The Marketing of Unmarketing - A History & Primer - Social Media Explorer
The Marketing of Unmarketing – A History & Primer
The Marketing of Unmarketing – A History & Primer

Jason Falls
Jason Falls

When people ask me the difference in marketing today versus marketing 10 years ago, I normally say something like this:

“The American, and even world, consumer got tired of being talked at and has demanded to be spoken with. Corporations were monolithic buildings, logos and brand names. You can’t have a conversation with any of those three entities. The companies consumers engage with and respect today are more human, often even putting employees in front of the company to act as conversation points. While a lot of marketing is still executed in traditional means, social media has opened up a new channel of communications for brands: The conversation, which is much more powerful than the old, one-way trumpeting of old.”

Social media marketing, that of conversations from brand to consumer, consumer to brand and consumer to consumer, is counter-intuitive to the one-way channels of marketing old. It is such a diversion from the old school ways that it has been dubbed “unmarketing,” by some. So why is today’s marketing truly unmarketing and and how do we, as marketers, advertisers, pubic relations professionals and communicators take off that marketing hat and become more human?

To begin, let’s review some of the systems and models that we’ve learned to use over the years as marketers. There’s the 4P’s of Marketing – Product, Price, Placement and Promotion. Some would add a fifth of Public Relations. Then there’s the 7P’s of Service Marketing, which adds People, Process and Physical Evidence.

There’s the system of moving a consumer from awareness, to interest, then evaluation, trial and adoption, or the AIETA flow model. And then we have the textbook definition of the marketing process, which includes performing each of the following:

  • Situational Analysis
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Marketing Mix Decisions
  • Implementation & Control

Do you find it disturbing that the customer isn’t mentioned in any of the main tenants of marketing thought? Sure, “People” is mentioned in the 7P’s of Service Marketing, but don’t you think people are important to those using the 4P’s? The AIETA flow assumes that consumers are just going to follow along. It lends nothing to their needs, just throws awareness of the product in their faces. And if “Implementation & Control” isn’t condescending and presumptuous of a company’s target consumer, I don’t know what is.

The Cluetrain Manifesto outlined the following theses that essentially looked at how marketing has been done all these years and said, “Where is the consideration of the people? What about the audience? They should matter first.”

1. Markets are conversations.

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

16. Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.

26. Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.

25. Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.

UnMarketing In Times SquareSadly, it took the world almost a decade to fully understand and start to embrace The Cluetrain. But the collaboration (fitting, wouldn’t you say) of Chris Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls and David Weinberger that would reshape the way we market would (also fittingly) grow organically across the landscape of American business and infuse the Internet with a new sense of purpose in the post dot-com bust era.

Many would argue that while social media technically existed before The Cluetrain – forums and message boards, chat rooms and even blogs proceeded it – the book introduced social media to corporate America. Or perhaps vice-versa. Now companies were beginning to realize the pathway to the wallet of the consumer was most certainly through the consumer, not their product, their conversion or their marketing mix decisions. To reconnect with the customer would be the new direction of business. The arena would be social media.

But the problem still exists that classically trained marketers are classically trained marketers. In order to become communicators in this new media era, to speak the language of people and not corporations, they would have to retrain themselves. While each is, in fact, human, they’ve forgotten how to act as such in the business setting. It is not longer about talking points and key messages. It is no longer about persuasive messaging as a result of consumer insights but having conversations that lead to consumer insights that lead to better products.

So how do we do it?

The exceedingly brilliant Brian Oberkirch offered several pointers for companies in his March 2008 blog post, “Unmarketing notions,” which included:

“Serve communities, don’t build them.

Find existing groups and add value to what they are trying to do. Participate. Host, if you must, but I bet groups are already helping themselves.

Let a thousand flowers bloom.

Instead of brand meaning one thing (whether you call it a promise, an essence, positioning, etc.), let the market define the brand with as many relevant facets as possible.

Close the gap.

Marketing will become the shared process of creating awesomeness. Get the users and makers of the service or product together. That’s your new gig.

Be quiet. Listen. Ask.

Likewise, shelve the impulse to be the one with the clever lines & arresting images. You’re a brand ethnographer now. Your field notes contain the seeds of strategies.

It’s in there. (product as marketing)

As with closing the gap, bake your marketing into the experience of the product, not in discussions of it.

Little things are huge.

What happens when we’re all connected? Good service (and bad) goes round the world. Leave instances of awesomeness in your wake.”

What I take all that to mean is value your customer as an integral part of your company and product. Ask their opinion and listen to it. Make great products and let those who helped you tell the story of that greatness. Fredrick Marckini, CEO of iProspect, once said, “The brand with the best storytellers win.” Give your customers the best story to tell. Make it as much about them as it is about you and you’ll win more than you lose.

