Hi, how are ya? Good to see you. I'd love to get your money.

You may have noticed that there is a presidential campaign in progress. These are always glorious interludes in which each candidate, in attempting to demonstrate his qualifications to be the political, governmental, and moral leader of the nation, behaves like a squirrelly, deceitful, pandering sack of shit.

Every four years I fantasize about moving to a country where the electorate isn’t so apathetic and ill-informed, where demagogues and morons don’t become credible candidates, where the basic currency of politics isn’t the lie. But I can’t figure out how to get off of earth. So instead I sift through the haystacks of cynicism for a needle of inspiration.

Lo and behold, this time around, something sharp stuck me. It has to do with the extraordinary power of physical proximity.

Endless reportage has focused on the obscene sums of money spent on TV advertising -- much of it unleashed by the Supreme Court’s genuinely unhinged Citizens United ruling that spawned the SuperPACs. An equal amount of attention has been paid to the digital campaign, the battle in social media to exploit Big Data for rallying and raising money from the base. And if it's possible, even more time and ink has been expended on campaign-trail spin, much of it in reaction to those rare, unscripted ejaculations of politician candor known as “gaffes.” (My favorite this cycle: Rick Santorum saying “we will never have the elite, smart people on our side.”)



But for all the obsessive attention to and of the media, what it all often comes down to at crunch time is retail politics: speeches, rope lines, handshakes, baby kissing and humble calls to action: “I’d like to have your vote.” Digital revolution or no, every candidate knows that there is no substitute for pressing the flesh. Mitt Romney has embarked on a mad dash through Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Colorado -- swing states all. President Obama has visited Colorado ten times in 2012, 16 times during his presidency. It isn’t for the skiing.

The most influential factor is not an attack ad or a transcendent convention speech or a running mate with pretty eyes. Rather, it is meeting the electorate, because you can count on votes from the portion of the electorate that gets to meet you.

All of which got me thinking: at a time when brands have less ability to efficiently reach masses of consumers with advertising messages, and thus desperately experiment online and especially in social media to cultivate ongoing relationships, maybe what’s missing is the campaign trail.

Why aren't brands doing more to meet the consumer? Or more to the point, to enable the consumer to meet them?

There's an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Why isn't there a fleet of EverythingElseMobiles? Why can't we take actual and online tours of the M&M factory? The Crest toothpaste factory? The Scotch Tape factory?

Why aren't brands subsidizing local arts and putting on live commercials, introducing us to their products and their people? Why don’t they have pop-up stores offering exhibits about the history and future of soap…or vitamins or telephones? Why aren’t there more newsletters, not propagating corporate PR but revealing the latest in the science and technology in the category? Why aren’t brand managers on listening tours, attached to fun events, taking questions, suggestions and heat from the hoi polloi? Oh, and, “Nice to meet you. We'd love to have your business.”

Of course, I know the answer to all those questions. It has to do with scale. “We sell our CPGs across the globe. Who cares about a popup store in Denver, Colorado? But there are answers to that answer. All those human connections add up, sometimes exponentially, as they travel via social media. Furthermore, it is pointless to compare relationship building to the mass-messaging you can no longer effectively conduct.

 Furthermore, every four years, the wages of aloofness and insularity become all too obvious.

“Dragging our butts out to meet a few hundred or a few thousand individuals? We can’t be bothered. We leave unsophisticated marketing like that to the president of the United States."

6 comments about "Hi, how are ya? Good to see you. I'd love to get your money. ".
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  1. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff, September 24, 2012 at 8:20 a.m.

    There's already too much hand-wringing about "brand relationships" and too many fruitless attempts to build those where the consumer does not want them. For the vast majority of brands in our households, a valued "brand relationship" is quite simple: "I will pay a fair price for your product, and in exchange you will make sure it does what it promises." The critically important place to "meet the consumer and win the sale" is the shelf. What we need are fewer and better products, not more and better factory tours.

  2. Katie Paine from Paine Publishing, September 24, 2012 at 8:58 a.m.

    As always, you put far more eloquently exactly what I've been thinking. We had a "get out the vote" event at my house last night. 100 people showed up and every single one of them volunteered to do something, canvass, phone bank, host a staffer, do data entry (that was my choice, of course) --it cost nothing to host the party but time. On a cost per vote basis, I'd put my house party up against all of the TV ad buys in NH any day.

  3. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., September 24, 2012 at 12:02 p.m.

    There's also the fact that many people within brands are (1) contemptuous of their customers or (2) afraid of their customers. It's not so much bringing them in for a tour of the factory as having the courage to go out and visit them in their homes or businesses and learn something about them. There's a Japanese saying that translates, "Go out to the field and see for yourself."

  4. Paul Farah from Paul's Taxi, September 24, 2012 at 12:24 p.m.

    this might really work in a business such as mine where from a customer point of view, services are virtually indistinguishable. Our Phoenix based taxi company, http://www.paul', already does a great deal of this but the use of social media is a step we have yet to try. Meeting people in person is indispensable to building up our business. But it is a long, often tedious process.

  5. C. Phillipps from Yoohooville, Inc., September 24, 2012 at 1:04 p.m.

    The problem with social media is that it invites laziness. Instead of going out and meeting customers, one simply types a question into a status box and waits for the response to come back.

    In my experience, consumers will answer way more about themselves in person than the average brand posting on Facebook "What's your favorite time of day?" "How are you today" "What's your favorite band" etc. Yes, you get tons of superficial answers but it still pays to meet people.

    I've done a lot of volunteer work and I can tell you - the non-profits get it, that pounding the pavement yields results. Yet, they too fall victim to the ease of the social media presence and slowly erode their in person contact.

    Social media should not replace your personal marketing strategy, rather it should complement your in-person marketing.

  6. Fiona Andrews from Marketsmith, Inc, September 24, 2012 at 1:16 p.m.

    I actually wrote about a similar topic recently- the concept of "unsophisticated marketing" and earned media. It doesn't even have to be as labor-intensive as going out and shaking hands, which as Paul said can be tedious; it can simply be good-will gestures. Campaign ads are expensive- and we don't need to be told over and over again what Obama's doing wrong and how Romney's latest gaffe offended people.

    What if instead of buying so much airtime, candidates used some of that money and supported causes relevant to the votes they're trying to win? That speaks far more about who they are as candidates (brands, basically) than propaganda aired during prime-time. Definitely not suggesting complete abstention from media, because it is necessary- just more of a holistic multi-channel approach. For instance, Paul- what do you do with your old vehicles that you no longer use? If you donated them to an organization that repurposes them to train firefighters or something similar, that would establish your position as a company that cares.

    Anyway, if you'd like to read more:

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