Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there
Lie la lie
Lie la lie lie lie la lie, lie la lie
- Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer
Indulge me in this hypothetical situation. Someone you’ve never met before, with whom you have no prior relationship, comes up to you and says “Hi, I’m going to lie to you, and you should pay me for the privilege.” What would you do? What would you say?
I’m betting you’d put your hand on your wallet (in order to make sure it’s still there), and you’d tell them to take a hike.
That’s the same kind of squicky feeling I get the more I hear about the new Seth Godin book, All Marketers Are Liars. The most troubling quote I’ve seen so far from the book:
“Tell a story that is memorable and remarkable and worth listening to. Seduce your customers, because that’s exactly what they want you to do. That requires ruthless selectivity and creative storytelling—in other words, lying.”
I am continually stunned by this unbelievable disrespect for customers (who, by the way, Godin continues to refer to as consumers). Mindless automatons we must all be, interested only in entertainment, yearning for fanciful yarns that induce us to shell out cash. This assumes all customers are homogeneous with respect to a need and that a great “story” will be the trigger that induces them to buy. I just don’t think this is the situation.
Although Godin seems to find “case studies” (term used loosely) and has retrofit them to fit his needs, the trend is going the other way. Away from homogeneity. Out into the long tail. The trend is toward uniqueness and connections and relationships. It’s not about finding the best common self-deception that consumers (errg, I get the willies just typing that word) have, and trying to mimic it.
Good customers, thinking customers, create their own connections, and their own histories. Customers engaged in a community create their own stories, based on shared experiences.
Say you do follow the “liars” advice, and create a great story to catch a market. When that “story” changes to catch the next fad (as it must), what happens to the customer who bought into the original façade? What is your response? “Screw ‘em, time to ship more product, time to come up with a new story and catch the next big thing.” How will that customer feel when the façade is pulled back, when he or she gets to roll around to the back of the lot, and sees that the town was two-dimensional? How long will that relationship last?
I guess I’m not the only one who has a dissenting opinion on this, um, story. Publisher’s Weekly had this to say:
“Readers will likely find the book’s practical advice as rudderless as its ethical principles.”
In the “liars” world, how do you measure success? The “liars” approach forces one to measure success from the seller’s point of view. For focusing on the customer’s actual results immediately breaks the illusion.
Tom Guarriello: “But, am I the only one who thinks that this “lying” business muddies more than it clarifies?”
Johnnie Moore: “An awful lot of storytelling is done after the event. Stories rationalise action.”
Peter Caputa: “…the Marketing Messiah for scribbling oft-borrowed common sense marketing lessons down in story form.”
Ed Brenegar: “So, what then is at the crux of this interaction? It is the relationship between two people. Or one person and a lot of individuals collectively. We are not telling stories in the aether. We are telling them in a specific social, physical, relational, personal context.”