That’s Real

I visited my first farmers’ market this weekend, and I was struck by the authenticity of the whole thing. We ramble on about being transparent, making a connection, having a conversation, and generally being authentic in the business world, but often, we turn around and toss out some flashy ad campaign or cheesy promotion to present a facade of authenticity. But, the farmers’ market is different. There’s no sales pitch, no fancy coupon deals, no expensive TV spots. It’s just honest people trying to make an honest living… and people respond to that kind of authenticity.

I watched a lady run up to a stall and pluck a strawberry from a weathered wooden crate. After tasting the fruit, she purchased the entire basket. That’s a real taste test.

I watched a man tap his thumb against his leg as he passed by the amateur bluegrass band, smiling at his secret beat. The kids were more open, shaking their hips, heads, and hands as they passed the instruments. That’s a real emotional connection.

I watched middle-aged adults escorting their elderly parents among the vendors, and young parents strolling through the street with their toddlers. That’s a real passing of tradition.

The air felt crisp, the colors were bright. I could smell fresh crepes and sausage cooking, I could hear haggling and planning. I tasted my coffee, and watched shoppers taste their potential purchases. That’s a real total body experience.

We like to sit behind our polished desks doling out business advice to the masses. But, honestly? I think we have a lot to learn from the farmers’ market.

Toilets and the DMV

At some point, I’ll get back to my regular posting schedule, I promise! For now, I want to share a post inspired by a trip to the bathroom. Don’t worry, it’s not gross!

Many universities and companies are trying to go green, and they’re installing fancy toilets that allow you to choose the amount of water needed for each flush. Most of these toilets make it pretty simple with a button for solid waste, and a button for liquid waste. The toilet I saw yesterday, however, made it difficult. First, the instructions were really tiny, so I didn’t really notice that it was an environmentally-friendly toilet until I was turning to leave. Seriously, I must be the only nerd that actually looks twice at the handle to see if there’s a blog post waiting to be written, but I looked a little closer at the instructions. The designers wanted you to pull the handle up for liquid waste, and down for solid waste. Now, this, to me, is poor design for a couple of reasons. First, we’re all used to pushing a handle down to flush, so the immediate response from the majority of people would be to do what they’ve always done. Second, I don’t have hard statistics on this, but I think it’s safe to assume that in a public restroom, most people will have liquid waste. So, why make them think harder to go green? If the designers had just flipped the functionality, I think the toilets would save more water!

I saw some statistics a few years ago about re-wording the forms at the DMV to increase the number of organ donors. In most states, the form reads, “Please check the box below if you would like to be an organ donor.” Very few people checked the box, because most people won’t take an extra step. However, when they changed the wording to read, “Please check the box if you do not want to be a donor”, they had more donors. In theory, the same number of people chose not to check the box, but in this case, that action resulted in a positive consequence for the donor pool.

So, what do toilets and DMV have in common? They have initiatives to promote, and they’re dealing with a largely apathetic public. If you really want your initiatives to work, it’s gotta be a no brainer for your customers!

A New Venture!

Just one day into summer break, and I’m already spinning up a new venture 🙂 Like I said, I suck at vacation! However, this venture has been in the works for several months, and we finally had to kick it out of the nest and let it fly. I’m excited to announce a new side business with my husband, Faus Photography. This brings up all sorts of fun topics about business and marketing, so let’s ponder a few things!

I had a guest poster a few weeks ago that talked about turning your hobby into a business, and that’s what we’ve done with Faus Photography. For us, the biggest thing was making sure that we are professionals, not just in our equipment and skill, but in our presentation. I think this is a key point that a lot of amateurs miss when they decide they want to make money at their hobby. When my husband and I started seriously discussing this as a business, my first comment was that we’d need to work on our branding. What is our style? What does our brand mean? Are we elegant, edgy, classic, whimsical? We settled on “authentic”, because don’t like overly photoshopped pictures that make you look plastic, and we don’t like overly staged photos that make the moment look fake. We think life itself is full of beauty, so why ruin the natural beauty by altering it? However, we also believe in using technology to enhance life, which brought us to our tagline, “Authentic moments, perfect memories”. We spent a lot of time picking out a font for our logo and browsing themes for our website. I think a website is something that can make or break a professional image, particularly for creative endeavors like photography. Do all the links work? Is it aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate? Is everything spelled correctly? Does it load quickly? All of these attributes are hallmarks of a professional site, run by professional people, so it was important to us to make sure it was perfect before go live (speaking of which, perfection is impossible, so if you see something wrong on the site, let me know!).

