Skepticism is Healthy

I’ve been talking about my thoughts on several social issues and how they relate to marketing, and I wanted to focus on the role of skepticism. As I mentioned in the previous posts, I’m not trying to say that the causes are wrong or unworthy, or that brand awareness is not a valid goal. I am, however, saying that I think blind following without question is unhealthy, hence today’s title, “skepticism is healthy”. In addition to the social controversies of late, my husband asked me about my thoughts on how customer reviews will impact the marketing profession going forward, and I stated that I believe customer reviews are a win-win for companies and consumers. So, what do these conversations have in common?

First, I think we should all train ourselves to question everything before committing to a belief. At first glance, curing cancer and saving children seem like no-brainers to band together and shout support. Thus, the question is not, “Do I support cancer research and helping children,” but rather, “Does this method of support make sense? Is this organization the most effective at providing the solution?” For causes, the marketers are the organizations championing the issue, and the “customer reviews” are the people who Tweet, Like, and otherwise spread the message that supporting this cause, via this method, is the best option.

We don’t automatically take Microsoft’s word or Canon’s word that a product or experience is amazing, because we know they’re biased. They get something (in this case, monetary profit) by convincing us that they offer the best solution, so we turn to customer reviews, friends and family, or some other form of neutral 3rd party advice to determine if the claims made by the biased marketers are, in fact, true.

So, why is this an acceptable practice with for-profit organizations, but people bristle when non-profit organizations face the same scrutiny? Again, for most people, it’s not about whether computers or cameras are good or bad, it’s about whether Microsoft’s computer and Canon’s camera is the best option. No one thinks curing cancer is bad, or helping under-priveleged children is wrong, but are Komen and Invisible Children the best solution-providers available? In the case of non-profits, they DO receive a benefit from your support, albeit an intangible benefit related to satisfying their sense of altruism, spirituality, or general “feel good” mentality about their service to humanity. The reality is that de facto, EVERYONE that asks you for something does so because they will benefit from your choice to provide what they’ve asked for. So, it makes sense to question everything, no matter how reasonable it sounds on the surface.

You check out the customer reviews for an unbiased look at a company’s products, so it stands to reason that you should seek out some sort of “unbiased” information about the social causes that are headlining the news today. It’s not to say that the marketers’ claims aren’t ultimately true, but the grain of salt used with for-profit companies should be taken when considering non-profit marketing claims as well. They may have a great video, ad campaign, or t-shirt, but does the product perform?

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