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Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

Some things actually are black and white.

A conversation with a good friend in the agency world the other day (and particularly her horrified reaction to what I shared with her) prompted me to finally write this post. If your company is working with an agency on building or managing a social media program, you probably need to read this. And if you work for an agency that works with social media, you definitely need to read this.

Here’s the skinny: I work with agencies around the world, and more importantly, I have friends in a lot of places, both on the brand side and the agency side. Every chance we get, we talk shop. When someone does something cool, we talk about it. When someone does something not so cool, we talk about it too. And when we start noticing things that bother us, especially when those things touch on ethics, we most certainly talk about it. Over the last few months, one conversation has dominated all others, and it is this: The existence of two prevailing agency models when it comes to building and managing social media programs for clients. One is primarily client-focused and good, and the other… well, not so much. And yet, the latter seems to be gaining traction in the agency world, and that isn’t good.

Here is what these two models look like:

Model #1: The proper, working model.

In this model, the agency identifies the client’s business objectives and uses its capabilities to support them. Note that in this model, the agency doesn’t simply pitch a campaign or provide a cookie-cutter service. It identifies the client’s goals. It clarifies them, even, if not for themselves, for the client (as this is sometimes needed).

For example, if the client comes into a meeting and says “we need a social media program” or “we want 100,000 new Twitter followers by Christmas,” the agency doesn’t simply nod and set to work building a social media program or acquiring 100,000 new followers. What it does first is dig a little deeper: It finds out why the client wants a social media program or why 100,000 new twitter followers is a significant number for them. It finds out what the social media program is there to accomplish. Is it to attract new customers? Is it to capture more relevant data from existing customers? Is it to improve conversion rates or facilitate positive word-of-mouth? Is it to build the foundations of a consumer insights program? Is it merely to monitor brand mentions for a while, until the executive team has a better idea what they want to do?

Whatever the client’s ultimate goal (or series of goals) is, that becomes the basis for the program or campaign. That complex of end goals becomes the driving force behind the ideas, the mechanisms and the activities that will become the core of the pitch.

Why? Because a social media program that blends customer acquisition and increased buy-rate with facilitating WOM and activating hobbyist communities looks VERY different from a social media program whose objective is merely to “build and fill.” (The self-serving process by which an empty space is built only to be filled by a budget.)

What comes out of this type of model is a social media program that blends into a client’s overall business ecosystem. It deliberately supports its marketing efforts, its PR efforts, its customer service efforts, its sales efforts, and so on. Success is measured not only in social media metrics (net new likes/fans/subscribers/followers, net mentions, sentiment deltas and estimated advertising value) but in business-relevant metrics as well: Net new customers, Net growth in sales, increased buy-rates, net positive customer recommendations, improvements in loyalty metrics, increased market share, faster customer service ticket resolutions, improvements in PR crisis resolution, greater operational efficiency in x, etc.

In this model, the agency works with the client as an integrated partner, not just an outsourced service provider, and the results are concrete. In fact, the question of R.O.I. pretty much answers itself. It is never in question. Whether in a support role or a leadership role, the agency and the client act in tandem from start to finish.

This is the proper model for agency involvement in Social Media with a client. The ideal model, if you will.

Model #2 : The improper, unethical model.

In spite of the amazing breadth of potential for agencies in the social media space in terms of impact, revenues and success, many unfortunately choose to just cut corners and go for the fast, easy money. In this model, an agency knowingly sells what essentially amounts to bullshit to unsuspecting clients.

Let me give you two examples:

1. “We need to be in social media.”

Client comes to agency thinking they need a social media program. Their competitors all have one now, and after years of resisting, it looks like they are just going to have to get into that social media “business.” They don’t know much and they don’t know what they want, so they are relying on the agency to provide them with whatever help they need.

What the agency comes up with is a package that includes the development of an official Facebook page, several customized Twitter accounts, a YouTube channel, some internal training, and a content package to go along with it all. If the client has the funds, some campaigns will be thrown into the fray, maybe a contest or two.