Next, the publicity. Clearly, this is my area of expertise and my passion 🙂 Here’s the thing: DON’T SELL! I’ve said time and again that my philosophy and practice of marketing is not based on selling things that people don’t need, but rather connecting problems with solutions. Tons of people need photographers, and there are literally thousands of options to choose from. Why choose Faus Photography? I don’t want the answer to be, “Well, I know Ashley, and it would be a nice thing to do for her, so I guess I’ll suck it up and pay her to take some pictures.” NO! I want you to choose our services because you believe you’re getting quality, and our style meshes well with your style. To that end, I didn’t send out a big note to friends and family to request that they “sell” us to others, I haven’t been spamming Facebook with big “news” (which, in my extended circle on FB would probably lead to pregnancy rumors. So we’re clear, no, I’m not pregnant), and I won’t be Tweeting links to Faus Photography every 5 minutes. Yes, you need to make people aware of your new venture, but you don’t need to badger them about it. I think sometimes hobbyist-turned-professionals get too bogged down in staying top-of-mind. Granted, corporate companies do the same thing with email blasts and billboards, so the amateurs learned it somewhere! In short, my publicity strategy is going to be more about word-of-mouth and occasional links if we have a new album to share, but not overload on all my social platforms.

Finally, the question of turning your hobby into your full-time pursuit. We have no plans to do this any time soon, but many side businesses turn into full-time jobs. I think the approach is very different if you’re intending to quit your day job, and I think for most, a gradual shift in priorities is much safer than a giant leap. A few considerations before heading into the great unknown: Do you have all your paperwork completed, like IRS forms, permits, and registrations? Can you do all the business functions yourself, or will you need to outsource things like accounting and marketing? Is your business scalable, and can you actually make enough money to live? Many people think that starting a business will be “fun”… yes, it’s fun, but it’s also a lot of work, particularly if you’re not a fan of every function of business! My husband dislikes the marketing side of the business, and I dislike the technical side of the business. We’re fortunate to have a built-in partnership, and we compliment each other perfectly in this pursuit. But what if you don’t have a spouse or friend to go in with? All of these questions need to be considered before exiting the corporate world.

I won’t be quitting my day job to pursue photography any time soon, and I’ve still got a lot to learn about cameras, lights, and editing! But, I’m excited to say that Faus Photography is officially open for business!

A Euphemism for Broccoli

A while back, I had an obsession with words and naming, and it’s been revived by the term, “seasonal vegetables.” You ever notice that the seasonal vegetables are always broccoli? I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a restaurant that offers something other than broccoli when the menu says, “served with seasonal vegetables”! Why can’t they just call it like it is? The entree is served with broccoli!

It’s because broccoli has this terrible reputation for being a yucky food, the kind that kids turn their nose up at while parents watch them like hawks to make sure they aren’t feeding the broccoli to the family dog under the dinner table. Which, dropping broccoli for the dog is a pretty futile endeavor, since even the dogs know that broccoli is yucky. Restaurants know they won’t sell broccoli, but they will sell seasonal vegetables.

This doesn’t make sense! Simply changing the name will make people eat the food in front of them? I’m a survey of one, but it’s true for me. I would never order broccoli for myself, would never purchase broccoli at the grocery store, and if asked, would reply that I don’t like broccoli. And yet, when my “seasonal vegetables” turn out to be broccoli, I eat every last bite! When my husband insists on throwing a few bits of broccoli into the stir fry, I eat them along with the rest of the items in the dish. In short, I eat broccoli. Essentially, you’ve either got a misnomer for broccoli or diners lying to themselves, because in the end, the broccoli is purchased, prepared, and consumed regularly enough that the grocery stores carry it in abundance, and the restaurants keep serving it as a default side dish. This is one of those times that the “evil marketers” have actually done something good. They’ve convinced the consumers to eat something healthy by calling it something else. If you don’t think a name has power, just look at the broccoli phenomenon! (Granted, some marketers use their power to sell us over-processed, sugary “health” food, but we’re not addressing that in this post!)

So, can we all stop with the euphemism for broccoli? Can we agree that we’ll order “seasonal vegetables” with our eyes wide open?

