Advertising on Trust Matters Blog?

I’d like some readers’ advice.

I received the following email:


I’m contacting you on behalf of a client who is interested in making a contribution to help support your site in exchange for a simple contextual link of a word or phrase somewhere within

Let me know if you offer these types of arrangements and if you have any rates. If you’re unsure, please ask and I would be happy to provide specific details and an offer. The link would be natural and be to a useful resource.

Thank you,


And here’s what I wrote back:

Dear [Name],

Thanks for the offer, I appreciate the recognition.

As a site whose subject matter is trust, we have to be cleaner than Caesar’s wife. I have decided, at least thus far, that the easiest way to do so is to simply not accept advertising in any form.

I appreciate the offer, but we’ll have to pass.


Charlie Green

Now, there’s nothing wrong with advertising.  Nor with affiliate marketing, nor with sales commissions, or any of hundreds of other commercial relationships.  This is not a holier-than-thou blogpost.

Having the no-ads principle has certainly made things easier. As with all values, having them greatly simplifies decisions.

But the truth is, I look wistfully at some sites that do quite well, even extremely well, by the added revenue they are able to generate.  It would be nice.

I like to think there are lines that can be drawn.  For example, the pay-for-contextual-link proposition above could pretty easily be a slippery slope unless you DRINK DIET COKE LIKE I DO ha ha. (Actually just the lime kind, and only occasionally).

In fact, there are probably some commercial links that would represent a positive benefit to the readership of this blog. Or so I think I could argue, though no examples come immediately to mind.

And I also feel no great need to take a ridiculous pledge of no advertising forever, because I’m not so smart as to think I know everything; I reserve the right to get smarter as I get older more experienced.

Your Advice

So I’d like your advice. Is it a good thing to keep this page pristine non-commercial?  Do values have to be absolute to be of value?  Is this a brand thing?

Or are there reasonable approaches to integrating commerce to a website (mainly the blog) based on trust?  Can I get a little mortgage money goin’ here, huh? Can useful lines be drawn?

What do you think?  I really do value your perspective and advice.  Thank you in advance.

The Book You Sold Me Is Not the Book I Bought

iStock_000007343809Small.jpgDharmesh Shah  and Brian Halligan  have written a book called Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs.

At the risk of over-simplification, it says stop trying to push out your message; instead, make it easy for others to find you. To find you: in order to buy from you, tweet you, link to you, find out about you, advertise for you, recommend you.

In their clever phrasing of it: stop doing outbound marketing, start doing inbound marketing.

So the story of how I bought their book is perfectly appropriate.

Last Friday morning, I shared a stage with Chris Brogan, Julien Smith and David Maister. Later that day, I got Chris’s daily blogpost, called Inbound Marketing Is For You.

Turns out it’s an unabashed advertisement for the book, leading off with all the reasons Chris is conflicted and hence the buyer is warned (unless, as he puts it, you want to learn some great stuff).

Well, what’s a body to do? I had just spoken with the guy, I believe he’s high integrity, and here he is pitching someone else’s book, with nothing in it for himself. I have to buy it.

So I click on the link, which goes to Amazon. I pick the Kindle edition (thanks Brian and Dharmesh) and select download to my iPod Kindle reader (which is so good I didn’t bother to buy the new Kindle, by the way).

Three minutes after reading Brogan’s blogpost, I’m reading Chapter 1 of Inbound Marketing, and I realize that I’m now living proof of precisely what they are writing about.

Did publisher Wiley advertise it? I don’t know; if they did, they wasted their money, at least on me (though Brogan did publicize them). But Wiley got a sale, the authors got their royalty payment, and Amazon got its ounce of flesh.

For me the customer, I got a book I was confident I wanted, I felt good about the purchase because I trusted the recommender, and I got it fast and easy. Really easy.

Second best of all, the book has already had an impact on me—I’m seriously thinking about how to use it in my business. The authors should be proud.