Enter the “win an iPad 2 for liking our new Facebook page or following us on Twitter” discussions.

Enter the 5 tweets per day and 3 Facebook updates per day content packages.

In this model, nothing actually happens that directly impacts the business. Nothing is done to support a particular business objective or outcome. The model is simply this: To create billable social media “activity,” bill the client, and generate metrics that seem to indicate that the social media activity is a success. (We will come back to that in a minute.)

What the client ends up with is noise. Ask the client about his social media program, and he will proudly tell you how wonderful it is. Ask him what it is doing for his company, however, and the answers begin to sound less concrete. “Well, we’re attracting a lot of comments and likes. Like, 30 or 40 per week now.”

Yeah? That’s wonderful. But what is it doing for your business?

2. “We need 100,000 followers asap.”

Client comes to agency with an urgent need to grow its social media reach from 7,359 likes/fans or followers to 100,000 by Christmas. Why? Could be anything: Because the CEO said so. Because their closest competitor is there already and it’s embarrassing to be that far behind. Because the digital manager just came back from a conference during which a social media guru told them that 100,000 followers was a minimum benchmark for a brand.

What the agency comes up with is a simple package based on “the value of a fan” or “the value of a follower.” From this subjective metric, the agency quotes the client on a price: “We can get you your 100,000 followers before Christmas, but it will cost $x.” Negotiations ensue. A price is agreed upon.  The agency throws in a little hat trick: “If we get you to 120,000 followers by Christmas, how about a 5% bonus?”  The answer: No, but if you get us to 100,000 by December 1st, you’ll have your extra 5%.

This is a real situation, by the way. A real conversation.

From the client’s perspective, this is an awesome deal:

1. Internally, nothing is required except signing checks, signing off on activity, and keeping track of the agency’s progress. If the agency fails, no one is really to blame internally. The agency can be fired and replaced. But if they succeed, there will be enough glory to go around.

2. It would cost 5x more to reach potential customers in more traditional ways, even email. Social media really is cheaper!

3. We have a social media program! How cool is that?!

4. The client thinks it could have never gotten 100,000 followers on his own by Christmas. God bless that agency and its amazing social media savoir-faire!

From the agency’s perspective, this is an even better deal:

1. The client hasn’t figured out that social media activity is there to support business objectives. He is so focused on hitting that follower goal that nothing else really matters. All the agency will be goaled on is its ability to reach that number by Christmas December 1st. Nothing else matters. Not conversions, not positive WOM, not FRY, nothing. Just get those 100,000 followers.

2. The client is clueless about social media, and there is no reason to change that. The less they know, the more they rely on the agency to deal with their needs. This is very good for the agency, as we will see in a moment.

3. The agency, like an increasing number of its “competitors” around the world, has been recently and repeatedly pitched by companies out of China, India, South America and Eastern Europe that offer followers, fans, likes, clicks and other digital traffic à la carte. It can, like any other agency with the funding to do it, pay for all the new followers and fans it wants. You can buy all the positive mentions you want too.

Let me explain how this works: Money changes hands. Somewhere in a country where the client has no business presence, 25,000 people either create accounts or use existing ones via proxies and simply click “like” or “subscribe” or “follow.” These people will NEVER become customers, but to the client who doesn’t know, they have just become his 25,000 new followers on Twitter.

The only two details for the agency to worry about at that point are a) making sure to cover their tracks, and b) figure out the optimal markup.

This, boys and girls, is how it’s done, and we aren’t just talking about small fly-by-night outfits. Think bigger. Much bigger. And it doesn’t stop there.

4. The agency doesn’t need to have experienced professionals on their social media integration/management team anymore. Why waste money on that when you can just buy fans and followers?

Agencies opting for this model have two options:

A) Hire someone with an influential blog on Social media and put them on staff as a sort of social media mantle piece. These folks will be there to woo the client and help pitch them. They’ll charm them and do some internal trainings for them. They’ll create content for the agency blog, put a face to the agency’s social media capabilities, speak at events (always pitching the agency’s “case studies,” of course), and serve as a “thought leader” but will never actually work on building anything for clients.

