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Learning to say No

Learning to say No

Sometimes when I first meet potential clients, an ashamed, ashen faced marketing manager will pull me to one side, take me into a darkened room, and with hushed tones admit a truth so shameful they can hardly speak it “I have to tell you something, we don’t Tweet or use Facebook”.

I work hard to put their minds at rest by admitting my own guilty secret that I’ve never used TV advertising, radio advertising, direct mail or telesales in my attempts to sell services.  In the online world neither have I used price comparison websites, affiliates, webinars or photo community websites.  Oh, and I don’t Tweet.  My name is Gareth.  I am an anti–twitter–aholic.

This disgraceful parsimony is because these channels simply aren’t a strategically correct route to reach a desired goal.

There is a sobering tale in John Cassidy’s excellent book Dot Con, which chronicles the boom and bust of the internet industry in the late 1990s, particularly on the both coasts of the United States.  Buoyed by the overly optimistic revenue forecasts from Alan Greenspan and his disciples, the Board of a hundred year–old American media corporation met to discuss a potential merger with five year–old up and coming internet company.  Despite seeing neither a strategic fit nor a revenue return on investment, they reluctantly agreed to pursue the acquisition opportunity because they knew that the perception of not being involved in online would impact their share price too negatively. So in effect they took a decision which they knew to be a bad business decision because they had to protect their reputation.  Ten years after the ensuing dot com crash and realignment of online business projections, the decision can be viewed with the 20–20 of hindsight for what it was.

We got another warning a few years ago when the virtual environment “Second Life” was in its pomp.  Global brands such as GAP and Levis were buying virtual high street stores not for virtual tens of thousands of dollars, but for real ones.  A few short years later, GAP and Levis are still stuck with their expensive virtual leases, but no one ever visits their shop or thinks more of their brand because of they are there.

What both mistakes have in common is that the decision makers took their eyes off their customer and fixed them on the new thing, whether that was a channel, a device or a platform.

Now, more than ever, online communication needs ruthless commercially focussed leadership; a generation of marketers who are obsessed not with what’s new, but obsessed with the one constant of marketing; the poor old forgotten customer. 

In 2010 it’s unlikely that you will be tempted to get your organisation some virtual real estate on Second Life.  But perhaps you feel that your organisation should have an iPhone App because everyone has one.  Or you reckon you need to start Tweeting because it’s a new channel. Or you need a YouTube viral video. Second Life, anyone?

Online leadership is as much about saying no to irrelevant channels as it is about embracing the right ones.  In advertising agency parlance, a media buyer who bought media and used up project time and energy to communicate in a channel where no prospects existed would quite rightly get fired.  We need to apply the same level of rigour to our own online media planning.

Our market budgets are finite.  Our people and cash resources are finite.  Our customer’s attention is finite.  The need to focus, and to lead rather than follow is more acute than ever.  Let’s say no to the irrelevant channel, no matter how new and shiny it is, and use the time and cash resources it frees up to communicate more effectively to our customers on the right channels.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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