On December 20 of last year, this email landed in my inbox.
If you can’t read it, here is the fun subject line: “Elizabeth, Hit your target like a sniper.”
As Canada is lately a little lacking in Target stores, I surmised they were talking about my target market. They were. It was flogging some content about accurate segmentation — sniper-level accurate. How nice, and just in time for Christmas.
Perhaps it was the eggnog-flavoured bagel I was scarfing back for breakfast that morning, but it suddenly occurred to me how much military jargon and metaphor marketing and sales people use to describe what they do and how they do it.
We provide air cover for sales and soften the beaches, presumably so they can wade ashore in their Canali suits, without taking fire from the hilltop bunkers full of heavily-armed consultants with dangerous stockpiles of white papers and assault staplers.
We concoct campaigns as if we are Hannibal heading out for a bit of Tuscan cuisine, and we talk endlessly of guerilla marketing, defensive marketing, offensive marketing, flanking and crushing.
For years, we’ve been reading about marketing warfare, victorious business plans and, yes, sniper attacks on the people we are hoping to befriend. That’s messed up.
Friends, our customers are not enemy strongholds, dart boards or not-so-bright deer; they’re humans. They are carefully selected groups of people on whom we want to make an impression, not drop a cluster bomb.
What if we stopped thinking of our efforts to interact with people as campaigns and started thinking of them as something people might run toward and not away from? Like a party, a resort or a fantastic cruise? How about just a really great conversation about what’s going on with them and if there a chance we could help?
What if we stopped thinking of our sales people as soldiers? Soldiers are trained to kill people, not make friends with them (yes, there are obvious exceptions). What if we thought of them as travel agents or fixers of business problems or ambassadors?
What if we stopped trying to crush our competition and just figured out how to out-play them? There’s a reason we make hockey players shake hands at the end of the game: win or lose, it’s an acknowledgement that while only one team can win, it is an honourable thing to have stepped onto the ice at all.
What if we stopped trying to steal market share with aggressive offers and stupid promotions and tried earning it with amazing products and great service?
It’s time to find a new way to talk about what we do and why we do it. Marketing needs to become a demilitarized zone (DMZ).
And for God’s sake stop quoting Sun Tse in your email signature.