B) Hire or promote someone with zero experience in social media integration and build them up as “experts” anyway. Any intern will do, but someone with a few years of experience in any “digital” field will look better. If you’ve ever wondered how some of these people you have never heard of become “experts” almost overnight, wonder no more.

Think about it: Why bother staffing up with expensive talent when you can just buy your followers and fans? The page builds can be outsourced to developers. The content can be outsourced to any number of content farms. The structure is already in place. If the agency is already working on a campaign, its content can be easily adapted to social media channels. (Add revenue line items here, here, and here.)

5. Once the followers have been purchased and the campaign or program seems to be gaining traction, start beating your own drum. Convince the client that their success could make a great case study, then build it up. In a few months, wouldn’t it be great to present at conferences around the world how “engagement” and “content” took Brand A from 7,000 followers to 100,000 in just a few months? Oh, the white papers. Oh the slide decks. Oh the positive press in Mashable and ZDnet. Oh the blog posts. Oh the awards.

Get on the phone with the PR team pronto.

Meanwhile, those 100,000 followers provide nothing for the business. Sure, it looks good when people check out the account’s profile page. It looks like the company and its agency are doing something right. The stats are easy to graph too. Empirical data, right? Is anyone ever going to go back and check where all of those “fans” came from?

Unfortunately, that number is a smoke screen. The vast majority of those followers will never become customers. They will never recommend the company (unless paid to do so). They’re paid extras, pretending to like your company, nothing more. Chances are, they had never heard of it before an email notification with a Paypal link told them to.

Meanwhile, the agency looks like a superstar. In the next few months, other brands will visit them and these words will fill their conference room time and time again:

“Can you do for us what you did for [Brand A]?”

The answer will always be yes.

6. Do not pass Go. Collect that 5% bonus for spending the client’s money faster than the original timetable called for.

In this type of model, KPIs (key performance indicators) will tend to focus on digital measurement only:

Net new follows.

Net new likes.

Net new subscribers.

Net new & volume of mentions.

Click-throughs.

EAV/EMV (Estimated Advertising/Media Value)

Reports will include fascinating graphs measuring “engagement” and “social equity.” Middle-managers will have exciting (albeit somewhat complicated) reports to present to their bosses that clearly indicate that the agency is kicking ass, doing its job, earning its pay. And yet, nothing concrete will come out of it. No actual new customers. No increases in loyalty. No preparedness for the next PR crisis. No improvements anywhere, except for all that “activity” in social media, except for all that noise.

I’ve been in the room when deals like this were discussed. I’ve had drinks with agency professionals who confirmed, disgusted, that it was becoming standard operating procedures at their firms. I’ve worked with clients who had no idea the extent to which they had been screwed by their own agencies in precisely this manner until they started digging under the surface of easy “social” metrics and “R.O.I. is not really applicable to social business” discussions.

This is happening in your market right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re in New York or Paris, Atlanta or Brussels, San Francisco or Hong Kong. This model is gaining traction because it’s easy, it’s cheap, it generates revenue and accolades for agencies, and the clients don’t know enough to make a stink. (Not that making their disappointment public would be to their advantage anyway.)

Where your choices lead:

Fortunately, because the second model is now so widespread, it won’t remain a dirty little secret much longer. Before long, clients will start figuring it out, other witnesses to it will start talking about it, and the agencies they work(ed) for will be exposed. Careers will be tossed down the proverbial drain, and the higher the pay grade, the harder the fall. Don’t kid yourselves: It is as inevitable as the fall of Enron.

Take a step back and ask yourself: What will clients do when they find out? How many new clients will these agencies attract once the curtain falls away? Who will want to go work for that kind of organization? What kind of professional will they attract (and more importantly, retain)? What future can this sort of organization really hope for?

To use a cycling analogy, do you really want to be remembered as the guy who won the Tour de France only to be stripped of the honor for blood doping a year later?

