Did you happen to catch the Dilbert series from September 13-18, 2007?
If you did, and you have the responsibility for bringing together products and services with customers, how did those five comic strips make you feel? The first of the series is reproduced below -- what is your reaction now?
My initial reaction was to laugh, then groan.
Scott Adams always evokes a chuckle because of his scary but realistic view of corporate life. It also reminded me of Seth Godin's entertaining 2005 blog, and his book that spawned it, All Marketers Are Liars.
In the same breath, I voice a deep groan. Why? Because yet again, the marketing function is positioned as fraud or creative public deception. That is -- lying.
DILBERT: © Scott Adams/Dist. by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.
At times I’ve asked myself, “Why would anyone willingly choose to be associated with a profession that has become synonymous with deception?” I hear particularly horrifying stories and think, “I don’t do that” or “I would never do that!”
But do I? Am I actually making a difference? Instead of complaining about the unfairness of labeling all marketing as fraud -- or resigning myself to believe that all’s fair when it comes to making money and winning in a competitive marketplace -- I wonder...
When does a lie start?
First of all, regardless of what the pointy-haired manager asserts, “marketing” does not tell lies. People tell lies. Whether it’s one person in contemplation with one’s self, two people in negotiation, or an entire company in communication with a multi-billion-dollar market -- it’s all a conversation.
So I ask myself ...
- At what point in any conversation does a lie start?
- How many times on a daily basis do I potentially begin a lie?
- Does a lie start if I promote without validation, mislead by harboring a silently-held belief, or by staying quiet when I should be speaking up?
After continuing to ask myself this series of questions, it all boiled down to this: Lies begin in the relationship and conversations I have with myself, followed by those I have with others.
Who are we?
In any situation, let’s start with who we are in the matter. In our careers and personal lives, we all have reasons for why we do things. We work hard to define our goals, and we set objectives and milestones to help us achieve them. But unless we’re window mannequins or Buddhist monks, we’ll need to enroll and build relationships with other people to get things done. We can build effective relationships with people if we can find common ground around our goals. The deeper our relationships are, the richer our lives and the greater the accomplishments.
James Nolan, CEO for Sara Lee Foodservice, illustrates these points in an interview with Amy Zipkin for the weekly New York Times column, The Boss. He tells a wonderful story about how through his life he learned to set goals and the importance of shared outcomes by all participants. After one particular celebratory outing with a client, he reflects, “He taught me an important lesson: Let the client know who you are and what you stand for.”
If we don’t know clearly who we are in our own 1-to-1 relationship, it is likely that we will not build the kind of relationships we truly want and need with others. Even then, it doesn’t mean that we will always consistently live up to what we stand for. So we must build in the ability to acknowledge and ask forgiveness – for ourselves and for others.
I find that if we develop the platform that includes who we are, what we stand for, the ability to acknowledge and forgive, we are on our way to achieving great goals and building great relationships. But this criterion alone does not ensure that we will sustain trust between us and others.
Open conversations build trust, subvert lies
Along with communicating personal and common goals, we must also address our fears openly and work to neutralize the “You vs. Me” mentality that inevitably shows up when things get difficult.
A great example that illustrates a lack of open conversation is captured in a recent article by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post:
Greenspan: Ouster of Hussein Crucial For Oil Security
"I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," Greenspan said in an interview Saturday, "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential."
He said that in his discussions with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, "I have never heard them basically say, 'We've got to protect the oil supplies of the world,' but that would have been my motive." Greenspan said that he made his economic argument to White House officials and that one lower-level official, whom he declined to identify, told him, "Well, unfortunately, we can't talk about oil." Asked if he had made his point to Cheney specifically, Greenspan said yes, then added, "I talked to everybody about that."
Greenspan said he had backed Hussein's ouster, either through war or covert action. "I wasn't arguing for war per se," he said. But "to take [Hussein] out, in my judgment, it was something important for the West to do and essential, but I never saw Plan B" -- an alternative to war.
