In Your Face Marketing

In today’s issue, I’d like to talk about being a bit controversial in your marketing, or at least feeling like you have permission to be yourself. The risks are much smaller than the potential rewards, as long as you stay kind and true to yourself.

Controversial Marketing

I received one negative piece of feedback about a previous issue of the Motivated Marketing Letter. The writer (who won’t be reading this, since he asked to be dropped from the mailing list) felt that I had crossed the line by imposing my personal philosophy on my readers. You and I have a business relationship, nothing more, and it would be inappropriate for me to convert you to my religion (Progressive Ultimate Frisbee), my philosophy (Dalai Lama meets Bob Dylan), or to invite you to hear me sing and play fiddle in the Roosevelt String Band on Friday, May 2, and Saturday, May 3, both at 8 pm at the Roosevelt Boro Hall. So I won’t.

(The Saturday show is more crowded – come Friday. If you live in NJ, NY, or PA, call me for directions.)

My ex-reader explained, "The positions you take are inappropriate and unprofessional. I am sorry you did this because I will never again be able to read your newsletter without an antenna to your personal emotion and bias."

I’m happy to report that I don’t feel bad. But I wasn’t always so unconcerned.

The Blander Years

Years ago, I was afraid of saying anything that might alienate or offend anyone. My old boss, Peter Bregman (world’s greatest organizational consultant), and I once gave a presentation in which he referred to work he had done for Planned Parenthood. A member of the audience later chastised us for giving that example – we had lost all the pro-life members of the audience as prospects. We nodded, sadder but wiser. We would never identify ourselves as pro-or anti-anything again.

I’m happier and wiser now. The last thing I want to be, from a marketing perspective, is plain vanilla – so bland you offend no one, impress no one, influence no one, and get remembered by no one. (Don’t say anything negative about skinheads, in case one of your customers is a secret member of Aryan Nation.)

It’s OK to Disagree

My marketing teacher is a man who would be at home, politically, in an Ayn Rand novel.

His views, in my opinion, are ludicrous. Disastrous. Offensive.

But you know what? He’s also funny, honest, and really smart about marketing. So I "put up" with his inevitable political/social diatribes. And as an added bonus, I learn from them how otherwise intelligent people can possibly disagree with me.

Controversy is often a useful marketing tool. Whose opinions are more influential? Learned scholars of political and economic theory, or Rush Limbaugh? University-trained clinical psychologists, or John Grey of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," whose PhD is via correspondence course and whose ideas are firmly rooted in fantasy and late 19th century determinism?

I’m sorry my ex-reader couldn’t swallow the pill of my marketing advice with the philosophical coating I chose to give it. I certainly respect his right to choose his thought diet.

You know what? He was never going to buy from me anyway. And if he did, the relationship wouldn’t have lasted. I would have told him something he didn’t want to hear, and that would have been it.

Howie’s Shocking Revelation

So, with that buildup, I’m going out on a limb one more time. I’ve got a controversial statement that I’m bursting to make, business be damned:

The Marx Brothers are a hundred times funnier than the Three Stooges any day.

If I have any readers left after that one, I’ll talk with you again in a couple of weeks.


I’m a controversial figure. My friends either dislike me or hate me.
– Toni Morrison

All great ideas are controversial, or have been at one time.
– Gilbert Seldes

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
– Anais Nin

Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.
– William Arthur Ward

Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you’re scared to death.
– Harold Wilson

Marketing Motivators on Controversial Marketing

1. Most of us in business instinctively avoid controversy because we don’t want to alienate any of our customers. But a little 80/20 analysis will quickly show us that only about 20% of our customers produce around 80% of our profits. Don’t tick off your top 20% if you want your business to last. But chances are, your top 20% got there by virtue of the relationship you built with them. Given them more of the real you is likely to strengthen that bond, not sever it.

2. Don’t be afraid to be who you are and express yourself. That’s why you’re in business, to make a difference in the world that only you can make. If you wanted to be some interchangeable corporate drone, you would be. (My apologies to my corporate readers – this is a newsletter for entrepreneurs and salespeople, and we have to make ourselves feel good about our lousy benefits packages and long hours by telling ourselves that we’re free. And besides, big companies survive because of the efforts of a few internal entrepreneurs. Here’s a great quote from Richard Koch’s "The 80/20 Principle": "Any large, managed corporation is an organized conspiracy to misallocate resources.")

3. Being controversial is good for business. Sure, not everyone will want to do business with you, but is everyone doing business with you right now? Think of having strong opinions as a form of niche marketing – targeting a market small enough that you can dominate it with your message, rather than trying to serve everyone who comes along. Obviously, there are limits.

4. While you’re being controversial, remember that you could be wrong. Be respectful of people with views different from yours. Successful marketers (and people) are not haughty or abusive.

Bonus Quotes

Never look at the trombones. You’ll only encourage them.
– Richard Strauss, on conducting

Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.
– Steven Wright

For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.
– Steven Wright

These are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others.
– Groucho Marx

I’m trying to think, but nothin’ happens.
– Curly

Be Sociable, Share!