How to be a Good Sales Rep

We’re evaluating some new CRM options, and several people have recommended Salesforce. I had a chat with a sales rep from the company, and man, he was a GOOD sales person. We’ve also brought in some consultants for sales training, and after the initial phone call, I told our management team, “We just need to get our sales reps to do exactly what that guy just did. He’s a GREAT sales rep.” So, what are these people doing to be such good sales people?

Mutual benefit. A lot of sales reps just blather on about how great their product is, how much money/time/whatever they can save you, and how many more dollars you could earn if you just purchase their product. They never stop to ask whether we’d be a good customer for them. Do our needs actually align with what they’re offering? I know they haven’t thought about this because they’re so focused on “selling” me something! Both of the reps that I liked have asked questions that indicate that they want to work with companies that also meet their needs. Are we going to be a time suck? Will their product fail to meet our needs, resulting in unhappy customers with bad reviews? It’s not just about selling me a product, it’s about creating a win-win situation for BOTH parties.

Ask probing questions. Both of these reps asked a lot of open-ended questions, and they drilled down to the very root of the issue. Everyone wants to save time or make more money, so if I tell you that’s our goal, it’s not helping. What problems, EXACTLY, are causing you to lose time? Which areas, EXACTLY, do you think you could earn more? They didn’t feed me answers to lead me to their product, but just probed and probed until they hit on a problem they could solve. Plus, they gained a ton of insight into my business, my pain points, and my ability/timeline for making a decision.

Follow up nicely. Remember this rep that drove me nuts because he just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer? Both of my likeable reps asked if they could follow up, and asked about my preferred method of communication. If they weren’t available, they gave me alternate contact information for someone who was also helping with our account. Most of all, they didn’t badger me! This was partly because of the mutual fit and probing questions mentioned above. They already knew that if they had to chase me that hard for the business, it probably wasn’t a fit. Their questions revealed my timeline, key decision-makers, and milestones that had to happen prior to purchase. They’d send a “checking in” email every few weeks, and eventually, we made the choice to move ahead or move on.

Know me, know my business. I’m always amazed at good sales reps’ ability to pick up names and businesses at lightning speed. But in reality, that’s part of their job! The consultants made a point to learn all the reps’ names, and call them by name any chance they had. The Salesforce rep started using the same industry jargon that I explained almost immediately. In short, these guys made my business their business. This goes back to the mutual benefit… it’s not a one-off product sale to them, it’s a profitable partnership. If they can figure out a way to help me, they in turn help themselves.

I’ve dealt with a lot of reps in my career, and these two stand out as pleasant and effective. Which kind of rep are you?

A Deal is Not a Deal

As a marketer, you’d think I would love taking advantage of promotions and deals in stores, right? I mean, I’ve bought several daily deals online, but in general, I’m very skeptical of deals. My husband and I are quite frugal, so I’ve taken to looking at the per-unit cost on items, particularly at the grocery store. The fashion bloggers have taught me to consider a piece of clothing on a cost-per-wear basis, which has changed my whole outlook on purchasing clothes!

Sometimes, though, a deal is not a deal. I’m not talking about a blatant higher-cost-per-unit, or an absurd payback period. I’m talking about the fact that you would never buy it full price because you don’t need it. So, if you don’t need it, why would you buy it on sale? I’ve seen people buy clothes because they’re on sale, even though the item doesn’t fit right, or the color is wrong. “But it was on SSAAAALLLLEEEEE!!!!!!” Or, purchasing creamer or cereal in a larger size because the unit cost is lower than a smaller size, but you don’t really like the creamer or the flavor of cereal. Thus, the creamer will spoil and the cereal will go stale before you manage to force yourself to use them up, meaning you’ve wasted $2 instead of $1.25.

A deal is not a deal if you planned to spend $0, and you ended up spending $10 instead of $20. Your budget didn’t exist in the first place, so no amount of discounting or mark-downs can compete with zero. I think the best way to combat this, is to ask yourself if you would ever buy that item or a similar item full price. I look terrible in yellow clothes, so I would never purchase a yellow item at full price. Thus, no amount of sale can persuade me to purchase a yellow item. I love peppermint coffee creamer, and I regularly buy the big bottles at full price. So, if they go on sale, I have no problem stocking up on them, because I know I’ll drink them eventually. I’m even willing to switch brands or make substitutes to take advantage of a sale, but only if I already needed the item in the first place.