Best of all, Brogan, Shah and Halligan all get free shout-outs from me; and not only did they not pay me to do it, I paid them!

So, who got screwed here? Who got left holding the bag? No one that I can see. 

Can Advertising Avoid Being Cynical?

I saw a TV ad the other night that intrigued me. 

It showed a mother who had clearly been called to the police station about her son, who apparently had been hauled in for street racing in the family car.  The kid was clearly remorseful and ashamed, not wanting to talk about what had happened.  She was emotionally there for him, but also firmly asking him to tell her exactly what had happened.

The tag line was something like, “Responsibility.  Liberty Mutual.”

Not your everyday ad. 

Now, I like to think I’m as cynical as the next guy, but I have to say, my first reaction was not cynicism.  Instead, I thought, ‘Well that was gutsy.  I wonder if they can back it up?’

Turns out the ad is part of a broader campaign highlighting the notion of individual responsibility  , which in turn is the 2009 version of the company’s broader campaign several-year campaign about responsibility, begun back in 2006 and run by Hill Holiday.    It comes complete with website,, which has had several million visitors since opening in 2008.

Without having looked deeply into it, I have to say I like this.  It’s a relevant issue.  It’s an issue they’ve done a nice job of framing, without overtly anchoring it to a particular political point of view.  And while they do say they’re about responsibility, it still has the flavor of sponsoring a dialogue, rather than of wrapping themselves in the flag. 

Business being business, some idiot had to muck it up a few years ago by buying google adwords related to an advertising exec’s suicide.  

And, my viewpoint is not shared by at least one critic, Jack Shafer at Slate, who calls it pandering on the scale of Chevron’s quasi-environmentalist ads.  

I’m glad Shafer is upholding the virtues of suspicion while I take a day off from it.  Still, at least Liberty Mutual doesn’t address me as “America” and  claim “that’s why we at [PickYourBigCo] is doing something about [PickYourBigIssue]. 

I give them credit.  A dialogue about the concept of responsibility at the individual and social level?  As long as they stand back and let the dialogue roll, I think they deserve the credit they get by associating their name  with it.  

Trust Me

Courtesy of The Financial Brand comes the story "A Failure of Trust:"

"On Thursday, September 4, an ad from Silver State Bank asked, “Why do so many of Nevada’s strongest businesses trust Silver State Bank?” The answer? “Security” and “protection.”

The next day, the bank was seized by federal and state regulators.…In the two months prior to the bank’s seizure, customers pulled $264 million of the $1.7 billion on deposit at Silver State."

There are no more trust-destroying words one can say than “trust me.” Googling “trust us” gets more than 5 million hits. Interestingly, well over half appear to be of the cynical phrasing, e.g. “Trust us, we’re experts: How Industry Manipulates Science."

In other words, most of us are “on” to the con.

Yet the self-delusion (and occasionally cynicism) continues. I periodically Google “your trusted advisor” to see who still thinks advertising “trust me” is a good strategy. I won’t name names—you can do it yourself: just search on “your trusted advisor” (don’t forget the quote marks), and decide for yourself whether the advertisers really are your trusted real estate agent, your trusted financial planner, your trusted land developer—or not.

Most people who use the term “trust” or “trust me” or “trusted advisor” in advertising mean well. In a few cases, they’re even right. But they miss the point.

The point is, it’s inherently contradictory to advertise your trustworthiness. It’s like bragging about your humility. Trust is supposed to be largely personal, and about serving the customer. Trust ads are intrinsically non-personal, and inherently self-serving.

George Burns once said, “Sincerity is the most important success factor; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” The joke lies in the implausibility of faking sincerity. Ditto for trust.

Unsolicited testimonials are fabulous. Solicited testimonials, quoted in mass media, are quite another thing. The difference lies in the motives.

