Misdirection makes for mediocrity

There is a reason marketers get a bad rap on social media sites and among the general public. We are known for pushing information your way with the clear intent of getting you to act. For the most part, the public finds this acceptable as long as there is some level of authenticity to your message.

Most companies don’t intend to mislead the public. They truly believe the information they are providing is genuine and reflective of their values. But often marketers are focused on what they believe to be true and marketable rather than what is actually authentic. They don’t hold themselves accountable for their actions reflecting their stated values. When this happens, potential customers feel violated and become cynical.

I was near the World Financial Center in Manhattan last month and was astonished by a blatant example of marketing misdirection. Being constructed from the ground up on the plaza nestled between the high-rises and the Hudson River was a panelized home. The sign on the worksite read, “Country Living Magazine ‘Home Green Home’ 2010 House of the Year.” On the Web site, you learn that Country Living partnered with New World Home to create “green” homes, and then together awarded themselves the annual honor and chose this promotion. Most likely, some marketer said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to build a house in the middle of a busy New York City plaza?”

Even though much of the home is reusable since it’s panelized, much of the material in this promotion will go to waste. Just in the creation of the home, over the course of the several weeks it took to build, several Dumpsters were filled and replaced. Additionally, the energy that was required to ship the materials, power the tools and light the home add to the carbon footprint of this exercise. The project was about as nongreen as you could get.

Not only was the marketing team responsible for this project obviously unconcerned with the inconsistent message being sent, but from a cost-benefit standpoint, the entire project was questionable. The demographic for immediate buyers of a modular home is a small section of the population who owns land or is soon to buy. Other than a few straggling tourists, very few of the office workers and apartment dwellers that frequent this plaza would likely be buyers of this home. The promoters might recoup their marketing investment, but it’s tough to argue this was the highest and best use of their marketing dollar, and it shows the world that integrity is low on their priority list. What some marketer thought would be awesome ends up being mediocre.

Sometimes we create mediocrity by violating the trust of current customers, as well. While walking with a friend through Manhattan recently, we stopped at a Starbucks. Starbucks is well known for turning the act of drinking coffee into a “coffee experience.”

Once we had finished ordering, I walked over to use the bathroom. There was a sign that said “Employees Only.” When I asked the barista where the customer bathroom was, I was informed that they had to convert this bathroom to an employee-only bathroom because it was too difficult to keep it clean as a customer bathroom. I asked about public health guidelines and was quickly informed due to the small size of the store they were not required to have a public bathroom. When I asked if an exception could be made since we were on a long walk, both employees behind the counter informed me that this was their policy and I could go somewhere else if I was unhappy.

Obviously, there is a breakdown in communication between what the Starbucks marketers believed in their original intent and the current execution either in location choice, employee training or culture. As companies, we can choose to just write words or be true and authentic with the words we use and actions we take.

There are few laws governing integrity and authenticity in what we say and how we execute. Even if there were, it would be impossible to enforce. But, ultimately, competition drives enforcement as long as there are those of us willing to do what we say and do it in an awesomely consistent manner.

KEVIN DAUM is the principal of TAE International and the best-selling author of the Amazon #1 bestsellers “ROAR! Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle” and “Green$ense For the Home: Rating the Real Payoff on 50 Green Home Projects,” both available on bookstore shelves this month. He is also a speaker and marketing consultant. Reach him at www.AwesomeRoar.com“>www.AwesomeRoar.com.