Next time you see a sale, control the impulses! Remember that if your budget is $0, that’s the cheapest sale you’ll find, and don’t succumb to anything more than your budget allows! (in this case, it allows NOTHING, because you don’t even WANT that product, let alone need it!)

Pushy or Persistent?

Ah, sales people, so much blog inspiration from these calls! In theory, the marketing department works with the sales team to create wonderful synergy, and everyone makes money… in practice, that’s not always the case. Since I know a little about how this whole sales game works, I try to help the sales reps out from other companies. Namely, I try to help them out by telling them “no”. No, it doesn’t sound like your product is a fit. No, I don’t need you to send additional information. No, I will not make a purchase from you, so instead of wasting your time on me, go find a more profitable customer. Sigh… and then you have the sales reps that just. won’t. give. up. Even after I’ve been helpful in letting them know I’ll never be a good customer! I’ll nickel and dime you, pay you after the 30 days, and make myself hard to reach. Trust me, YOU DON’T WANT TO DO BUSINESS WITH ME, SO JUST MOVE ON!

I had an interaction with a particularly persistent rep. He says he’s not pushy, but I’ve told him some version of “no” three different times, and he just keeps on callin’ me. Today’s interaction went like this:


Rep: I wanted to follow up on last week’s call. Did you talk to your VP about my proposal?

Me: Yes, and as I said last week, I really don’t think your product is a fit for us. I appreciate the offer of a free trial, but it’s really not what we’re looking for.

Rep: I just need one shot to prove to you that it works. Just do the free trial, and I promise I can show value.

Me: Well, as I mentioned previously, we normally set our budget in October or November, so we don’t have the budget this year. It doesn’t make sense to do a free trial for a product that I know I don’t have the money to purchase, particularly when it’s not a good fit for us. We take a survey of our customers every year, and this survey is used to help allocate the budget. Our surveys have shown that your product is not a good fit, so unless we see the tide change in this year’s survey, we won’t include the purchase in the budget. If you’d like to send over a media kit in October, I can re-evaluate the fit for the 2013 budget.

Rep: What’s going to change between now and October, honestly? It sounds like you just don’t want to put the time into it right now.

Me: If I don’t have the budget for the product, and I don’t believe it’s a good fit for our needs, it doesn’t make sense to do a free trial right now. I’m happy to re-evaluate it for 2013, but we won’t be making a purchase right now.

Rep: Are you even the decision-maker? What’s your title? Who gets to decide on this? Can you just shoot straight with me?

Me: There are several decision-makers, but let me tell how this will go: I’ll ask them again, they will tell me “no” or indefinitely delay the decision, which translates to “no”. Thus, I’ll keep telling you “no” or indefinitely delaying the decision, which translates to “no”. You’re welcome to send a proposal when we evaluate the budget for 2013, but at this time, I can tell you that we won’t be moving forward.

Rep: Ok, so if I call the VP of Sales and get his blessing, you’ll find time to do the free trial?

Me: The VP of Sales travels frequently, and he doesn’t believe it’s a good fit. You can try to reach him, but at this time, we won’t be moving forward.

Rep: Ok, thanks, I’ll try to call him. I just need one shot to convince you that I can provide value. I’m not one of those pushy sales types, so if you do the trial and it doesn’t make money for you, I’ll get out of your hair.

Me: Ok, good-bye.


Dude, you ARE a pushy sales type! I’ve told you “no” three times! I’ve also told you the timeframe that if it was ever going to move to yes (which it won’t), it would not be until 2013. I must admit that this guy did a few things well: he uncovered the timeframe for a decision, and he uncovered the decision-maker. What he failed to realize is that even though I’m “only” a gatekeeper, my bosses rely on what I tell them. So, my answer is essentially the same answer as the decision-maker, because they’ll ask me if his product provides value, I’ll tell them that I don’t recommend it, and they’ll tell me that we won’t make the purchase. Until you convince me of the value, you’re not getting a shot at the “real” decision-makers!

I’m fine with a phone call and a persistent sales rep, but this guy started rub me the wrong way. I think he could tell that I was getting annoyed, because he tried to switch to a more friendly subject… my accent. Funny story, most people I meet say that I don’t have an accent, and since this guy knows I work in the Dallas office, it’s a good bet that the hint of a southern accent that he detects probably indicates that I’m from Texas. And, after a 5 minute pushy phone call, calling out my accent doesn’t do this guy any favors.