Talking internally about how to be trusted is great; talking to clients about it is good to the extent you do it one on one, in small groups, with blank notepads and a willingness to learn. Talking to clients about trust via statistically valid online surveys that don’t let you expand on the “other” checkbox and that are designed solely to be converted into incentivized behaviors—not so much.

Trust advertising is a personally critical issue to me, given the name “Trusted Advisor Associates.” I need “trust” in the name to describe my content and subject matter, but I have on occasion cringed when a client went off-script and introduced me at a speech as “the trusted advisor.”

Our website always says “we help build trusted advisors…” and never “we are trusted advisors.” Even with that, we get occasional snide comments about the insincerity of calling ourselves “trusted advisors.”

I don’t blame them a bit. The currency of language is frequently debased in business (think ‘loyalty,’ ‘customer focus’).

Given the current state of cynicism about trust, the best any of us can do is to be careful about our own language, and to let our integrity and trustworthiness be their own advertisement.

After all—that’s how trust really gets built.

Great Moments in Marketing Fear

I may not be a marketer by profession, but I doubt I’d get much argument from the pros about what sells best—reliably, dependably, year in and year out.

Sex. And fear.

Maybe sex is number one. But if so, it’s not by much.  Fear of fill-in-the-blank. Being left behind. Being left out. Not getting the joke. Looking dumb. Dressing wrong. Knowing the wrong people. Doing the wrong thing. Not doing the right thing. Being stuck with something that smells. Having a house that smells. Being the smell.

Identifying the right “pitch” or “hook” is, I suspect, even more important for fear-based products. Case in point: a particularly clever new product.

Introducing Slydial—see the August 2 New York Times article, Don’t Want to Talk About It? Order a Missed Call, by Matt Richtel:

When Alexis Gorman, 26, wanted to tell a man she had been dating that the courtship was over, she felt sending a Dear John text message was too impersonal. But she worried that if she called the man, she would face an awkward conversation or a confrontation.

So she found a middle ground. She broke it off in a voice mail message, using new technology that allowed her to jump directly to the suitor’s voice mail, without ever having to talk to the man — or risk his actually answering the phone.

The technology, called Slydial, lets callers dial a mobile phone but avoid an unwanted conversation — or unwanted intimacy — on the other end. The incoming call goes undetected by the recipient, who simply receives the traditional blinking light or ping that indicates that a voice mail message has been received.

Genius. Elegant in its simplicity. The sweet relief of being able to plausibly lie and avoid conflict at the same time.  It’s calling when you know someone will be out—squared.

Where does this fit in the pantheon of problem-solving inventions? It’s gotta be up there with Get Out of Jail Free cards, the morning-after pill, the hangover pill (slot as yet unfilled), homework-eating dogs, and the deus ex machina plotline.

Because almost all our worst fears involve other humans. Fear of being eaten alive in the forest by bears? Chicken——, compared to the mortification of a teenager shunned by peers. Hearing Sister Mary say you’ll rot in hell for doing whatever it was you already did. Receiving a dear John call. Calling dear John.

Slydial is unique only in one tiny detail. You already have access to voicemail. You can already send digitized voice messages. Slydial’s tiny tweak is the shortcut straight to voicemail, unbeknownst to the receiver. It is the caller’s equivalent of caller ID or spam filters. One small step for technology—one giant leap for Freudkind.

Because this permits the caller to lie. Plausibly.

The caller’s lie is this: “Hey, I tried to call you, but you were out. So I guess I’ll just have to leave this message on voicemail—not that I want to, gosh I hate to do this kind of thing so impersonally. Sorry about that, but—well, it wasn’t my fault. So, anyway, hey—I’m breaking up with you. I couldn’t make it into work today. The dog ate my homework. About your party, you know, pre-existing commitment. We’ll do lunch another time. Sorry I missed your birthday.”

All without that distaste that accompanies having to talk to the Other.

