Monday, August 29, 2011

Make Marketing, not War

I must start off this post with an apology: I’m sorry that I ever brought up sports and the military.

I enjoy watching some sports (baseball, football, rally racing) and playing others (cycling, kicking inanimate objects).  And, of course, I respect our military and all men and women who honorably serve their countries.  However, I sort of broke a promise that I made to myself and that maybe you should make to yourself as well.

We routinely use sports and military language in marketing.  We call a great ad a “home run.”  We refer to large-scale efforts as a “blitz.”  We may even refer to a clever strategy as an “end run,” even though I think what people really mean in this situation is an off-tackle run.  I’ve heard advertising folks refer to heavy TV buys as “air cover” and to tactics as either “scatter shot” for untargeted or “rifle shot” for heavily targeted.  We call tough competitive environments “dogfights,” either in tribute to Manfred von Richthofen or Michael Vick.

And I don’t like it.

As a huge baseball fan, I’ve even used the terminology myself.  I once tutored a young advertising strategist that creative strategy really comes down to one of two approaches: the fastball  and the curveball.  What I meant was that ads generally either go directly at the heart of the category (“when it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight,” fastball) or that they change the consumer’s perspective (“we [heart] logistics,” curveball).  What can I say?  It made sense to me at the time.

Marketers use this language because they think it befits their highly competitive trade.  We fight for budget.  We fight for market share.  We fight for the consumer’s attention.

Eventually, I realized that sports and military language hampered my ability to communicate with colleagues rather than helped it.  Here’s why:

  1. Not to put too fine a point on it, but women comprise either a large minority or an outright majority of marketing and marketing communications staff.  Women, by and large, do not inhale sports and warfare the way men do (or at any rate, were expected to do).  (Disclosure: I once came home from work and found my wife watching the Yankees.  I asked her what was going on.  She said, Jeter’s up, one man on, full count; I wanted to marry her all over again).  For that matter, not all men like sports, either.  In short, talking balls and strikes or ground war vs. air war potentially alienates a large percentage of your audience.
  2. More importantly, we, as marketers, are not in the business of beating or, worse yet, killing our customers.  Well, maybe these guys, but I don’t think anyone regards them as great marketers anymore.

Seriously speaking, when we use sports or martial language, we internalize the thought of competitive, potentially violent actions towards our customers and prospects.  We don’t want to clobber them with ads; we want to entice them.  I really wonder why we don’t use more courtship metaphors.  At the very least, we know that sex sells.  After all, don’t we really want to entice and connect with consumers?  Don’t we want to make them love our brands?

So make this challenge to yourself: try to avoid using sports and military language for a while, or at least keep aware of your use.  Try to find an alternative language.  See if it doesn’t change the way you think about marketing.

As for myself, I will try to avoid overloading the blog with references to the military or to sports.

Unless the Yankees manage to make it into the playoffs; then it’s a whole new ballgame.

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