Happy New Year, my friend.
You've been undoubtedly partying around the clock since last Thursday, which was the beginning of a near 4-day weekend.
But yesterday, Monday, January 4th, you met the sunrise with bleary eyes, a besotted smile and new determination.
You've since been on Amazon, packing your smoking Kindle with motivational books like Drink And Grow Rich and The 7 Bad Habits Of Highly Successful Hedonists and Be The Cat.
Well, as you'll recall, late last year you were solicited for the burning-hot topics on your mind. It was promised that we'd do our best to address those topics here in the weekly screed.
AND NOW, THE TIME HAS COME...
We're going to look at the first of many to follow over the course of the next several months.
The topic with which we're kicking this all off may seem unusual.
But set against the backdrop of the new year, it seemed somehow appropriate.
And admittedly, it was not a question that anyone ever would have anticipated.
We certainly didn't.
The problem is, as unlikely as the question seems, it represents a challenge that some of us have probably faced at one time or another.
ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE IN SALES, THIS MAY HAVE COME UP IN YOUR LIFE
I know that I've encountered this personally.
The question comes to us from a corner of our country filled with very, very smart people.
It was submitted by a very literate writer.
And that question is this:
How does a company market when it hates customers?
There was no way to see this one coming.
And it's a winner.
Not only does this test me personally, but it seems to be a topic that isn't covered in the bestselling motivational press.They prefer things like Bike Shorts Billionaire: How To Pedal Your Way To Riches On The Seat O A Schwinn.
WE EXPERIENCED A VERSION OF THIS WHEN STARTING AN AD AGENCY
Granted, we never said that we hate customers.
But whenever I would propose the idea of starting an agency to The Fabulous Honey Parker, her response was often something like, "The problem with having an ad agency is having clients."
And that would invariably squelch any further discussion.
Because, as everyone knows, clients are a pain in the butt, right?
Not all clients.
Just problem clients.
And we came up with a simple solution to the challenge of problem clients.
We don't take them.
We vet our prospective clients very carefully. And we have an important yardstick: we will not accept any client with whom we wouldn't want to have dinner.
BUT THIS IS MERELY YOUR FAITHFUL SCRIBE DANCING A TARANTELLA AROUND THE QUESTION
How does a company market when it hates customers?
The simple answer is to just get out of the business.
If you hate the people who are looking to you to solve a problem, a new business removed from those people would seem like a wise choice.
On an individual level, I've witnessed this with high-ticket retail salesmen.
After a while, some of them begin to develop a contempt for the people who put food on their table and silver spoons in their children's mouths.
Look at car salesmen.
For an artful depiction, look no further than Glengarry Glen Ross.
When I worked in high-ticket retail sales, there were guys so far down that rabbit hole, you wondered how they got out of bed in the morning, much less found their way to work.
Even I would occasionally experience pangs of such behavior.
THAT'S A SIGN THAT IT'S TIME FOR AN EXIT STRATEGY
But I never actually hated customers.
And hating customers has to be a challenging way to go through a professional life.
One solution is to get as far away from having to deal with customers as possible.
Become a welder. Metal doesn't talk back.
Operate heavy equipment. Get your ya-yas out using heavy metal to smash through dirt and rock.
Wash windows. Customers don't want to talk to you. They just want the damn windows to squeak.
Grow pinto beans. They make your customers fart.
Start a mink farm. Minks are nasty. They could make you feel better about customers.
BUT LET'S JUST SAY THAT NONE OF THAT IS POSSIBLE
Let's say that the one and only thing your company does is the only possible way there is to make a living.
If you hate customers, what do you do about it?
The first thing is probably to indulge in a little self-examination. What is the root of this hatred?
Is it pure misanthropy?
(If your English vocabulary development was somehow thwarted at age 12, misanthropy is a general hatred or contempt of human beings.)
If so, it then becomes necessary to figure out the roots of this misanthropy.