Seinfeld’s George Costanza—the patron saint of avoidance—would have loved Slydial. His spiritual progenitor, Larry David, would know just how to market it. Perhaps Slydial’s owner, MobileSphere, should hire David to consult, based on this from the article:

MobileSphere’s co-founder, Gavin Macomber, said the tool was a time-saver in a world in which conversations could waste time, whereas voice mail can get directly to the point. Part of the reason people are so overwhelmed, Mr. Macomber said, is because they are connected to devices and streams of data around the clock.

Puh-leeze. Alexis Gorman knows better. She works in marketing, and says of her Dear John slydial, “I can do without the drama…I wanted to avoid an awkward conversation.”

So does Manny Mamakis, also quoted in the article as finding it a time-saver. But then Manny speaks the Truth:

“It does make you more cowardly,” he said.

Slydial’s effectiveness—like Borat or Punk’d—depends on being relatively unknown. It loses power once it goes mass-market. “You rat, don’t think you can Slydial me!

I predict a meteoric—albeit short-lived—success for Slydial. Anything that feeds fear of other people will sell well. Sex it up and the sky’s the limit.

Sometimes fear sells you what you actually do need—say, the morning after pill.  But other times it sells you the illusion of what you need.  What you need is usually closure, not avoidance.  


Is “Brand Trust” An Oxymoron?

I’ve long meant to write about trust and branding. I don’t pretend to have the last word on this subject, but I don’t think the first words have said enough yet.

What triggered this article was several conversations with Steve Cranford at Whisper, and in particular, his recent post on great branding through through truth-telling.

What’s the difference between trust and branding? Or are they the same? Is Brand Trust an intuitively meaningful term? Or an oxymoron?

My answer is, “It depends.” The harder question is answering the follow-up: “On what?”

I have argued that the predominant sense of the word “trust” is personal, not institutional. My frame of reference is not dictionaries but real world usage.

But if it is true that trust is personal and not institutional,  doesn’t that mean that branding can’t be very trust-powerful, because it doesn’t deal in the interpersonal? Branding is mainly about an individual relating to an institution, a company, a product. Not a person. In fact, the reason the term “personal brand” caught on as a term is that it feels like an oxymoron, a paradox, a conflation—and we are intrigued by such formulations.

But hold on a minute.  Let’s consider branding in terms of the Trust Equation: a mix of credibility, reliability, intimacy, and low self-orientation.  Just because branding doesn’t employ all of the elements of trust,  that doesn’t mean your brand can’t heavily leverage a few components and arguably out-trust an individual.

What does the brand McDonald’s imply? For one thing, reliability. Huge, massive levels of reliability regarding the things you put into your body, the places you interact with people to buy those things, and the consistency of experience. You know what you’re going to get at McDonald’s, and are rarely, rarely disappointed.

That’s worth a helluva lot. And on one critical element of trust, arguably that level of reliability—at least in the sense of being predictable—is as powerful as reliability exhibited by a friend.

Take another trust component—credibility. How much more will you pay for Poland Spring than for a store chain’s house brand? A fair amount. But how much will you pay for the latter compared to an un-labeled bottle of water sold by a street vendor? Massively multiples more, because credibility is something we care about when our health is at stake, and the credibility of a retail chain vastly exceeds that of street vendors when it comes to the life-sustaining fluid that is water.

On the face of it, the other two elements of the Trust Equation—intimacy and self-orientation—are inherently personal attributes, not corporate or product-related. We don’t share our feelings with a brand, or worry that our brand is self-focused and not paying enough attention to us. That would be silly.

Or would it?

Cranford argues that "telling the truth—authenticity—is one more requirement of effective branding."

What he’s getting at—as I see it—is revealed in Cranford’s definition of branding: "defining why you are, so that you become the only logical choice for what you offer."

I think Cranford is on to something. We often speak of branding as an objective characteristic of a product or service offering, or as the subjective experience of customers presented over time with that product or service offerings.

