The era of self-centered marketing

Typically in this space, I write about something that has a specific bearing on -- or is related to -- the practice of online media and marketing.

This time, I'd like to address a problem common to marketing in general, and one that is seldom addressed in a direct or meaningful way: the practice of self-centered marketing.

What is self-centered marketing? If you've worked in an agency for more than a year, you've probably come across it. It's the client who insists on an advertising campaign or communications plan that speaks to them directly because they are sure they are the audience to whom the product or service appeals most.

It's a frustrating experience to have a client that, because they use the product for which you are building a media plan, insists that the media you use is the media they consume.

There are three main reasons for why this happens -- two of them are simple and related, the other indicative of a much deeper part of human behavior.

  1. I want to see my commercial. This is a common, yet simple, motive for a client placing themselves at the center of their own communications planning. If the client wants to see his or her ad, they must be sure that the media selected is that which they consume. Hard to see your ad if you aren't there, after all. The client's direct experience of the advertisement in the context of its natural habitat both confirms for the client that the advertisement is real (this continues to be a challenge for online advertising, when out of a million impressions that have been purchased on a site, the client never actually sees the banner run) and affirms the client's purpose as a participant in their own marketing.

    By seeing the ad, the marketer sees himself, and in doing so, justifies his existence.

  2. I want other people to see my commercial. This is related to the above reason for clients making themselves their own target audiences. But instead of being satisfied with one's self through experiencing the ad directly, one is affirmed because others have experienced the ad and can report back to you. How often have you been asked to buy a media vehicle because the brand manager's VP of marketing reads it, or watches it, or visits it? This is the old "showing the boss I'm working" motive. By having a confirmed community of peers, or near-peers, experiencing the advertising that has been produced in promotion of your product, the practice of your discipline (marketing) goes from being insubstantial and unreal to being tangible and real.

  3. Human beings are simply wired this way. As unique as we sometimes like to think we are, at the same time, we cannot accept the notion that there aren't other minds out there like us. We tend to think that in the abstract, everyone else is essentially like we are. It goes like this: Because I have thoughts and feelings, and behave in accordance with them (or my behavior is affected by them), and I know what these thoughts and feelings are, and I am cognizant of my behavior because of them, then when I see others behaving in a manner I find similar to my own, I have reason to believe that these others have minds -- with thoughts and feelings -- like my own, which motivates their behavior.

Besides being circular, the problem with assuming a target audience is like one's self is that it lacks perspective. When a client uses themselves as the sample group upon which to base decisions about a media and advertising campaign, he or she is rejecting the possibility that there are other perspectives from which their market -- their world -- can be viewed. There are many possible conceptual schemes, or perspectives, which determine any possible judgment of truth or value that we may make. This implies that no way of seeing the world can be taken as definitively "true," but does not necessarily propose that all perspectives are equally valid.

It is very difficult to overcome this obstacle to successful media and communications planning when a client has this propensity. What you must hope is that your client may also be reasonable, and someone who -- when confronted with a preponderance of evidence that stands counter to their point of view -- is persuadable. 

If this is the case, make research the workhorse of your planning. When raw data isn't enough, go to something more interpretive but still evidentiary. I've found eMarketer to be the best resource of this vein. Because it is aggregated, you can go directly to their source for even more support.

However, you may still find that you have a client that simply can't be convinced, even in light of this. In the last few months, I've come across a client that was not moveable. In the end, I was forced to bend my head and mutter, "Eppur si muove (and yet it moves)." When this happens, you can either act as the media jukebox, which is essentially how you are being treated, or walk away from the business.

So far, I've not known anyone to do the latter.

Media strategies editor Jim Meskauskas is vice president and director of online media for ICON International, Inc., an Omnicom Company.

 

Comments

Alan Chokov
Alan Chokov July 15, 2008 at 11:45 AM

Alan Chokov, Founder/CEO of efinanceportal.com writes, In reference to your article on what I further describe as "Ego Advertising", one of the most difficult explanations to a client is that they are not the focus of their product. Although they may be the driving force of its success their association to that product does not necessarily translate into market appeal. The product has and always will be the end result of its success or failure and how the public perceives its value. My position is the "client" should incorporate its "blueprint" of its product only if they are providing it as a service, where the focus is on the provider of that service. I have found that when given the opportunity to "express" yourself in a personal & business demeanor the market will learn about you more from a humanistic value, thereby creating market appeal...... more then just someone "selling" them a product.