Cheating to win sucks. Cheating to get paid or to get ahead sucks. And no one gets away with it. No one. Not anymore. What side of the ax do you want to be on when it finally falls? That’s your call.

The agencies who opt for real results, on the other hand, who truly want to be the best in the business, whose relationship with clients is not predatory or parasitic, will stand out and attract solid talent, the people with insights and ideas and the ability to win and help them grow. Their success in recruiting the best talent in the world and use it properly will get around. This will gradually score them bigger clients. Meanwhile, the idiots who ripped off their clients with purchased “success” will just vanish from the scene altogether.

I know this because Tyler knows this. And also because I also know that reputation is everything. People talk. People always talk. And they always remember too.

As I begin to transition from being just an independent consultant (where my impact is often far too limited for my taste) to joining a larger organization (where I will be able to do a lot more), I realize how difficult the next few months will be. Sorting through potential new ‘homes’ for me won’t be as easy as just agreeing on a figure anymore. Now I have this stuff to deal with too, and the big famous name on the door doesn’t mean what it used to back in the day. As sad as that is, it’s the sad reality of where the marketing world stands in 2011. The vetting process on my end will have to be more thorough than it ever has been, adding a whole new layer of scrutiny in my search for #thenextgig.

This should be interesting.

PS: If you are an agency that falls into the first category (the proper model), let’s talk. If you fall into the second, let’s not.

*          *          *

If you haven’t already, learn how to properly build, manage and measure social media programs at your own pace. Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization will help you avoid common pitfalls of  most bogus social media program pitches and help you develop your own business-focused framework instead. Think of it as a 300-page blueprint for anyone looking to build a proper social media program. Download a free chapter here and find out for yourself if it is worth the paper it is printed on. You can also check it out on amazon.com or pick it up at just about any bookstore.

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Filed under Opinion:

Social media training in the real world:

Much of what I do involves teaching executives how to use Social Media in their day to day business activities. I help Marketing managers integrate social channels into their departments’ activities, for example. I help PR departments develop around-the-clock monitoring practices and crisis response protocols. I help customer service managers develop real-time customer support capabilities and train their staff to be as comfortable in social media environments as they are on the phone or via email. I help COOs integrate social media across their business units and CMOs and CEOs make sense of it all. In essence, that part of what I do looks a lot like cross-training: I teach marketing, customer service, sales, advertising, and PR professionals how to incorporate social media into what they already do, and I help executives understand how social media fits into their professional ecosystems. From there, we build programs based on their needs, objectives, and capabilities.

On occasion, I also help social media professionals learn basic business management concepts so that they won’t waste their employers’ and clients’ time with disconnected “social media strategies” and pointless measurement methodologies. I help them understand how to build social media practices for customer service departments, for instance or teach them how to apply their skillset to a digital marketing role, but somewhere along the line, it is their responsibility to take that training beyond what little guidance I can provide. I am not a university: I am simply not equipped to teach someone how to become a customer service manager or a data analyst or a CMO.

What I also don’t do is teach “social media professionals” how to get better at “social media.” Why? Because any non-basic course on “professional” social media management taught outside of a specific business application context is essentially worthless. It is the social media equivalent of taking an “advanced” course in telephone conversations or email content management. It’s bollocks. You want to learn how to use Twitter better? Find some free tutorials and spend more time using Twitter. You want to learn how to be more fluent with tools like Spiral 16, Webtrends or Seesmic? Get friendly with their tech support teams, let them show you some new tricks, and spend a few hours every week using what you’ve learned until it’s become second nature. Want to learn how to be a better community manager? Talk to other community managers and learn what you can from their successes and setbacks, then try some of their tricks to see how they work for you.

Here’s another tip: Every time you learn something new, share it. Train other people in your organization so you won’t always have to do it all. Build knowledge all around you. In time, they’ll be the ones sharing new tips and tricks with you.