--Bob Woodward, Washington Post, September 17, 2007 [emphasis added]
Without going into the issue of the belated timing of Greenspan's comments, if you have a strong reaction to such statements, perhaps it is because you are someone who has a stake in this matter and who recognizes that we have fears and questions that have not been openly addressed. If people would honestly state what they stand for, live up to it, openly speak of fears, and take their egos out of the discussion, we might have all had conversations leading to different outcomes long before now.
How does this all relate to marketing and fraud, you ask? Consider the following articles:
War Is Sell
From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. told the New York Times in September. Card was explaining what the Times characterized as a "meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress, and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein...
The techniques being used to sell a war in Iraq are familiar PR strategies. The message is developed to resonate with the targeted audiences through the use of focus groups and other types of market research and media monitoring. The delivery of the message is tightly controlled. Relevant information flows to the media and the public through a limited number of well-trained messengers, including seemingly independent third parties.
… According to the New York Times, intensive planning for the " Iraq rollout" began in July. Bush advisers checked the Congressional calendar for the best time to launch a "full-scale lobbying campaign." The effort started the day after Labor Day as Congress reconvened and Congressional leaders received invitations to the White House and the Pentagon for Iraq briefings with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and CIA director George Tenet. White House communications aides scouted locations for the President's September 11 address, which served as a prelude to his militaristic speech to the United Nations Security Council.
The Washington Post reported in July that the White House had created an Office of Global Communications (OGC) to "coordinate the administration's foreign policy message and supervise America 's image abroad." In September, the Times of London reported that the OGC would spend $200 million for a "PR blitz against Saddam Hussein" aimed "at American and foreign audiences, particularly in Arab nations skeptical of US policy in the region." The campaign would use "advertising techniques to persuade crucial target groups that the Iraqi leader must be ousted.
--Laura Miller, PRWatch Newsletter, Vol. 9, No. 4, Fourth Quarter 2002 [emphasis added]
Selling the War Without Lying
... So the fear campaign out of the White House turned out to be just a marketing technique, a device used to sell a war that might not otherwise be tolerated by the American public. Richard Perle, a White House insider, has said as much. Bush himself has now admitted that Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, though he still uses those attacks to sell other unrelated policies.
What I'm wondering, through all this, is how Bush might have sold the war in Iraq if he had stuck with the truth.
--Harley Sorensen, San Francisco Chronicle, February 16, 2004 [emphasis added]
I’m not pointing to any one individual. In fact, I’m addressing myself as much as any of us as individuals, marketers, and citizens. Let’s ask of ourselves:
- What do I stand for?
- Who am I in the matter?
- What are the common interests?
- Do I have the courage to face my fears and ask the right questions?
- How can I neutralize the ‘You vs. Me’ mentality in any crisis?
- Then -- what actions will I take as a result?
Let's get it on
As I was writing my thoughts and wondering,
- Why do we hold back our feelings and fears from ourselves and others?
- Why is it so hard to get to the point?
...I just happened to hear a song that captured the essence of the moment. The late, great, Marvin Gaye prophetically said it all in the most successful Motown single ever, Let's Get It On:
THE Marvin Gaye 1970's MySpace Page (Wait 30 seconds for the player to download.)
Let's Get It On
I've been really tryin', baby
Tryin' to hold back this feeling for so long
And if you feel like I feel, baby
Then, c'mon, oh, c'mon
Let's get it on
Ah, baby, let's get it on
Let's love, baby
Let's get it on, sugar
Let's get it on
We're all sensitive people
With so much to give
Understand me, sugar
Since we've to got be
I love you
There's nothing wrong with me
Loving you, baby no no
And giving yourself to me can never be wrong
If the love is true
Don't you know how sweet and wonderful life can be
I'm asking you baby to get it on with me
I ain't gonna worry
I ain't gonna push, won't push you baby
So c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, baby
Stop beatin' 'round the bush
Let's get it on …
--Marvin Gaye and Ed Townsend, 1973
beat around the bush, verb. Be deliberately ambiguous or unclear in order to mislead or withhold information
Tags: Seth Godin, Dilbert, All Marketers Are Liars, James Nolan, Alan Greenspan, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Laura Miller, Amy Zipkin, Harley Sorenson, PRWatch, Marvin Gaye, open conversation, UpRight Matters