Maybe I should be rude more often, but I feel like it’s common courtesy to politely tell a sales rep “no”. I hate watching our sales guys visit, call, and waste time on a customer that will never give us business, so I try to make sure other reps know when we won’t be making a purchase. What do you think, readers? Was this guy pushy or persistent? Was I unclear in my message about not making a purchase for at least 8 months (but really, never)?

Dressing Room Trade-Offs

Trying on clothes shouldn't take an hour!


At least it doesn't take that long to try on shoes.

Skirt: JC Penney

Tank and Cardigan: Target

Shoes: Old Navy

Necklace and Earrings: NY & Co.

Like the outfit? See more details here!


I’m going to look at a marketing and operations conundrum in today’s post, inspired by several experiences at retailer H&M. I received a gift card to the store for Christmas, but I’ve yet to make a purchase. Every time I go in there, the line for the dressing room is ridiculous! We have two locations in the Dallas area, and both of them have terrible issues with the dressing room situation. My sister dropped by an H&M recently, and she also mentioned that she had to wait in line forever to try something on. You might be thinking that this means that H&M is popular and thriving, but in reality, it’s hurting their business.

First, the obvious issue: long lines are making people completely abandon their purchase. I’ve seen women trudging toward the line carrying an armload of clothes, only to look up and down the line in dismay, and dump that armload of clothes onto a nearby table and walk out of the store! Again, some might think it’s ok, because you’ve got all these people willing to wait in line, so they’ll make up for the abandoned purchase. Except, the reason the dressing room line is so long stems from another issue that also affects purchasing.

H&M fit and quality are hit or miss at best, meaning that you have to grab 3 of every item if you want to have any shot at finding something that fits. Sure, in theory, people are carrying in loads of stuff that they’d like to purchase. The problem is that they have no intention of purchasing every item, because at least 2 of the 3 sizes they’ve brought in won’t actually fit! Now you’ve made the lines ridiculously long with no greater shot at increasing the average purchase, and you’ve made other potential buyers abandon their purchase altogether! On top of all that, they’re forced to hire extra floor personnel to handle all the re-stocking because customers are grabbing more items than they normally would if the fit were somewhat consistent.

So if trying on the outfits is such a pain due to the long line and unreliable fit, why don’t customers just buy all the items they like in several sizes, try them on in the comfort of their own home, and return the unwanted items? Because the buy/return lines are ALSO ridiculously long! Maybe people are starting to try that, but instead of reducing the time spent waiting to try on items, they’ve actually just doubled the waiting time in both places. I’ve found one or two items that fit, but I wasn’t willing to wait AGAIN to actually make the purchase, and I’m definitely not willing to make a purchase first, hope it fits, and then have to come back to wait in line.

H&M isn’t trying to sell an amazing shopping experience or the highest quality clothing, but their unreliable fit is leading to long lines in the dressing room and check-out counter, which is causing a high rate of purchase abandonment. There’s a few ways to fix this: make the fit more reliable, build more dressing rooms, or hire more employees to deal with the chaos that their operational problems have caused. This is a pretty classic case study with obvious flaws in operational and marketing execution, and I’m hoping the drop in sales will make them change their strategy in the near future… I want to spend my giftcard, after all! Like the outfit? See more details here!

“The Goalie”

I tend to shy away from talking about topics that make people blush, but I’ve decided to discuss the marketing of birth control today, for both men and women. For marketers, it is firmly in the realm of a commodity with a large target segment, a lucrative sector with many tactics and complex issues, so why not go exploring?*


The Message for Women: Convenience

Most manufacturers target women with the message of convenience. Since effectiveness is a given in this day and age, they have to sell something else, and in most cases, that’s convenience. Convenience comes in a lot of forms: one pill (numbers), quarterly shots (time), or one doctor’s visit every 5 or 10 years (time, numbers AND “mind-space”!). Most commercials feature women going about their daily activities without a thought for their contraception options. They can go to the store, the gym, the bar, the office, anywhere, anytime, without having to “be prepared” (or frolic in a field of daisies all alone, which makes no sense to me as a marketer, but that tends to be the chosen activity for most pharmaceutical commercials). Many of the product websites are clean, cheery layouts that emphasize how convenient it is to use their product.