The reality of the business world in 2011 and going into 2012 is that there is no need for “social media professionals.” What businesses need are marketing professionals with a fluency in social media, customer service professionals who can operate in a social media environment, executives who understand how to leverage social media to assist and amplify their other activities, business analysts who know how to measure the effectiveness of their companies’ activities in social media. In other words, businesses need professionals who know how to blend “social” with existing business functions. What they don’t need is to try and figure out how 500,000 newly minted “social media professionals” somehow fit into their organizations.

What is the value of a social media “expert” who can’t translate that expertise into a skill or role a company can actually use?

Where things go wrong:

The notion that thousands of organizations out there are in need of “social media professionals” is a complete sham. Whatever you were doing before social media became a “thing,” that’s what your real skill is. Your profession. What you will be most likely to be hired to do. Your new social media skills, they’re just a fresh layer of value wrapped around that core skill. That’s it. You have 10 years of experience as a customer service rep and three years of using Twitter and Facebook? Guess what: You probably aren’t going to be hired as a Social Media Director by anybody, nor should you. You aren’t ready for that yet. But you could be hired as the customer service manager who will be asked to build and manage the company’s first social media customer service team. Go for that job, kick ass at it, and maybe a year from now you get asked to build on that success, and so forward goes your career. Not as a “social media professional” but as a professional who knows how to use social media.

That social media shortcut though, that magic door to a Chief Social Officer title without passing “Go,” it’s bullshit. It’s a marketing scam to lure you into signing up for webinars, certification programs and whatever else will pass for training these days.

Not to pick on this particular event that popped up in my feed yesterday (whose content actually seems pretty good if you reframe it as a social media-themed conference), but read this marketing copy and think about what it promises and how:

“If you are a social media professional wanting to take your skills to the next level, or an online marketer expanding your capabilities, this program is your chance to go beyond a typical introductory course and get advanced insights from true social media masters. This conference series is a unique opportunity to develop your own mastery of social media for Marketing and Communications, with an emphasis on engagement. Whether you are in charge of a department in a large organization, you are responsible for multiple clients within an agency, or you are an independent professional deepening your skills and knowledge, this special event series will help you advance your career and accomplish your goals in key areas of social media marketing.”

Again, the event might be great. At $199, it seems reasonably priced, and some of the speakers, although I have never heard of them, seem like they might have some interesting insights to share. I just can’t help but be a little curious about:

Take your skills to “the next level.”

Develop your own “mastery” of social media.

This special event series will help you advance your career and accomplish your goals.

This program is your chance.

There’s a little voice in the back of my head that whispers “bullshit!” every time I read copy like this. What it really is, is another “chance” to spend $200 on a conference and listen to presentations. Period. Not that there is anything wrong with that, conferences are great, but they are a far cry from anything close to a course or training program that will “take your skills to the next level” or help you “advance your career.”

I don’t blame any speakers and SMEs for being dragged into operations that don’t quite align promises with delivery. For the most part, they are knowledgeable professionals with great insights to share. They are driven by a desire to help their audience gain insights on certain aspects of social media that are relevant and actionable, and have no idea when they accept the invitation how or to whom the event will be marketed.

Generally speaking, the people who create and operate events which promise one thing but deliver another, on the other hand, know exactly what they are doing when they write or authorize their marketing copy. They see where the ethical lines are drawn as clearly as you and I. Not all but most knowingly choose to use certain keywords in order to create expectations not in line with the reality of what they are  delivering. In other words, they choose to deliberately prey on people’s aspirations, hopes and fears (the fear of not being qualified for a job, of missing out on some vital information or insight, of being left behind if they don’t constantly sign up for the next webinar, the next top secret newsletter, the next so-called training program) to make an easy buck. To call people who deliberately engage in deceptive practices predators would be too flattering. They aren’t predators at all. They are parasites: They don’t just hunt you down and kill you. They suck you dry, little by little, one event at a time, one webinar at a time, one newsletter or monthly community membership fee at a time.

Imagine hundreds of termites eating at the very foundations of the social media discipline they claim to be building, all the while charging you for the wood. Now you’re getting a glimpse of what is really going on right under everyone’s noses.

