As I write this, it looks like war is coming. Whatever your feelings about the rightness or wrongness of the path the US is pursuing at this moment, can we agree that, in general, war is a pretty expensive and ineffective method for getting other people to do what we want them to? Very strong medicine, with lots of unavoidable side effects, both now and well into the future.
The more I read of the international diplomacy around the Iraq crisis, the more it looks to me like bad marketing. Since one of the goals of the Motivated Marketing Letter is to turn its subscribers into expert marketers, I’m going to talk about how becoming a great marketer can also turn you into a peacemaker and a force for healing, in your home, your community, and the world.
Peace Through Marketing
I was in New York City on September 11, 2001, giving a talk at a law firm on the 38th floor of a building about 2 miles from the World Trade Center. When the planes hit, I watched with dumb wonder at the plumes of smoke, the milling, frantic crowds all around me, the total abnormality of the entire world at that moment.
The next day, September 12, I was at home watching some work crews put in a speed bump on my quiet residential street, designed to keep the employees from the nearby insurance company cutting through at 50 miles per hour. The tar was not dry enough to paint, so the crews went home at about 3 pm.
A couple of cars drove by at their usual breakneck speed and just about totally ruined their undersides on the hidden speed bumps. After scraping their bottoms, going airborne, and screeching to a halt, they got out of their cars and walked back to the speed bump, totally puzzled. Then they slowly drove away.
I have to admit, I was really enjoying this. All these years of yelling at speeding cars (my daughter, at age one and a half, actually thought that the word for car was "slow-down-dammit") combined with the shock and hatred that was coursing through me over the WTC attack the day before – I wanted revenge.
I set up my video camera casually in the yard, pointed it at the speed bump, and waited. From 4 to 5 pm, I captured "America’s Most Dangerous Commute" meets "America’s Funniest Speeders" as car after car slammed over the speed bump unawares.
The most amazing thing about this wasn’t that I was doing something petty, vicious, potentially dangerous, and downright rude – it was the lack of an inner voice telling me that I was behaving dreadfully. My wife and a couple of neighbors gently raised the issue with me, but I was totally unreceptive. I was mad as hell and I wasn’t going to take it anymore.
Yikes! When I now consider my options – standing beside the speed bump warning drivers; putting up a sign; getting some Ultimate Frisbee cones out of my trunk – I’m ashamed at the way I acted. I was feeling hurt and self-righteous, and by golly, somebody was going to pay.
The Heart of Marketing
That was an extreme example, but how often do we feel hurt, offended, attacked, misunderstood, unappreciated, and just plain P.O.ed? When we act out of those feelings, we’re doing the opposite of marketing.
Marketing, at its heart, is nothing more or less than empathy. Seeing the world from someone else’s eyes. Taking the time to understand how they feel, how they think, and how they’re likely to act and to react. Identifying benefits that they actually want, and not those you think they should want.
Back to the World
Since 9/11, many Americans have felt like I did at my meanest. We’ve been hurt, and we’re looking for someone to hurt back. When Bill Maher suggested that the terrorists weren’t cowardly for flying planes into buildings, he was practically forced off the airwaves. When scholars tried to explain the possible motivations of those who wished us so ill, most of us heard these explanations as justifications and shut our ears.
As the US has squandered the immense sympathy and solidarity that the rest of the world felt for us on 9/11, we seem to be acting on the same impulse that drove me to rejoice in suffering rather than prevent it. We are certainly acting assertively – forcing Turkey to recast a democratically cast vote so we can station troops on their soil, wiretapping UN diplomats from countries with votes on the security council, dismissing world public opinion as "focus group" fluff – but we have not one drop of empathy for anyone but ourselves. We look like the most arrogant group on the face of the earth.
I’m not saying that we should or shouldn’t go to war with Iraq (at least, not here). I am saying that we are doing a terrible job of marketing our agenda to the world. We are marketing with force and interruption, with great expense and no subtlety, and with no attempt to understand what motivates others and how we can win them over. We are demanding to be obeyed without even checking if we are understood. And we are not even pretending to understand our closest allies, let alone our enemies.
Marketing is not only about empathy. We ask for the order. We give instructions for what people should do next. Marketing is also assertiveness. But the order is important. Assertive first, empathetic second = no sale. Because nobody’s sitting around to notice our empathy. We’ve repelled them already with our arrogant assertiveness.
I’ve spent a lot of time reading a very provocative book, Tom Friedman’s Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11th. It’s a collection of his New York Times foreign affairs columns from 2000-2002. He pretty well predicted something like 9/11, and explained well before it happened who hates us enough to do such a thing, and why.
The biggest lesson from the the book is that the US is not investing in reaching out to the millions of people being shaped by the systems that shaped the terrorists. Because we’re right and they’re wrong, we have no interest in communicating with them, in finding out what they’re thinking and feeling. We don’t need to market to them. But the costs of not marketing are incredibly high: we either force them to do what we want, or we have to live with whatever they choose to do to us. Both options are economically and emotionally draining.
What Can We Do?
If you’ve been reading the Motivated Marketing Letter, you’re in the top 1% of marketers anywhere. You understand how to communicate with people, how to influence them, and how to get to know them. The world needs this skill in order to survive.
Let’s start in our own homes and communities. Let’s market dinnertime and bedtime to our kids, instead of using force as a first and only resort. Let’s market civility in the checkout line. If you go to a political rally, for or against the war, market appreciation for the fact that other people have legitimate reasons for disagreeing with you.
Just as my own little internal war, multiplied by 260 million, is fueling the US administration’s big wars, each of our daily decisions determines what sort of world we live in.
Whatever we install by might and fear we must continue to enforce by might and fear. If that’s how it’s going to be, then we’re just going to have to live with it.
But the truth is, empathy costs very little except checking our petulant egos at the door, and honestly listening to what another person has to say. Who knows, we might learn something useful. And then, maybe then, we can start selling democracy and freedom and respect for human life and all the other American values that we are about to start bombing for.
You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above,
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love,
And it makes me feel so sorry.
– Bob Dylan
When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that’s my religion.
– Abraham Lincoln
A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.
– Albert Einstein
Who would you be without that thought?
Marketing Motivators on Peace Through Marketing
1. Find someone with whom you disagree and spend half an hour exploring their views with curiosity. Notice how you react when you feel the urge to argue and change their mind. When you catch yourself doing this, apologize and continue exploring. Focus on uncovering the values and beliefs that underlie their views. Once you get these, it’s hard to hate and dismiss. Aside from creating peace on earth, this exercise will put money in your pocket if you remember to apply this skill in your customer service efforts.
2. Find one decision in your life that you enforce with strength rather than persuasion. Ask yourself why and if strength is necessary. What would your life be like without this application of strength? What would your life be like if you didn’t get your way here?
3. Think about your favorite infomercial. Imagine the creator of that infomercial had been hired to sell American values to the Iraqi people. What would the half-hour show look like? Who would be featured? What would be shown? What proof and testimonials would be offered? Most importantly, what would the writer have to know about the Iraqi people to get it right?
Why should I care about posterity? What’s posterity ever done for me?
– Groucho Marx
One can always be kind to people about whom one cares nothing.
– Oscar Wilde
Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
– Georgia O’Keefe