The Message for Men: Pleasure

There’s no hormonal contraception for men (with FDA approval anyways), so manufacturers of their only option (without the help of their partner) entice them with the promise of pleasure. And, largely, pleasure through variety. All the commercials talk about explosions, fireworks, screams, bursts, joy, awakening, and a new-found desire to get down to business after using their product. They tell the men that not only will they have pleasure, but their partner will also have pleasure. So, they’ve also introduced pride and adequacy into the mix, both of which are strong psychological motivators. The manufacturers tell men they can get double the pleasure: the immediate physical aspect, and the longer-lived mental aspect.


Ease of Use and Product Education for Women: High Up-Front Investment, Low On-Going Investment

Since women’s contraception is sold with a message of convenience, the products must be easy to use and require minimal hassle to obtain and understand. This is an interesting dichotomy, because there are so many options, with so many side effects, and so many variables to consider. Choosing one option requires responsible users to research a myriad of chemicals and health issues, moral and ethical considerations, and brands and delivery methods. For some women, it requires them to switch products multiple times to avoid complications with their first choice. However, once you’ve chosen a product that works, generally the ease of use and on-going education is minimal. Pop this pill every morning at 8 am, show up to the doctor’s office on the 23rd every 3 months, or go in for your yearly exams to make sure everything is in place and effective. Lots of women make their contraception decisions outside the bedroom, and they utilize these methods outside the bedroom. The habitual and on-going use of contraception makes it easy to incorporate the product into a daily/monthly/yearly routine. (I do recognize that many women choose the option  that men choose, but most women have at least considered a hormonal or barrier method that requires habitual use.)


Ease of Use and Product Education for Men: Low Up-Front Investment, High On-Going Maintenance

Men’s options are widely available and limited to one type of option, even though there’s many brands. So, choosing a brand for contraception is largely a matter of preference, and in a pinch, any brand will do. The problem is, the product has several opportunities for failure. This is amplified by the situation when men use contraception, which is generally characterized as spontaneous and hurried. It can be tricky business, and without regular practice, leaves the door open for failure. 


Cost for Women: Moderate-High, On-Going vs. Cost for Men: Low, Sporadic

Hormonal contraception costs for women are moderate to high, depending on the chosen option and the insurance coverage. These costs are generally unrelated to frequency of activities, and represent an on-going cost. Men pay on a per-use basis. Since the science behind their method of contraception is much more basic, the associated costs are largely for marketing vs. R&D. So, the cost-per-use may be higher or lower than women’s, depending on the frequency of activity. It’s the difference between paying for a Netflix subscription and renting movies from Red Box. One keeps the movies ready at all times, the other gives you movies on-demand.


The Emotional Appeal

I think most of the methods for marketing the most popular methods of contraception are logical, tangible benefits. You save time, money, and headache, and you receive pleasure and protection. However, there’s one form of birth control that I believe takes a completely emotional approach: natural family planning. Some advocates try to use facts about harming your body with chemicals, but most appeal to some sense of holistic, spiritual, or religious connotation. They ask you to consider the ethics of utilizing one option, the morality of another, and the general “goodness” of using NFP over artificial forms of contraception. And, as we know, emotional appeals work! This is particularly true for product associations, like being “natural” in your cleaning products, “going green” by recycling and using less water, and adhering to other religious teachings. The message from NFP advocates is that, if you want be consistent in your beliefs, you should utilize this method over other options. Since the aforementioned beliefs are generally tied to the belief in some higher purpose (be it humanity, a deity, nature, etc.) this appeal is extremely effective.

So, there you have it, an analysis of some of the tactics marketers use to sell different forms of birth control! I’ve recently found pharmaceutical marketing to be quite interesting, since it walks the line between a necessary item and a luxury item, branded options and generic options, and ethical considerations. There’s so much more associated with these types of products than just “effectiveness”, and I think marketers play a huge part in shaping this massive industry.


*I’ll make the disclaimer that I am a woman of childbearing age who firmly believes that some form of “modern” birth control is a necessity. So, I’m not aiming to start a debate about whether it is or isn’t morally acceptable, or which brand or method you should use. I’m simply observing and commenting on an area that is particularly relevant to a large segment of the population.

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?