My beef isn’t with the quality of these events or what they charge, mind you. I take no issue with any of it. You want to put on a poorly produced event and charge $3,000 a head? Go for it. It’s your reputation. You want to put on a world class event and only charge $25? More power to you. No, my beef is first and foremost with the marketing. What I take issue with is always the same thing: The predatory sales pitch, the misleading copy, the deliberate formulation of unrealistic expectations to lure the gullible and the desperate (read: the underemployed).

It reminds me of TV evangelists asking the most desperate and poorest of their viewers to send them money in exchange for favors from God. “Send us $50 right now and you will see your investment multiplied tenfold! So sayeth the Lord!” Right. Says the guy with the Gold Rolex, the villa in Beverly Hills and the private petting zoo on his 500-acre estate. If only social media gurus sported TV preacher hair and dressed in 12-button gold lamé suits instead of baggy jeans and ratty T-shirts, the sham would be easier to spot.

My other beef is that when the objective is to make a quick buck, more of the organizers’ time is focused on marketing the event than it is on vetting its speakers and curating their content. As an event organizer, it is your responsibility to make sure that your speakers or trainers won’t deliver complete nonsense that will end up doing more harm than good if anyone actually tries to actually apply their advice. Things along the lines of Social Media ROI = (engagement x brand equity) ÷ brand mentions. And yet, how many times have we seen “experts” deliver complete nonsense at events that were supposed to help us learn something valuable?

An event organizer more focused on making money than creating an exceptional event for his audience probably has his mind on the wrong thing. It’s hard to read slimy marketing copy and not wonder what is really going on behind the scenes. That doesn’t help anyone.

A word about ethics, responsibility, and digital citizenship:

There are ethical lines all of us, every single day, decide not to cross. And I get it: Times are tough. As one of these very well fed social media termites had the nerve to tell me via email not long ago, “everyone has the right to make a buck.” Yeah. True. But you also have the right to have both your motives and practices questioned when you choose to make a dishonest buck. This goes way beyond the shady SEO schemes and non-disclosure of paid endorsements you run into on a weekly basis with many so-called A-list bloggers: It goes to the heart of being part of a community, of presenting yourself as a “thought leader,” as a guru or role model or shepherd, and then using that community to fill your pockets with little concern for the damage you cause its members.

It takes a remarkable absence of empathy to deliberately build trust in tens of thousands of people with the sole purpose of betraying that trust at the first opportunity to “make a buck.”

Speaking of that, here’s what “making a buck” under the pretense of helping people looks like in the real world:

The same thing happens in the social media “industry,” only it isn’t caught on CCTV.

If you’ve ever wondered why some of us who work in this community sometimes speak out against predatory or otherwise unethical practices, it’s because we see the scams for what they are, and we are just as outraged by that type of behavior as we are by what you saw taking place in that video.

Now I ask you: What would be the upside of keeping quiet about it? Of protecting the perpetrators, even?

To see it happening and do nothing shames us. It makes us either cowards or accomplices. It’s that simple.

Being part of a community means you give back to it. You contribute. You watch out for other people. You help them whenever you can. You protect them when you must. You make sure it is healthy and crime-free. What you don’t do is turn a blind eye when someone gets scammed. What you don’t do is glorify or help support people whose sole purpose for being in your community is to exploit it for their own gain, at everyone’s expense, and without a hint of remorse. What you don’t do is sell out your neighbors and your friends in exchange for a tiny slice of the pyramid scheme pie.

Repeat after me: The word “social” means something. It isn’t just a marketing buzzword. In that regard, it is just like authentic, transparent and honest. In the immortal words of Gordon Ramsay, “if you’re going to take the money, work for it.”

The biggest difference between the real world and the social media space is that in the social media space, it’s a lot harder to smell the bullshit.