But people don’t “trust” products. They don’t “trust” service offerings. They trust people. As Cranford notes, 75% of the American people don’t trust advertising or advertisers.

But they do trust people. So, the real question becomes: do we or do we not trust the people behind the brand? Do we believe in the integrity of the organization putting out the product or service? Do those people in that company really believe what they say? Do they mean for their product to serve us? Or could they just as well be in currency trading or reinsurance as well as whatever they’re doing, because they’re just in it for the money?

That makes sense to me. In the traditional, personal sense of trust, I trust a brand because of what I believe about the people branding it.

If you’re sufficiently old, you’ll remember, “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star—the big, bright, Texaco star.” Not anymore. And not for lack of money spent on branding gasoline. But because we no longer believe we can "trust our car" to the people running, say, Chevron (or Exxon). Station owner? Maybe. Company? I don’t think so. Strong brand? Yes. Trusted? Not so much.

But, Enterprise Rent-a-Car? Yes to both questions. Starbucks? Pretty much so, still, despite growing pains.

Branding may be the social version of the individual connection we call trust. It’s accesibly meaningful in narrow senses like reliability. And, it can have that personal meaning when it comes to the authenticity and trustworthiness of those behind the curtain—the ones charged with delivering the brand.

Those are my thoughts. Ad and PR people? Branding people? Psychologists? Coaches? Marketers? Or just armchair theorists—what do you all think?

Why We Don’t Trust Corporations

Josh Bernoff asks the “who do you trust” question at the Groundswell blog, based on data from Groundswell.


Here’s the chart he’s talking about.


Bernoff’s discussion suggests:

  1. The best trust is personal
  2. 60% trust reviews by strangers in aggregate, e.g. “If 100 people on eBags say a laptop bag is great, then it is great. If they say it’s inferior, then it is inferior. Regardless of what a so-called "expert" might say.”

Bernoff then goes on to draw some conclusions for brand marketers: basically, if they like you, let them talk. If they don’t like you, you can’t shut them up; but you can listen to complaints and improve your product or service.

Phrased this baldly, it sounds like a massive dose of the obvious. But if it were so obvious, more companies would be doing it. Let’s break this down.

Trust is Personal

First, the idea that trust is personal. In my own work, trust is massively personal at root. Two of the four components of the Trust Equation developed by myself and co-authors Maister and Galford in The Trusted Advisor are overtly personal—intimacy and self-orientation.

Brands, Corporations and Trust

Corporations, brands and advertising are inherently impersonal and by their nature self-oriented; which is why ad campaigns and PR agencies have an awfully tough time when it comes to getting anyone to trust their messages.

Think about it. What are the two most trust-destroying words you can say? I nominate Trust Me.

And if that sounds blindingly obvious, then who developed these ad campaigns?

  • RCA “the most trusted names in electronics”,
  • Value Line “the most trusted name in investment research”, and
  • CNN “the most trusted name in news”.

(Do you think that’s why CNN has just been supplanted as “most trusted” by—of all sources—Fox News?)

How about Bernoff’s other conclusion: when they don’t like you, don’t shut them up, but address the complaint and improve the product?

It is astonishing how infrequently this obvious piece of advice is ignored. Let’s call it the Watergate catch-phrase: the cover-up is always worse than the crime.

Think of the iconic Johnson and Johnson response to tampering with Tylenol—ages ago. Why does such an old example of corporate ethical behavior still come to mind? Because it’s so rare. How many pharmaceutical industry kerfuffles since have been dealt with so openly?

Remember Monsanto and Dioxin?

How about the tobacco industry’s continued, chronic response to health concerns?

Remember mad cow disease and the US beef industry’s response?

Rarely is it the first instinct of business to follow Bernoff’s “obvious” advice—to hear consumer criticism as inherently constructive, and to do something about it.

Given that response, is it really so surprising that people trust personal acquaintances more than anyone else? Trust abused is trust destroyed. The biggest reason we trust people we know is that people we know are the ones we can trust.

