Sunday, December 27, 2009

Polishing Turds: Your Personal Shame for 2009

The year end is a good time to reflect on what we've "accomplished." Also ideal to prepare for what lies ahead. I'm sure during 2009 you spent some time promoting, publicizing, marketing, selling a product/service/person that was "less than special." We're talking about turds, about dogs, about whatever moniker you want to use. These work projects are the ones that make you hate yourself when you look in the mirror in the morning (that's if you can even drag yourself out of bed), cause you to loathe your job and cause you unending personal shame.

What were your "2009 Turds?" Do you have outstanding "Turds of the Decade?"

Throughout my marketing life, I've been asked to belly up to the table and massage a great number of steaming, stinking turds. Back in the way early days, I regularly enjoyed massive turd helpings when I was an intern/entry level AE at a communications firm.

The turds (clients) I was handed were some of the following:

A snack treat for dogs
A kitchen cleaner
A paper manufacturer

Why do I call these "turds" and not "wonderful, fulfilling, exciting client experiences?" Because they weren't, but also, MAINLY because in the marketing arts, a "turd" that needs to be polished is a "crappy, uninteresting client/product service with no USP to speak of."

As marketers, we always PRAY that the clients/colleagues of the world will recognize not only our genius, but the tremendous power of marketing and bring us in at the VERY BEGINNING of the product development process. This personal sacred wish of marketers has us envision being brought into the boardroom to consult and weigh in on the creation of the product/service and help to inform and guide the development of a HIGHLY MARKETABLE product. Of course, this is mere fantasy and it is only rumored to happen at very evolved corporations. We know that progressive companies do often have the marketing people involved FAIRLY early. Apple, for example, does this very well.

BUT, for most of us most of the time with most assignments, we are brought in to share our EXALTED wisdom way after everything has been said and done. The product has launched, the designs are finished, the building has been completed, the deed is done.

The unfortunate PR people are sometimes not even brought in until the original marketing plans have failed or there is some other problem.

What does this all mean and how does it create TURDS?

Well, honestly some TURDS that need to be polished will simply always be turds, no matter when marketing people are involved and/or if they have any input whatsoever. The dog snacks and kitchen cleaner were NEVER going to be interesting, fun accounts. And, honestly, the % of people who make purchase decisions for these products based on ANYTHING besides traditional above the line is woefully small.

A TURD has no redeeming marketing value and therefore no organic raison d'etre. Nothing special to say. It is not the "biggest," "first," "cheapest," "trendiest" or launched by a special company like Apple, or designed by Frank Gehry.

So there is nothing inherent to the product that lends itself to a story, to buzz, to press coverage, to ANYTHING.

So you try to attach said product to trends: "this is an example of what companies in X sector or doing to try to succeed in a recession," "this is the pioneer in a new neighborhood," "this is part of trend X." Most of these TREND/feature lines of talk are completely invented, just look at the criticism the NY Times gets when its reporters invent trend stories.

ALL that invented trending only lasts so long. But you STILL have this TURD laying there in front of you, it needs to be polished, it's still your project. So, next up are the gimmicks: "the grand opening had people on pogo sticks," "we will give free apartments for a week at Christmas to people named Jesus," etc.

The problem is that these gimmicks are disconnected from the ACTUAL product. They do nothing to promote the true brand elements and tell the public nothing about a USP (because there really is none to speak of). ALL THESE DO is get a bit of buzz in the 'nets and the media and keep the product's name out there for a bit longer until the TURD gets flushed with all the others flowing along in a sewer-pipe of global unconsciousness. It's all there in the background, all these undifferentiated products and services.

There is no magic polish for TURDS. As mentioned, bringing marketing people in early, especially in the case of completely generic products, will maybe help the process of MAKING products more marketable. The WHOLE POINT of creating something for sale is so you can sell it, how about allowing some experts in to help you create a product that WILL SELL MORE? For product development people who work with marketers, I propose the following New Year's Resolution: Make something interesting together in 2010, not just more turds.

So, as we look forward to 2010 I hope you will help lead the fight to have marketing play a greater role in all levels and forms of product development and promotion, no matter how discouraged you may already be.

Thanks for reading.

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