Friday, May 11, 2012

What do I have to do to get you to read this blog post today?

Sir James Dyson, the world's most eloquent vacuum cleaner salesman, apparently doesn't believe in "brand" despite having spent millions building one, as writer Patrick Hanlon puts it in a recent Forbes article.

Perhaps Sir Dyson is confused about what 'brand' or 'branding really means, the term being a dumping ground for so many things: corporate identity programs, tricky advertising, the nexus of corporate manipulation, and so on.

Hanlon expounds on what a brand really is, and why Dyson fits the bill. My guess, though, is that when Sir James hears "brand" he thinks "marketing" and when he hears "marketing" he thinks "selling" and, as a newly published book explains, people have a deeply ambigious relationship to sales, despite the fact that nothing is more crucial to the functioning of a free market economy:

Yet in American corporations today there is a "class division," ... Many people in business "are clueless about one of the most vital functions, the means by which you actually generate revenue." Salespeople are viewed as some sort of breed apart.

The way I see it, there are three types of people in this world: salespeople; people who are close friends with or related to salespeople; and people who hate salespeople. The majority of us probably fall into the third category, whether or not we care to admit it. (And some of us are glad to admit it.) We stiffen when a salesperson approaches us while we browse through a rack of clothes.  We regard people who sell cars, insurance, and real estate as obnoxious con artists. We may desire a product, but when someone tries to sell it to us, suddenly the whole thing seems...a little dirty.

The relationship between marketing and sales is one reason that old-school PR types draw a bright line between their shop and marketing, even though this undermines an organization's effectiveness and alienates the public relations side from business goals. (No wonder the big kids never let us play with them.) But the same technology that has rendered salespeople in many fields obsolete -- allowing consumers to buy products directly and to acquire knowledge once brokered by salespeople -- is forcing the rest of us to take on the role that salespeople traditionally played.

For example, I've made sure that my contact information is easy to find at my university's web site, so that a reporter who needs to find me doesn't give up in frustration. But that means that anyone can find out how to reach me, so I find myself fielding calls from time to time about class registration, financial aid, sporting events, etc. After all, the word "public" is my title, so people expect me to be able to help them, or at least direct them where to go. Many organizations have become flatter and more transparent -- the smart ones have, anyway -- which means that it is harder for us to hide from the people who buy what we are selling.

As far as marketing goes, we've all spent a lot of time ruminating on the crumbling walls between PR, marketing, and other strategic communication fields. Again, technology, and in particular social media, is the driving force. In a way, we are all salespeople now, and I'm not the least bit ashamed to say so.

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