That’s not circular. It means people we know are more trustworthy than companies who pretend to be. Whose fault is that?


Fighting Cynicism

I often want to be hip and in the know.  I don’t think I’m the only one.  And frequently this urge manifests itself in sarcasm, cynicism or being snide.

Are we living in a time where this urge is perhaps more prevalent than others? So much so that we’re beginning to see a backlash?

Some see the Obama phenoma as evidence of such a backlash.  I’ll abstain from that debate.  Besides, I’ve got a better piece of evidence.

In Advertising Age —‘of all places,’ I’m tempted to say—we find Snide Advertising is Bad for Business and Society,  by Richard Rapaport. He dissects some of the snarkier, hipper ads on TV today—ads by FedEx, Budweiser,

I don’t think of advertising as a bastion of expansive social thinking; much less of a philosophy linking social well-being and business profits. I think of it as a center of cynicism, actually. And yet, read these few snippets (and remember, this writing appears in Advertising Age):

There are few barometers so reflective of modern life as TV advertising. It makes sense. Take the culture’s most facile minds, challenge them to pry cash from an increasingly tapped-out audience, and what do you get? Commercials built on sadism, on derision, on one-upsmanship — in a word, "snide."

If you look up "snide," you find synonyms such as "sarcastic" and "malicious." Snide advertising possesses a governing syntax that demands, to begin with, sacrificial victims…

Another building block of snide advertising is physical aggression…

Snideness is the leitmotif of sexy slapstick that predominates in ads for domestic beer bottlers, the bottom feeders of American advertising…

The bottom line of snide advertising is a kind of Darwinian "survival of the snappiest," requiring that you get the last word in any exchange and that it be a "gotcha."

… the crux of snide advertising [is] the ability to communicate that you and your product are too hip to so much as work up a spit to actually sell the merch; that the very process of making the ad, like most other human endeavors these days, is barely worth the effort.

…It behooves marketing professionals to understand the difference between subtle irony and idiot snideness and aim for an advertising denominator cognizant of the maxim that expansive, confident consumers part with their cash far more readily than do angry, fearful ones.

When the purveyors of pitch are telling us not to foul the nest—maybe there’s something going on?

Conversations with a Spambot

You know about spam. Though unless you write a blog, you may not know that spam also affects blogs.]

Automated “spambots” search out blogs for key names, then enter a “comment.”

Some bloggers don’t allow comments, in part because of the hassle of constantly cleaning out their comment lists. I eliminated one entire posting called “seductive statistics,” because the title was attracting on average two fake postings a day, day in and day out. It takes time to clean the stables.

Last June I posted a piece called Trust, Politics and US Healthcare Policy. Probably because of the word “healthcare,” it occasionally attracts spam. As it did yesterday.

Every once in a while, this stuff just pisses me off. This time, I clicked on the spammer’s link, and found a “click here for online customer service.”

So I did.

Here’s the resultant dialogue. Hang on for the punch line.

You are now speaking with Daphne of Customer Service.

Charles Green: Why do you use spambot advertising?

Charles Green: You’re filling up my blog comments page.

Daphne: Hello, this is Daphne of Online Customer Care. How may I assist you?

Charles Green: It is annoying, time consuming, and very tasteless

Charles Green: Whoever there makes the decision to send spam to people’s blogs should be made aware of what a boorish, tasteless form of business they are engaging in

Charles Green: Daphne, please pass on the message

Charles Green: Just so you know what I’m talking about, I publish a serious blog about business. One of my postings was about "Trust, Politics and US Healthcare Policy." And what do I get as a comment? A spambot advertisement from you people. Daphne do you feel good personally working for people who decide to use such slimeball tactics? I can’t imagine you do.

Charles Green: Do you like getting robo-calls at dinnertime from mortgage companies? That’s exactly what you folks are doing to me.

