When I turned down the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s invitation to be the guy to deliver 40 lashes to Richard Edelman after his PR firm’s Wal-Mart blogging fiasco, I said I’d explain my thinking. So here is my essential argument:
You cannot buy our word of mouth. It’s ours. You cannot buy buzz. You have to earn it. The only way to get either is to create a good product or service and to treat your customers with respect by listening to and being open and honest with them.
That’s it. No trade associations needed. No conventions. No codes of ethics that people sign and then find loopholes through. No star chambers for errant marketers. Just tell the truth. It really is that simple.
If you want to market, then do what marketers do: Buy ads. The nice thing about an ad is that it
is a transparent act of marketing. An ad comes with its own borders around it: You buy space or time to tell your story to my public, who can tell that you bought it and can then judge whether you also managed to buy my integrity and soul. The ad, by its very form, puts that relationship clearly out in public. Ads also support news and entertainment, and have for a century or more, and so I hope they also start to support blogging, vlogging, podcasting, and all that. When you don’t buy an ad and try to influence us behind the scenes, for money or not, then you get in trouble. And you should.
Markets are conversations that you can’t have without us. And we own our end of that conversation. If you try to buy it, you are trying to compromise our integrity, honesty, openness; you are trying to corrupt us and our media and we will judge uyou accordingly. If you try to hide what you’re doing, you are lying to us and we will catch you. And it goes beyond that: If you try to sell what you know about us without our involvement, you are stealing the wisdom of the crowd and we are the crowd.
That’s why I object to the notion that there can be a word-of-mouth industry. It’s our mouth and please don’t try to put words in it.
Now the folks at WOMMA say they stand for doing things right and folks I know said I should give them a chance. I’m sure they are nice and earnest. But, frankly, I didn’t see it as my job to tell them how to tell us stuff. I do not want to start a parallel practice to media training: word-of-mouth training, the science and art of manipulation. God help us.
And I did not see how I could win ending up on stage with a professional spinster; it’s like going on The Daily Show thinking you can be funnier than Jon Stewart. If I’m blunt and direct and say I can’t understand how Edelman et al could have fostered this screwup, then I’m likely to face a hostile crowd. If I try to probe how Edelman’s organization could have so cavalierly ignored his own word and whether that came from a corporate and industry culture of spin and loopholes or from other orgaizational problems, I’d be playing the company consultant and I really don’t care to. If I don’t zap him with sufficient voltage, I’ll be seen as a sell-out. No win. So I chose not to go.
There was one reason I did consider going and that’s in the next post I’ll write, above.