Plato connected misanthropy to isolation from society. He claimed that misanthropy develops when you're artless and naive, you trust someone, and then get kicked in the nuts. So to speak.
When this happens enough, the victim ends up hating everyone.
Aristotle was a little more existential about it. He pegged the misanthrope as solitary, and not a man at all, but a beast or a god.
LET'S FACE IT: IF YOU'RE A BEAST OR A GOD, THERE'S NOT MUCH REASON TO BE MARKETING
Moreover, nobody is likely to kick you in the nuts.
But if you're a Platonic misanthrope? That's another story.
Do you hate customers because they're constantly kicking you in the nuts?
Looking inward might be a good idea. What is the company doing that gives the customer permission to wind up with the right leg and follow through?
But wait. Maybe it's not the customers specifically. Maybe it's just general misanthropy brought about by life, the universe and everything?
If so, maybe it's time to unleash Schopenhauer. He was an early influence Nietzsche, so you know he was a laugh riot.
Schopenhauer was notoriously misanthropic. He was even anti-baby. He thought having kids was a lousy idea because life is ultimately full of K-Marts and suffering and there would never really be enough ice cream sandwiches and other good stuff to go around.
That said, he didn't believe that being a misanthrope means we should all just crap on our fellow man. Instead, we should treat everyone well because hey, we're all in this pig trough of carbonated swill together. Even the Kardashians.
ARE WE GETTING TOO FAR AFIELD OF THE MARKETING QUESTION HERE?
Probably. You know I have a bad habit of taking a ball and running off the field with it.
Let's circle back to the idea of how a company markets itself if it hates customers.
Assuming this company MUST exist, assuming there is no other alternative to running this business, here's one possible solution.
Look to the man known (for real) as the Socrates of San Francisco, Howard Luck Gossage.
A Mad Men era iconoclast, Gossage launched some astonishing ad campaigns in his day. For my money, one of his best quotes is, "The object of your advertising should not be to communicate with your consumers or your prospects at all but to terrorize your competition's copywriters."
As a copywriter, it's hard to not love that.
But one of Gossage's most famous quotes has become the glurge of the motivational poster industry, a disappointment which belies the actual brilliance of the philosophy: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
AND THIS IS A PERFECT PLACE TO IMPLEMENT THAT ADVICE
If you hate customers, make that absolutely clear in the marketing.
Become the Eeyore of your business category.
Become the David Letterman of whatever you sell.
Revel in it.
Hate customers? Take a position so repellent, so "You are not worthy," so disdainful of the person wishing to buy it, that they have no choice but to want it even more.
Here now: Tom Sawyer, misanthrope.
"Not only are you incapable and unworthy of painting this fence, but just for trying you'll probably end up getting kicked in the nuts."
Take that, Schopenhauer.
If the product the company sells is truly sound and delivers what it promises, then go on a full offensive. Harness the misanthropy that makes you hate customers and use it to bring joy to the prospect.
HELLO, ARROGANT BASTARD ALE
"Hated by many. Loved by few. You're not worthy."
This is the beer from Stone Brewing that freely asserts that you personally lack the sophistication required to appreciate it. Right there on the label, it tells you that you probably won't like it and you should just go back to that fizzy yellow beer you've been drinking.
We're talking an exercise in making the company the antichrist of whatever niche it serves.
As the man said, make them love you or make them hate you, but make them
And here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress, we always bang the drum for authenticity.
Well, if the company authentically disdains its customers, harness that disdain.
Trot it out in a three-ring dog & pony show of contempt so genuine, the customer would be hard pressed to not be fascinated.
This solution obviously isn't for everyone. It isn't for me personally. It certainly isn't for the more spiritual reader. I know at least one nihilist out there who will love it.
Bottom line: in a squishy, politically correct climate like the one we're immersed in now, it could be just the thing to make people feel better, and to have those damned customers beating a path to your door.
Happy New Year!
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.