In short, be careful what you register for. Tighten your vetting process. Approach every social media event with an eye for red flags. Ask yourself whether it is really worth your time and worth the fee. Ask yourself whether the event can truly deliver on what it advertises. Ask yourself what you really need to get out of it and whether or not you can reasonably expect that the event will not disappoint. And recalibrate your expectations if you must: In spite of shading marketing copy, some events, once reframed as conferences rather than training programs, can be well worth the price of admission. Whether or not you reward them with coin without first pointing out their shady practices is entirely your call.

But back to our original topic:

Social media’s educational fix: Focus on cross-training.

If “social media professionals” really want to advance their careers, here is my advice:

Learn the difference between a conference and a training program. (The former has a schedule of speakers. The latter has a discernible curriculum.)

Learn the difference between beginner training programs and advanced training programs. (The former touches on basic introductory concepts and teaches you how to use social media platforms and tools. The latter focuses on either becoming an expert platform/software operator, applying SM knowledge to specific business functions, and/or – for executives -operationalizing social media).

And here is the big one:

Take less social media strategy classes and more business management classes.

That is where the real value is. That’s what will make you employable.

Likewise, if business professionals want to advance their careers in an increasingly digital world, they probably need to learn how to properly integrate social media into their profession. This is the group that should attend social media conferences and events. Ironically, events like the one mentioned above should cater to these folks rather than “social media professionals” and online marketers.  There would be far more value in that, but since it would require a lot more work, the low hanging fruit tends to suffice. Too bad.

If you aren’t focusing on cross-training at this point (teaching social media operators how to apply their skills within the scope of a business function, or teaching a business professional how to incorporate social media into their business function), you are missing the mark.

Cheers.

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This. Is. Brilliant. Every time someone does a piece like this, I find myself grinning ear to ear.

First, some attribution: The piece, published by www.boredpanda.com is tagged as a guest post by Dario D., who first published his images on his own site www.alphaila.com. I recommend that you check them both out for the full feature. Well worth a few minutes of your time.

The premise (from Dario):

So, I went to some fast food places (I won’t say “restaurants”, just “places”), and picked up burgers/tacos, so I could compare them with the ads.

I brought the “food” home (different stuff over 3 nights), tossed it into my photography studio, and did some ad-style shoots (with pictures of the official ads on my computer next to me, so I could match the lighting/angles/etc).

The result, of course is a set of gems (go see them all) that includes this other killer side by side dose of reality:

Dario goes on:

Don’t ask me how this advertising is legal. […] I happily pitch the idea that lawmakers are committing a crime against us people by allowing us to be continually insulted by this advertising […]  in defiance of human perception.

He has a point. The pictures don’t lie.

Compare this kind of advertising to anything else: Cars, candy, clothing, drinks, watches, laptops, tennis rackets, video games, etc.. Most products, when depicted in photographs used for marketing purposes are pretty close to what you can expect to get. In this particular industry, however, not so much.

Remember the scene from the movie “Falling Down,” back in the post Reagan 1990’s, in which Michael Douglas’ character (as mentally imbalanced as he may be) throws a fit over this very affront to human intelligence. Fast-forward to 04:06, towards the end of the clip to see what happens. Take a look:

If you have time, watch the whole scene from the beginning. It’s a classic.

The lesson here isn’t that false advertising exists, or that fast food companies are sometimes unethical with their marketing. The lesson is this: Promises matter. The degree to which customers’ expectations are met is the currency by which a brand’s worth is measured. In the era of social media, global word-of-mouth, and in markets where the abundance of choices can send yesterday’s market leaders careening into a pit of obsolescence, the foundations upon which you build your brand’s future cannot be based on institutionalized broken promises. Breeding cynicism about your products is just not good policy.

Now apply this thinking to your business. Put your marketing through the same test. Does it pass muster, or like these images above, is there a gap between promise and delivery?

Now ask yourself this: Which do you believe is the better choice to build a sustainable brand: Disappointing customers, or delighting them?

PS: Social Media “gurus,” consultants and “certifying bodies,” take a long hard look at what you are selling, and how you are selling it.

Cheers,

Olivier

Additional resources: This post’s grandaddy (click here).

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