This is a guest contribution from Matt Cumming.
I Messed Up.
Okay, this is embarrassing, but not-so-long ago I signed up for Reddit and without too much thought I dropped a simple attention-grabbing title and link to an article on my website within the first five minutes. Yes, I hear you — bad form — but I wanted to test the platform out. Sure enough, within a few short hours I had a more respectable, long-term member jump on it, click the link, check my site out and then come back and publicly tell me exactly what he thought about my link-bait tactic.
But he didn’t stop at a short rebuke. He didn’t just say “hey, crap tactic” and move on. Instead he took the time to meticulously craft a long, scathing and deeply bitter essay that totally slammed me, the link title (which he referred to as ”[dropping] a turd in the punchbowl”), my book (which he hadn’t actually read), my understanding of marketing and my motives in general. Even if he was a fast-typing genius, it still must have taken at least half an hour of his precious time.
He Tore Me Limb From Limb
“Are you offering genuine illumination… or just dropping cherry bombs in the toilet like a misguided child?”
“…One cannot adequately express the titanic misunderstanding you’re attempting to propagate by screaming shit like, MARKETING IS DEAD on the cover [of your book] in some effort to manufacture sensationalism, as if that isn’t horribly insulting to any of the people who take this shit seriously… And if there’s one thing that irks me to no end, it’s charlatans and hacks who proclaim something that works as dead without actually testing it.”
“…Writing an ill-conceived reductive ass grab… It’s a hackneyed backslide into the shite that kills every good methodology available to the marketer who doesn’t forget the face of his forefathers.”
“…If you’ve never heard that before, you should go back to whatever misguided teacher didn’t disclose such a thing to you and either demand a refund or a complete re-education. Or go back to bed and figure it out.”
Initially I was shocked. Dismayed even. But then it dawned on me… It was a gift. Firstly, I realised that he probably had no sense of humour (the “Marketing Is Dead” text on the cover is quoted from article titles published on the Forbes, HBR and CNBC websites — not a statement I would ever make personally) and I felt sorry for someone who felt compelled to take life so damn seriously.
Secondly, whilst he was in the broader audience I was speaking to (people interested in marketing and branding), he was firmly entrenched in the ‘old school’ marketing philosophy — so he was NOT within my niche target audience. My book, Polarize, is intentionally a light-hearted, easy read for smart startups, small business owners, entrepreneurs and ‘growth hackers’ who want to make their brand more visible and effective in this very crowded marketplace. It’s about an innovative approach marketing (polarization), because the traditional marketing approach can sometimes be slow, expensive and simply not viable for some businesses.
“Traditional marketing wasn’t working. We were spending $300+ to acquire customers for a $99 service.” —DropBox (who then gained 4,000,000 users within 15 months without further ad spend)
Thirdly, his tirade confirmed my belief: that the ‘haters’ (detractors) can offer great value to a brand. This is particularly true when they’re not your ideal prospect (in a psychographic and/or demographic sense).
So I Paid Him
I paid him with my time and attention, I paid him with my thanks and compliments, I paid him with exposure by sharing his essay via social media, I paid him with a free copy of my book and I even paid him with my dollars (gifting him a “gold level” subscription to Reddit).
Should I do this for all detractors? Yes, but not always in the same way. If the complaint was about a specific problem with the actual product or service I’m offering, then I would certainly respond and thank them for alerting me to an issue that clearly needs reviewing, and I might pay them with a discount voucher or even a refund (if they’d purchased), but I would think twice about promoting it or making too much of a big deal about it on public channels. However, if the ‘hater’ was voicing opinions about the ethos of my brand — particularly something to do with the brand personality or psychographic preferences — then I’d be happy to respond, promote and even pay them in some way as a thank-you.
7 Reasons You Should Do the Same
1. They talk a LOT
The more people hear about you and see you, the more they feel like they know you… and consequently trust you. The way our brains work… It’s the reason we still eat McDonalds (over a lesser-known local restaurant) despite everything we’ve heard and seen. Without trust there’s no sale, so what would you say is the value in that for you? It’s unknowable, but massive nonetheless.
2. They’re often passionate
It’s simple: passion is a sure-fire way together people’s attention. Get people’s attention and they’ll at least have a chance to decide if they want to consider your product or service. Without their attention in the first place, there’s no possibility of conversion. People have become adept at ignoring many forms of traditional marketing. Those people who we assume are ‘on the fence’, may actually be unaware of us — they haven’t had a reason to consciously consider our brands, let alone engage. Passion is a flag that flies high above the millions of humdrum, everyday conversations and interactions that otherwise occur.
