The concept is dead on; execution notwithstanding. We’ve been talking about this for awhile now.
Seth has a post up on his blog called Benefit of the Doubt. In it, he basically suggests that when doubt is swinging your way in the minds of your consumers, they won’t be so ready to tear you a new one when you (inevitably) screw up. On its face, it’s difficult to argue with this insight. You know, self-deprecation and all that. It’s amazing to me that it’s much of an epiphany for anyone, but I’m sure it is.
Whatever. I wonder about something a little more diabolically subtle about the benefit of the doubt. I wonder whether those who attempt to ingratiate themselves to doubt’s benevolence realize what a cruel bitch it can be when you’re on the business end of it. I wonder this because, in spite of Seth’s five pithy “brainstorms to get you started” in extracting doubt’s benefits, he doesn’t offer the insight that seems to me of singular importance to the topic: Don’t be a damn liar. To demonstrate what I mean, here’s one of Seth’s “brainstorms”:
Build up expectations of difficulty. Magicians are really good at this. If people think what you’re doing is really difficult, they root for you.
Magicians also have the pop culture capital of, well, see for yourself. But that notwithstanding, does anyone else see the glaring problem here? Whatever it is you’re saying about yourself (whether in pursuit of doubt’s benefits or not) better actually be true. Part of what is unctuous about stage magic (no offense, Skye) is that it often maintains the illusion even after the show is over. I’ve seen companies do the same thing. It’s as if they think that because they’ve been holding forth about how innovative or smart or customer-focused they are, they must in fact be so.
For my part, I think benefit of the doubt is conferred upon those in whom we have some trust. We either trust them because we know them or we trust them by proxy: reputation, demeanor, they wear the same brand of socks that you do, etc. So my rejoinder to Seth’s advice is to have real relationships with your customers, use those relationships to honestly exhibit your philosophy and practice, and only rely on the benefit of the doubt when it is offered.
I don’t know why I haven’t posted something about this before. I find myself talking about this all the time. Here’s the gist:
Marketing is dead. You can be humans again.
No, really. Not the practice of taking things to market; I mean “marketing, the paradigm”. Marketing, of necessity, has been about dealing with customers at arm’s length. This is a byproduct of the industrial revolution. In order to pass the value of economies of scale to customers, companies had to be big. They had to talk to a lot of people. Since Gutenberg, the only tools available for—indeed the only ways to even think about—talking to a lot of people have been unidirectional. These univalent tools are the currency of marketing. They offer really no meaningful dialogue.
The Consumerist has a post about some excellent customer service from SmartBargains.com.
Every ad agency should be making every attempt to sell some kind of customer service initiative with every campaign. An authentic interaction. If the marketing is going to tell a compelling story, it had better be congruent with the customer’s experience when something inevitably goes wrong.
…wherein I discuss the finer points of business theory with Odin, from his Madison Avenue penthouse, “Little Valhalla.”
me: Great place you’ve got here.
me: Right, so for whatever it’s worth, I’ve drawn a good deal of inspiration from your business.
Odin: Oh yeah? What do you do?
me: We architect novelty. In all kinds of situations. In all kinds of organizations.
Odin: Well now you just need the big client.
me: We’re working on it. We’re talking to Macy’s about a big idea. We’ve been working with Monsanto on some novel communication approaches. But yes, we are always looking for big opportunities to help craft innovations.
Odin: Now you just need to get cool.
Valkyrie: Hey, Odin, I’ve got some people here that want to be near your hair.
ODIN EXITS WITH VALKYRIE.