Marketers, stop the hate! Customers are not the enemy

Marketers, stop the hate! Customers are not the enemy

Summary: Guest editorial by Susan EtlingerBack in the seventeenth century, soldiers would spend the cold winter months in towns and garrisons until the weather cleared enough for them to venture back into the field (in Italian, nella campagna) to resume fighting. And that’s the origin of the modern word campaign, a term much beloved by marketing and sales people to signify an organized series of events designed to sell products and services.

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Guest editorial by Susan Etlinger

Marketers, stop the hate!

Back in the seventeenth century, soldiers would spend the cold winter months in towns and garrisons until the weather cleared enough for them to venture back into the field (in Italian, nella campagna) to resume fighting. And that’s the origin of the modern word campaign, a term much beloved by marketing and sales people to signify an organized series of events designed to sell products and services.

In fact, when you think about it, a lot of the language we commonly use in business has its origins in warfare: targeting and capturing leads comes to mind; I’m sure you can think of others. And yet the groundswell in customer activism and the availability of social technologies has permanently shifted the power dynamic between seller and buyer.

So why are we still treating customers like the enemy?

Oddly enough, the word customer is just as old as campaign, but with a very different history. Customer was in use as early as the fourteenth century to refer to someone who “frequents any place of sale for the sake of purchasing.” The idea was that the seller and buyer had a relationship of custom —of habit and trust—that endured over time. What could be more collaborative than that?

But it’s not just the language of sales and marketing that’s out of kilter today. Technologists are the culprits too. Consider Customer Relationship Management; User-Generated Content; or our habit of referring to what people do online as clicks and page views. At best these terms are clunky and ambiguous; at worst they’re dehumanizing.

Would you ever consider “managing” a relationship with a friend? Do you refer to the Mona Lisa as “content?” Would you call someone as a “user” or an “audience” or a “follower” in normal conversation? (If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, email me. We need to talk.) Oh and by the way, I am a huge fan of Twitter. I just find the term “follower” a little creepy.

The way we communicate and classify information matters, because it frames our thinking. Otherwise there would be no Digg, no de.lic.ious, no hashtags; no folksonomy, no endless wrangling on Wikipedia, no Google. And, for that matter, no arguments about what change is, or democracy, or what it means to be a maverick.

Seven centuries of linguistic evolution won’t change overnight. But I do want to propose that if we’re serious about social collaboration as a new model for commerce, culture and innovation, we need to develop a language that doesn’t undermine the very goals we’re trying to achieve.

I don’t have the answer—but I bet you do. And isn’t that what social media is ultimately all about?

Susan Etlinger (Twitter: setlinger) generates content on marketing and media at Horn Group, a digital communication agency founded in San Francisco. She also writes on parenting and child development at Silicon Valley Moms, BabyCenter and her personal blog, The Family Room, a resource for families and friends of children with special needs.

Word derivations courtesy of The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, (Oxford: 1971).

Topics: Google, Collaboration

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6 comments
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  • Social marketing ISN'T the answer...

    Social marketing isn't the answer any more than "e-mail" or "direct mail" is the answer. It's all about the relationship, and if you're disingenuous and short term about your intentions, it doesn't matter how you communicate or how often, for that matter.

    As a marketer, when you can think about what you want to bring INTO the world, before you think about what you want to get OUT of it, then people respond.

    And when you're doing this, they respond no matter what media you're using.

    Over and out...
    kingofcopy.com
    • Not really

      All you need to due is appeal to the inner sheep in most buyers and you've made a sale.

      It's also quite sustainable as most sheep never learn.
      T1Oracle
      • ouch but too true

        I can believe that people are still affected my publicity, its doent take a 2 watts to understand that if you listen to believe publicity they will create for you tons on none essential need just to empty your pocket ......


        but as you say sheep will never learn ... even more.
        Most people are too stupid to understand they are getting served by the media
        Quebec-french
  • Consumer

    As in led to the trough to consume the products and services the marketers told us we needed. I once had a marketer tell me, on these very pages, that we purchase what they tell us to purchase. At least he did in so many words.
    kozmcrae
  • RE: Marketers, stop the hate! Customers are not the enemy

    Fortunately, we have evolved, and definitions evolve with them. Today, target means "segmentation". And while we are not at war with our customers and prospects, we are fighting for their business. A war of time share, thought leadership, and yes, to seek the coveted "relationship" or "partnership". What's ironic to me as a marketer is when I see vendor's fighting for my business.
    What comes around, comes around. And, customers will always be in the driver's seat. Particularly now.
    dziman
  • RE: Marketers, stop the hate! Customers are not the enemy

    It's when the customer gets turned into a "consumer" that riles me. A customer is a human being with dignity and cash. A "consumer" is just an unthinking thing with an insatiable appetite.
    cruncher47