Daphne: We are a legitimate company and we operate in compliance with existing federal laws, all medicines provided are obtained from legitimate pharmaceutical wholesalers, or in some cases directly from the US manufacturer. Rest assured our company is committed to meeting and exceeding all government regulations covering this online health care provision.

Charles Green: Daphne don’t give me that "comply with government regulations" crap. That just says what you do hasn’t been made illegal. That doesn’t mean it isn’t disgusting, vile and will eventually be made illegal if enough scumbuckets like your company don’t behave like responsible marketers.

Daphne: Charles, I do apologize for this inconvenience. We are customer support here and we only handle customer related issues.

Charles Green: Daphne, it’s not personal. I know it’s not you doing it, and you have no need to apologize. But please know what it’s doing to your reputation, and pass it on.

Daphne: Charles, we are customer support team for many online companies. Please be so kind and be more specific in order for us to be able to assist you.

Charles Green: Are you kidding? is the one I’m responding to. They send out spambots to legitimate blogs like mine, doing the equivalent of junk mail and email spam. It’s disgusting. That’s what I’m complaining about. Pass it on please to those folks.

Daphne: Charles, You want to be unsubscribed right? May I have your email address, please?

When On-message Marketing Makes for Off-trust Sales

Being “on-message” is a sort of  First Principle for marketers.  (You may be more aware of the term through politicians, who in recent years have become astute consumers of marketing technologies).

The “on-message” concept is closely allied to the broader strategic term “alignment.” The core idea is—if you get all the parts humming in sync, you will certainly avoid contradictions, and probably create synergies.

Who could argue with that?

Well, like any good concept taken to excess, it can turn nasty.  That’s what happens when marketing pushes the “on message” concept too hard onto sales.

What caught my eye was the cover story of the September 2007 issue of PharmaVoice (though it’s not an issue unique to Pharma—it can be found in professional services or technology as well):

The pharmaceutical industry can no longer afford to be off-message—not even once—in this exceedingly competitive marketplace…
Innovative pharmaceutical companies are redefining the communications process by tearing down the walls between the different factions: agencies, sales, marketing, and public relations.

By including “sales” with agencies, PR and marketing in a broader process called “communication,” sales is potentially being set up for lowered trust.

Sales should be about dialogue between seller and customer. That means two-way conversation—synchronous—at the individual level. PR and marketing by contrast are largely one-way—asynchronous—a monologue, and almost always one-to-many, rather than individual (one-to-one marketing is largely aspirational).

Customers have no problem with marketing, as long as it doesn’t claim to be personal and synchronous. Customers have no problem with sales, as long as it is a true personal dialogue.

Trouble happens when one mode pretends to be the other. And that is what happens when sales is forced to operate mainly in the “on-message” mode. For a salesperson to be “on-message” means they are “off-dialogue” and asynchronous—while still pretending not to be. Result: customer disconnect.

Basically, we don’t trust people who insist on mouthing ad slogans at us.

That doesn’t mean salespeople should be random content-generators, or that they should shy away from marketing dialogues. It simply means that, past some point, treating sales as an extension of marketing will erode sales effectiveness.

What that point is, is hard to define. Just where do the plains end, and the mountains begin? The fact that the transition point may be hard to define doesn’t mean mountains don’t exist.

Think of it this way. If marketing is in charge of all your sales collateral materials—you may be an “on-message” abuser. If marketing is scripting selected sentences at the individual word level—you may be an “on-message” abuser. If marketing gives sales a list of “don’t-talk-about” topics—you may be an “on-message” abuser.

If you believe sales could and should be replaced by significant improvements in targeting and delivery via alternate media—then you probably are an on-message abuser, because you don’t believe in the unique value of human one-to-one contact.

Humans have their own message wave-length. And if you want your message to be heard, you’d better start with hearing theirs.  Being on message isn’t much good if it means no one’s listening.