3. They tend to be in your market
I’ve noticed that detractors often share a crucial commonality with the brands they’re ‘hating’ on — the target audience. This is particularly true within social media channels. If you can respond appropriately (with respect) to the ‘hater’ statements, you’ll have the opportunity to connect positively with that broader audience. They often provide contrast and clarity to your true niche audience about who you are NOT for (and thus making obvious that you are indeed for them).
4. They give you an open invitation to share
Nobody likes to be ‘sold’ to without permission, that’s clear. But a conversation is totally different. It gives you an opportunity to share the benefits of your product or service in response to a negative statement. In fact, often passionate detractors will voice things that other audience members won’t, so it’s not just the loudest detractor you’re speaking to — it’s all those on the ‘fence’ of indecision.
5. It’s WAY cheaper than advertising
Admittedly it is now possible to have a much higher level of targeting with your ads than in the past, but think about how you typically respond (or, more accurately,don’t respond) when you see a promoted post on Facebook, or a sponsored tweet within the Twitter mobile app? Unfortunately, poorly-targeted ads (which is the vast majority of them) have ruined it for smart marketers who know their real audience intimately. Just like the majority of ads in traditional media, our brains have tagged them as irrelevant and phased them out of our conscious awareness. So, with that in mind, it’s possible that a series of passionate public conversations might bring more genuine exposure and engagement than a ‘big’ ad campaign.
6. They can make you look good
Detractors sometimes make wild, accusatory statements that seem angry or spiteful. But a well-voiced, professional response from your brand contrasts against that ‘hater-speak’ and casts doubt in the readers mind about whether they should even believe what the detractor is saying at all. If you witnessed an argument on the street with one person throwing stones and screaming “You’re a dumb-ass idiot who knows less than nothing about anything!” and the other calmly responding with “I hear what you’re saying and see you feel strongly about that, but I do have a Harvard masters degree, so I’m not sure ‘idiot’ is completely accurate” — who would you believe?
7. They might be highlighting a grievous error
Sometimes detractors are the only ones who will give you honest feedback about an error you may have made. Such was the case for me and my mindless ‘link-bait’ mistake and I was genuinely grateful for such a clear reminder to carefully considerall messages — not just promotional, but casual conversational messages as well.
“The data has shown that brands with plenty of animosity can still succeed in a big way … Very polarizing brands like McDonald’s and Starbucks are far and away outperforming their less polarizing counterparts (perhaps the biggest worry is that people feel nothing when thinking about your brand).” —Gregory Ciotti, HelpScout
Of Course The Real Goal is To Create Tribes, Not Troublemakers
Putting your focus solely on turning people into detractors never a good idea in itself. Extreme differentiation — or polarization — is a better way to look at it. Make your message so sharp you cut through the noise and connect with your ideal prospects immediately. The result of polarizing your audience is that you’ll fast-track the decision your fence-sitters will invariably make at some point — “Should I commit, or should I leave?”.
The idea of speeding up this decision-making process is incredibly valuable to a startup, entrepreneur or small business who doesn’t have huge resources of time, money or patience. Those people ‘on the fence’ of indecision are costing your business in some way or another (unless you’re completely ignoring them of course). Wouldn’t it be simpler if, when people were introduced to your brand, they immediately became a passionate advocate — rather than having to gently romance them over time with the vague hope of getting them to like you enough to buy something?
The assumed downside of polarization is that if they’re not a ‘lover’, it’s likely they’ll become a ‘hater’. But is it really a true downside? Considering the 7 reasons above, I don’t think so.
“Polarizing your brand is a strategy with nothing but upside.” —Erika Napoletano, Brand Strategist.
As for the hater who tore me limb from limb? Well, he gave me a platform and an audience, then disappeared like vapour. It’s often the way… Perhaps he’s too busy reading my book to get back to me right now, or — having read it — he has decided to stay quiet just to spite me!
Matt Cumming, author of “POLARIZE: Fast-Track Marketing For Growth Hackers”, has over 15 years experience working with startups and businesses of all sizes as a designer, brand manager, web developer and startup consultant. See www.Polarize.cc for further details.