Marketing au natural

First Published in

Most marketers have access to like resources - consultants, PR companies, spin doctors, ad agencies, custom publishers et al. And this machinery is mostly churning out vanilla!

There is a new orthodoxy... more of the same, more banal, more commonplace. For example, magazine titles are proliferating but so many look like reasonable facsimiles of each other - formulaic titles under license of sameness. Marketing clones... metastasising at the rate of knots.

The biggest tragedy is the aloofness and distance of most of the communication. It is marketing, once removed. Marketers seem to be technicians merely tinkering with the apparatus. These marketers are more method actors than passion players. They obsess about technique rather than thought, mostly placing science over art. They need to use their native intelligence. And they really must go out more… naked, whenever possible.

Besides, there seems to be orthodoxy of speech (Do all these marketers go to the same cram college?!) With the pervasive reach of media, most marketers read the same articles and start to sound alike. Welcome to the world of cut-and-paste marketing, delivered with disembodied voices via the ubiquitous Powerpoint presentation. They quote Drucker, Peters, Porter... or that last article in Fortune. But how many are really creating something new?

Quite frankly, it needs a blood rinse. It needs to be more human, more visceral, more authentic. We need to reclaim our ability to speak in a language that's candid, frank and honest. The winning marketers are those who will engage in a discourse with their customers in a wholesome repartee that is beyond spin, hype and hoopla!

Marketing needs to rediscover its art.

Harley Davidson are trailblazers in the art of creating a cult phenomenon - they spend less that $500,000 on advertising but the almost-primal connection they share with Harley aficionados is legend. From Sunday morning rides to lifestyle-oriented merchandise, Harley Davidson understands that relationships are the new media.

We really need to tell more stories. We need to laugh more, and take ourselves less seriously. We need to create a unique mythology. Customers are not targets or LSMs. They have lives, in which the marketer's products and services do not rank too highly in their hierarchy of needs. We need to take them seriously.

With the advent of CRM and other arcane TLA's ( three-letter acronyms), the challenge is to be hi-tech yet hi-touch. To ensure that the customer relationship is respected, we require hi-fidelity. People need to be engaged and allowed the opportunity to interact with the market. No longer the clarion call of His Masters Voice broadcast in a unilateral manner. In fact, in the words of those good guys at Cluetrain, "good marketing is really about great conversation."

I love the phenomenology experiments of a decade ago with the worldwide exhibition of "Andre the Giant" posters. It was an artful method of inveigling an idea onto the consciousness of people, as conceived by agent provocateur, Shepherd Fairey - a design graduate from Rhode Island. Other examples, not as wilful, were Adidas and Hush Puppies - with Adidas apparel being picked up by rave bunnies in clubs in Europe, and Hush Puppies by New York hipsters. In both instances, these mature brands were revitalised, despite the best efforts of their ad agencies and marketers. They became cult phenomena as it diffused from its points of origin courtesy of trendsetters. The effect was swift and better than money could buy. The people decided. It was a classic case of market pull.

People are searching for authenticity. In a perverse way, the public's newfound obsession with Reality TV is a demonstration of this need! Show me the real thing! Sod your GM-enhanced offerings, we want ours organic!

Agreed. The idea needs to be celebrated. Ideas are the enduring, indestructible assets. Like the natural law of energy, ideas can never be destroyed, only transformed. But even the idea, without empathy and understanding of people, is meaningless.

The only complexity in marketing is understanding people. Even now, in the 21st century, this is elusive. Marketers must understand that the difficulty is not in software programmes, spreadsheets, financial modelling or research surveys. It's in the struggle to be a person.

Ravi Naidoo is the founder and Managing Director of Interactive Africa, a Cape Town based marketing and media company. He is an MBA graduate of UCT and has focused on media and marketing subsequent to a detour from an academic career. Ravi founded the International Design Indaba in 1995.

More on Design Thinking