It's Time for a Movement Toward 'Slow Marketing'

This Is Not a Call to Unplug From Our Wired Ways, but a Pledge to Old Principles

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Pete Blackshaw
Pete Blackshaw

Are we overdue for a "slow-marketing" movement? After all, the "slow foods" movement is making real headway, and there's the much-needed "slow-parenting" movement. Why should marketing be exempt?

Here's the rub: Speed is good, and change is gospel, but we might be moving too darn fast and making too many dumb or shortsighted moves along the way. That fuels cynicism, which is not what we need in an environment of increasingly empowered consumers, eroded trust and greater regulatory scrutiny.

We might all benefit from slowing down, deepening our conversations -- rather than skimming at superficial levels a mile a minute -- and re-embracing (please forgive me) some of the "boring basics": putting consumers first, listening, providing service, working sustainably, teaching, relationship building and operating ethically.

I'm hardly the first person to put a stamp on this concept. Wikipedia, my favorite fact checker, tells me that journalist Carl Honore kicked up the concept in the context of "quality over quantity." Marketer and blogger Evelyn Rodriguez penned a provocative blog post titled "Slow Food, Slow Sex, Slow Travel ... Slow Marketing," suggesting a need to focus on human, one-to-one connections. There's even a blog by Shannon Clark titled Slow Brand. For me, the big catalyst is social media. We've become conversationalists on steroids. We blog, we Twitter, we litter e-mail boxes. We friend, we friend friends of friends, and we "network" among a growing cast of unfamiliars we mistake for familiars based on light -- sometimes dubious -- criteria. We celebrate every online "conversation" as though it actually matters. We're breaking new ground, but we're acquiring a few bad habits along the way.

Before you trigger a #blackshawfail backlash, let me submit to you that a "slow marketing" movement can still keep us on track with all our wired and connected ways. My BlackBerry is not reverting to a Franklin Planner, and I still intend to punish my followers with the subtle nuances of diaper changing. At the same time, we need to reassert our allegiance to a new (actually old) set of principles.

Put the consumer first: In our speed, we're getting ahead of the consumer. We must always anticipate consumers' needs, but we need to be sensitive about tripping them in their paths. Attentive and disciplined listening is one critical preliminary step before we engage. At the end of the day, the consumer is our teacher -- and you don't piss off the teacher.

Back to the listening backyard: Social media has opened up a massive feedback and listening pipe. But we can't ignore our own brand backyards. Slow marketing is about giving direct contact as much credence as external conversation. Boring stuff like 800 numbers and direct-feedback forms -- or even a "Talk directly to us" button -- is just as important as a Twitter account. Slow marketers never miss the obvious outlets of consumer catharsis. Getting this right lends credibility to other conversational beachheads.

Conversational sustainability: Yes, we can get the conversation going almost immediately or launch a quick-hit buzz campaign, but the rules of slow marketing suggest that the biggest word-of-mouth dividends accrue from longer-term, often more operational investments: great products, superb experiences, world-class customer service, committed employees who fortify the brand. One could argue that Apple is a slow-marketing winner.

Build brand credibility: A slow-marketing movement would suggest that before we go crazy with the new and cutting-edge, we must reflect on what it means to be credible in this new environment. Consumers can see right through us, and credible brands win. Just ask the editors of Wikipedia. This is basic, boring and perhaps uninspiring but essential.

Create the hub first: Add the satellites later. I recently sat in a presentation where a social-media-enamored brand executive suggested killing off the brand website. A slow marketer would never dream of that. The website is the hub for essential information, basic consumer search, syndicated content (including for retailer partners), direct-feedback opportunities, wireless applications and services, and more. Moreover, brand sites are significantly more trusted than other ad or promotional vehicles.

Pick your battles: The social-media feeding frenzy puts a premium on responding to all conversation. You don't need to respond to everything. Take a step back before diving in. In some cases, not engaging is the best form of engagement.

Pete Blackshaw is exec VP of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services and author of 'Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000' (DoubleDay). He is also chair of the National Council of Better Business Bureaus. His biweekly column looks at the relationship between marketing and customer service in the age of consumer control.
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