Whenever we have a difficult issue to debate at Weblogs, Inc. we like to think about what the various experts would do. When we debate ecommerce we ask “What would Jeff Bezos do?”, when we debate publishing we ask “What would Graydon Carter/Jann Wenner do?” and when we discuss marketing we ask “What would Seth Godin do?”
Now, we don’t just say “What would Seth Godin think of this?” we ask what would Seth Godin *DO* in this situation. That is key to the exercise.
Recently I took BzzAgents, a Word of Mouth marketing company, to task because they were telling their “agents” to lie to consumers. BzzAgents hires people to promote their clients products, and in their field manual they said the following:
Be conscious of who you tell about BzzAgent! To tell or not to tell? Should BzzAgents reveal their identities? That’s a question for you to decide carefully when you’re sharing the Bzz with someone. Some people might think it’s cool. Other people might not understand. The choice is yours. Decide what’s best for each conversation.
In other words, they are telling folks that it is not a good idea to be transparent, and that consumers should be deceived. The recently admitted that this was wrong, and changed their policy to:
Be Open: BzzAgents should be entirely open about their identity. As long as you’re sharing your honest opinion, being candid about your involvement with BzzAgent actually helps create better Bzz. If you like a product or service, it doesn’t matter where you found out about it, so don’t feel as though you need to be anonymous or stealthy. Just be open and honest and let your opinion count.
Again, BzzAgents falls short of giving a clear mandate to be honest.
I asked myself “If Seth Godin was running this companywhich I doubt he wouldwhat would he set as the mandate?” After imagining myself with the eventual shinny bald head I’m sure I’ll have (sorry Seth, couldn’t resist!), I channelled the brand-master himself. here is what Seth said to me in my vision:
“Do not, under any circumstances, deceive the public. The pubic is smart, and should be respected. If we deceive our consumers they will eventually find out, and when they do we will harm our brand much more then we would have helped it. Additionally, why are we wasting our time trying to create buzz? Why don’t we put our energy into making a better product? If we do the public will notice they are not stupid, they recognize excellence. Let’s just be excellent!”
Trying to force word of mouth is like trying to force someone into loving you it doesn’t work. As much as I love to analyze business and marketing, I’m smart enough to know that buzz is the smoke from a burning hot product. Building a fire is hard work, no doubt, but it’s a lot better then blowing smoke.