Oberkirch’s post inspired a panel discussion at the famed South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas in 2008. Social media industry thought leaders Deb Schultz, Tara Hunt, Hugh MacLeod, Chris Heuer, Jeremiah Owyang and David Parmet took the audience through Oberkirch’s principles, offering the following insights to help round out more advice:

“Marketing is the work we do to match a company’s product or service with the people or companies who will get the most value and/or satisfaction from it.” – Heuer

“Marketing, even in its newer, social-media-enabled forms, is not about tools or technology, but about the way you look at your customers. That regard for your customers has to be in your DNA, such that you face the hard work of getting out in the trenches and embracing the feedback your customers give you to drive your marketing, customer service, and product development.” – Schultz

“Get out of the ivory tower. Don’t stay in your company bastion and push stuff out at people. Instead, get out and start weaving … Get authentic. Above everything else, talk to your customers all the time.” – Schultz

“The paradigm shift is away from ‘messages’ and toward ‘social gestures’ — which can’t be faked.” – MacLeod

“‘Community,’ is a worthless word when it’s talked about as a lever to pull for gross marketing purposes. What you’re really talking about, instead, is a bunch of lovely human beings who happen to be using your products. And they’re not your community — you don’t own them. You’re just participating along with them.” – MacLeod

“Stop trying to sell me. Shift the attitude to how can you help me buy.” – Heuer

Hunt’s Pinko Marketing Wiki includes another insightful list that offers great pointers on how to be a good marketer, dare I say an “unmarketer,” including the following, edited or summarized for clarity. Please click here to see the whole list.

  1. A good marketer is a Community Advocate
    This means that you speak for your community to your company, not vice versa.
  2. A good marketer knows today’s brands aren’t built in boardrooms or ad agencies or brainstorming sessions
    It doesn’t matter how much you tweak and perfect and hone and glamorize your ‘brand’, the community will see it the way they see it. If you try to build a ‘brand’ and people interpret it differently, maybe you should examine your message.
  3. A good marketer plans a little, but changes a lot
    Your plan — strategic plan, media plan, marketing plan, etc. — should always be nimble. If something isn’t working, stop, examine it, adjust it, scrap it or put more energy into it, but don’t just ‘stick to the plan’. The best opportunities are rarely planned in advance.
  4. A good marketer rewards the community members who stand behind him/her
    How do you reward your evangelists? Make certain they have the tools they need to keep on. Remind them how important they are to you regularly. These are community members who take time out of their busy schedules to spread the word for you … for free. That is totally kick-ass. Never take it for granted.
  5. A good marketer gets involved in the community
    I’m not just talking throwing a few dollars of sponsorship in their general direction in exchange for a banner. I’m talking about getting your hands dirty. Getting involved. PLEASE don’t think about it in terms of what you can get out of it. Think of it in terms of what you can give.
  6. A good marketer is her/his own client
    Think about it. If you wouldn’t buy your crap, why would anyone else?
  7. A good marketer never takes her/himself to seriously
    Laugh at yourself. Laugh at your company. Admit your mistakes. Be painfully self-aware. Let go of your ego.
At Doe-Anderson, we are convinced that the brand-to-consumer relationship is just that — a relationship. As such, it should be treated as if the customer is your significant other. Michael Littman, Doe’s Sr. VP for Marketing, surveyed the 70 employees at our agency to come up with characteristics of relationships. He writes on his blog, “The first notion, and one that I found particularly intriguing, is that all relationships are a work in progress, not a finished piece of art. Cyncially, a relationship is the ultimate ‘what have you done for me lately’ experience. Once we stop working at the relationship, the relationship is likely to stop working.”
Littman’s recounting of the survey also indicated communication was the unifying tie in everyone’s responses. There was overwhelming suggestion that honesty and complete transparency, tenants of the Cluetrain’s instructions for businesses, were central to the development of strong relationships. Other qualities that stemmed from the Doe survey were trust, mutual attraction and spontaneous consistency (we need predictability but loathe boredom). All of these have parallels in strong customer-to-brand relations.

All of the rhetoric and research surrounding the new way to market should be taken, bits and pieces, to shape how we approach our jobs as marketers. Our recommendations to clients will be met with hesitation and skepticism. But we do them a disservice if we ignore the changing tides of the marketplaces. Markets are conversations. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic segments. To claim their stake in the market, they have to step back, remove the marketing hat and be able to be talked with, not to or from.

So what can we do to start today? Here are some thoughts:
  1. Stop calling them your target. Call them your customers. Better yet, call them your friends.
  2. When talking to a friend of your company, think of them as a real friend and react to their input or concerns as you should.
  3. Find a way to have every call, email and otherwise in-bound message from a friend returned in a timely fashion.
  4. Pull together a group of your friends to sit-in on planning sessions (R&D, marketing, media) for next year.
  5. Stop thinking this is hard. Despite what you may think, you are human. Act like it. Encourage others in your company to do the same.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? How can your marketing efforts become more human today? The comments are yours.

And if you’re interested, here’s my companion presentation I gave on this topic at the Advertising Federation of Louisville.

IMAGE: An adaptation of mynameispaul’s “Time Square in 11 degree” on Flickr. (CC license to adapt.)

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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at

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