Monday, December 5, 2011

Fighting back against "marketing free"

Way back in 2005, I encountered a description of a series of sessions that was advertised as "marketing free."

Marketing Free

If you’ve ever been frustrated when a technical training session turns into a sales or marketing pitch then HP World 2005 is for you! This year Interex will offer a complete line-up of “Marketing Free” sessions so that attendees can be sure that they will get only the purest technical information directly from highly respected industry experts. Attendees can look for the “Marketing Free” symbol in the conference catalog to easily identify these sessions.

Plus, now you can take matters into your own hands! Every conference attendee will receive a “No Marketing” sign in their conference tote bags. If sales or marketing information begins to intrude into a “Marketing Free” session, attendees can fight back by hold up their “No Marketing” signs to let the speaker know that he/she has veered off course. Power to the people!

Needless to say, marketers such as myself were highly offended.

The issue still makes headlines, and this McKinsley Quarterly article (addressed to marketers and salespeople) makes an entirely different statement about what customers want.

At the end of the day, customers no longer separate marketing from the product—it is the product. They don’t separate marketing from their in-store or online experience—it is the experience. In the era of engagement, marketing is the company.

According to authors Tom French, Laura LaBerge, and Paul Magill, customers don't want "marketing free" sessions. They want "marketing permeated" sessions.

However, it's probably all a bunch of semantics.

Let's say that you're the geekiest engineer around, and that you're going to an Interex session that discusses the Widget Macrominimizer 2.03b6 in excruciating technical detail. As you are walking through Moscone South, you pass a sign that advertises a session for the Finnishlotsavowels Macrominimizer 0.91.

Both sessions are occurring at the same time.

How do you decide which session to attend? What criteria do you use to make this decision?

On the other hand, let's go to our marketing pro, camped out with her tablet at the indie coffeeshop (no corporate Starbucks colored water for her). She's been assigned the Finnishlotsavowels account, and is prepping for the 1.0 release (she makes a note to herself - "delete the release number from the copy"). She is busily conceptualizing the needs of ALL of the various stakeholders - the engineering directors, the CIOs, the purchasing agents, and...oh yes...the users.

How does she know what all of these stakeholders need? While she may be an ace marketer, our latte-sipping expert cannot empathize with the needs of engineering managers or the other stakeholders, unless she happened to have held one of these positions in a previous life. And chances are that any marketing person has not been an engineering director AND a CIO AND a purchasing agent AND a geeky coder. (Unless the marketing person once headed a tech startup.)

At the end of the day, people require real content in the presentations and publications that they read. At the same time, they require marketing messages that answer the question "So what?"
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