Marketing is Propaganda, Customer Experience is Diplomacy

I read an article the other day where a quote by S.R. Walli was used in a discussion on technology standards.  Walli stated that “Technology standardization is commercial diplomacy.”  The idea struck me. Being a history buff I wondered why I had never thought to apply the language of international relations to marketing.  Perhaps that cross over doesn’t resonate for everyone, but I haven’t been able to turn my brain off this idea for a couple of days now.

An Embarrassing Fact

As a teenager I was enveloped by political chess and international relations.  I admit with a certain discomfort that I was involved in Model United Nations in high school.  It’s not the sort of thing that gets you points with the ladies at that age.  In fact I lettered in it (#nerdalert).  My wife keeps my letterman’s jacket draped over a chair in our bedroom, either to give her a chuckle from time to time, or because I just happen to be her kind of nerd.  A little of both is likely.

Walli’s statement is an interesting concept.  Diplomacy can be described as activities that look to expand one’s own territory while defending one’s sovereignty. And no more appropriate a stage can this be applied than the ‘age of the customer’ we are consuming, communicating and colluding in.

Brands that are succeeding have been using diplomacy well before it became CX (Customer Experience).  Creating a culture and environment both within an organization and outside it, is an inclusive process where no department or process is left untouched.

A Short Tale

I sat with a prospect a year ago discussing the business challenges they were facing and how to go about solving them.  Towards the end of the discussion one of the participants looked at me and asked ‘How do we go about weaving digital into every layer of our business?”  I chuckled, thinking they meant it to be rhetorical, laying down a tenet that would act as a mandate for movement and a charge to us as their agency (Marketing mumbo jumbo intended).  They looked at me waiting for an answer.  Realizing that the expectation was of a silver bullet I could prescribe them, I simply said “You transform everything.”

The Obvious Premises

Marketing is evolving, we see it everywhere.  Mobile usage recently eclipsed television as America’s number one daily activity. Marketing professionals are anxious about their brands not being nimble enough to evolve with the competition, let alone lead them.  Historic brands are bogged down with legacy systems that preclude agility and failing fast.  Start-ups are thriving when they use this disadvantage as their own advantage.  Relatively young companies are active in mergers and acquisitions to expand their footprints, playing defense at the same time.

And in the center of these whirlwind activities and business struggles sits the customer, sometimes aware, often not, of the battle being waged for their attention. The most important realization I see happening with brand leadership is that their competition is no longer simply others in their vertical, it is every brand, everywhere, all the time.  Context appropriate customer experience is over.  Customers are not following the engagement rules of years past.  They are forcing the conversation through any channel they can.  For instance, I am having a Twitter conversation with the algorithm engineer at Yelp because when I searched for Sushi in Boston, they thought I might also like ‘Pizza Hut.’  Why didn’t I use the feedback channel in Yelp?  Why didn’t I call someone? Why didn’t I email – Twitter was easy, and Yelp met me there.

Thinking about the cultural shift happening in my lifetime, wondering how long it will take for the critical mass of ‘buy in’ from the C-Suite to allow the conversation to shift from education to application, I was drawn to the brand choices I have made in the last few years.  My own identity, how I am perceived by others and how I build my lifestyle are increasingly tied to the brands that vie for my time and win.

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