-Control World.” Its implications should inform everything we do as marketers, communicators, and salespeople. Seeking Control tells us that our trust in the institutions around us—from the media to big business to technology to the government and even sports—has collapsed, ushering in a populist “people-first” wave that encompasses everything from political nationalism to data security to changes in media consumption.

We want to wrest control back in our lives from forces that we feel have tried to take advantage of us. We want self-sufficiency in an interconnected world. And because of it, we’re increasingly wary of what we see as “marketing.”

It’s an odd predicament because marketing, as a discipline, has never been easier. Yes, we have the technological means to target our message to the desired audience like no other time in human history, but because of this capability, we’re also able to ignore these hyper-targeted messages with super-human speed and convenience. Flick your thumb on your smartphone and poof! You’ve spent someone’s marketing budget without even focusing your eyes. And in virtually all cases, that’s perfectly fine with everyone on the receiving end, but it makes life harder for those of us on the spending side.

Let me share a few data points with you to bring this to life.

In the U.S., 44% of respondents say they don’t trust brands that appear to spend a lot of money and effort on marketing because they feel that the brands aren’t telling them the truth. This number jumps to 50% for Millennials and out-polls those who disagree by a margin of 2 to 1. The U.S. data is based on over 1,500 interviews with a representative demographic cross section of the country (you can get the key insights from the Killing Giants Mindset 2020 Global Survey here).

Most of the countries we’ve studied fall within a few percentage points above or below the U.S., so we can be fairly confident that we’re not studying an outlier here. We want control over our buying experience, our time, our digital media consumption preferences, and our lives. We don’t want “marketing” intruding on our time, apparently. What’s a marketer to do?

I’ve wrestled with these problems and have come up with a few ways to deal with this challenge. Consider the conversation starters below that may work for you.

Practice Aikido.

Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art that “focuses not on punching or kicking opponents, but rather on using their own energy to gain control of them or to throw them away from you. It…places great emphasis on motion and the dynamics of movement.”

How many ways can you just take the prospect in the direction they already want to go? What are the natural touch-points between you and your customers or channel partners? If you believe that everything you do should be self-referencing to your brand—that every experience your customers or channel partners have with your brand is unique enough to make them say, “That could only come from you”—then you have ample opportunity to embed the “ask.”

There are an awful lot of times you can help people take that one voluntary step in your direction, from training to customer service to technical support to your hold music. Your primary marketing research and even your packaging (B2B companies included) can move prospects in your direction too.

Create experts, not evangelists.

People hungry to learn more about your brand, product, or solution often self-select when you offer them a chance to learn more than what’s in the manual.

How many ways can you create an expert? How can you provide a high-level understanding of the deeper and more intricate parts of what you do so that, in the words of The Boston Beer Company’s founder and CEO Jim Koch, people “get it under their fingernails”? Once they have the answers to the questions their peers have yet to think of, they’ll be evangelists, and they won’t be able to stop talking about it.

I had the chance to interview Jim when I was doing the research for Killing Giants—you can get a deep cut interview transcript here on my website if you’re interested. He was very animated when talking about creating experts, going so far as to have each employee also have a brewery “part-time job” to ensure they understood the product and the business better than anyone else could. Something to think about.

Give people some control in an out-of-control world.

Let’s return to the premise I put forth at the beginning of this article, that people want control over their time and their personal outcomes. When the hard sell comes, it takes this control away. Not surprisingly, people balk at this approach as a result, particularly in times like these where seeking control has risen to the fore.

So how can we give our prospects more control? What can we show them, proactively and on purpose, that would typically be seen as privileged or exclusive? How can we pull back the velvet rope and give them a unique look into the inner workings, so they feel like “one of us”?

Here's one way. BMW Design Works has shifted its point of view on proprietary design processes: where once you had to go through three levels of physical security, you now just go to YouTube. Take a look here, if you’re interested. Likewise, how do we “GoPro” the user experience for our customers so that they can live the experience beforehand?

As I mentioned earlier, technology has made it easier than ever before to target your core audience—it’s also made it easier than ever before for your core audience to ignore you. The mental spam filters have never been higher or better defended. As a result, the stakes have never been higher for finding ways to get past the gatekeepers.

Marketing, Channel Strategy

Stephen Denny, Denny Marketing

Posted By: Stephen Denny, Denny Marketing

Stephen Denny is a competitive strategy + marketing consultant, helping emerging brands define their competitive positioning, communication strategies and implementation plans in the market. He is the author of Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath In Your Industry (Portfolio US & Penguin UK).

Apart from writing and consulting, Denny is a frequent speaker on competitive strategy and marketing. He holds multiple patents, has lived and worked in both the US and Japan, and has an MBA from the Wharton School.

Prior to consulting, he was a 20+ year senior marketing executive having managed the people, strategy and budgets at brand name technology companies like at Sony, Onstar, Iomega and Plantronics. He lives just south of Santa Cruz, CA.

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