The Image of Marketers & Social Networking

A few years ago I had to write a paper for business school on the image of marketers and how that image could be improved.  I think a lot of what I wrote back then could easily be applied to some Web 2.0 business models.  Here's an excerpt from that paper.

So what should marketers do? How can they improve their image? How can they convince consumers that they are a valuable source of information on product offerings? How can marketing departments stop wasting money on advertising that’s never seen or heard?

I propose that marketers change the way they view the consumer. Currently, it seems marketers see their function as a game of “cat and mouse.” They are chasing the consumer and the consumer is trying to escape.  Instead, they should view the consumer as a partner. In a partnership, both parties benefit from each other.

Marketers should begin to appreciate the consumer who is willing to learn about their product offerings. Consumers should be rewarded for this willingness. Learning about product offerings takes time, and as the old saying goes, “time is money.” Thus, it seems only logical that marketers should pay consumers to learn about their products. That is, marketers should pay consumers to watch, read, and listen to their advertisements. This strategy has been gaining popularity recently, and smart marketers will begin to incorporate it in their plans.

So how does it work? Two examples:

  1. A marketer sends a brochure on a new product to a consumer through the mail. The brochure includes a questionnaire on the content of the brochure. If the consumer answers the questions and mails it back, the marketer sends the consumer a check.
  2. Marketers put informational commercials in movie theatres and pay targeted consumers to watch the movie. Of course, the commercials would be entertaining ― most already are.

An interesting extension of this concept was recently proposed by two professors at Yale School of Management. Their idea was to apply this thinking to the Do Not Call Registry. Households that sign up for the Do Not Call Registry would be allowed to authorize their phone company to connect any call that meets their price-per-minute. Households could charge different prices for different times of day or for different types of calls, a kind of reverse 900 service. Telemarketers of course pay only for the households that they reach, not for the ones that hang up. And if the telemarketer doesn’t think the consumer is listening, they can simply hang up. Consumers are equally free to quit the call and stop getting paid.  This idea could easily be extended to faxes and emails.

Given the way that marketing has been done in the past, this may seem like a radical idea. But after taking a second look, it seems much more plausible. Think of the advantages for both the marketer and the consumer:

For the marketer:

  • No more wasted marketing dollars on mass advertising. Rather than paying millions of dollars for mass advertising campaigns that reach consumers that will never buy their products, marketers could focus their ad budgets on selected consumers. Because the consumers are getting paid, they would be willing to give up specific demographic information. People are more than willing to give personal information to their employers, as long as they keep getting a paycheck.
  • An improved image. People generally trust the people that they work for and because it is clear that consumers are getting paid to learn about products, the image of the sneaky marketer will slowly fade away.
  • Compensation would make consumers much more open to exposing themselves to marketing messages.

For the consumer:

  • Less exposure to annoying marketing tactics. While questionable marketing strategies will likely always exist, smart companies will cut down on traditional “involuntary” advertising strategies.
  • Getting paid to watch TV. Many advertisements are already quite entertaining. Some people actually enjoy watching commercials on television. Getting paid for watching TV is a pretty good deal.
  • Getting paid to learn. Many people like to learn about new products that make their lives more enjoyable.

Over time, marketers will be seen more as educators than salespeople. When companies realize the benefits of this image makeover, they will realign their marketing tactics to see the consumer not as a potential customer, but as a potential partner. Conversely, consumers will begin to see marketers not as adversaries but as partners.