Saturday, July 4, 2015

Brand's Best Friends: Critics, Contrarians, Competitors & Communities

At least three times in my career I've been asked why I read Alex Jones' Infowars every single day. The criticism has gone something like this:
  • "That guy is crazy!"
  • "There is nothing there worth reading." 
  • "Don't you know they hate the government, and you are a government employee?"
These objections really mean:
  • "I am genuinely surprised that a government communicator would take an anti-government website seriously."
  • "What am I missing? Maybe I'm not as smart as I thought and I should be reading that site."
  • "You work for the government, and yet you read a site that is anti-government. Where is your loyalty?"
A previous post covered the importance of studying a wide range of popular opinion. The more extreme the extremes of those opinions, the better. Understanding what people are really thinking, particularly people you virulently disagree with, makes you a more objective person. It also helps you to more accurately gauge where buying behavior is headed next.
If you want to distinguish between "good" critics and "bad" ones, I would suggest only one filter: Take hatred out of the conversation. People who are full of hate are unable to articulate a point of view objectively, and instead will distort the truth only to serve their own psychological need to inflict pain.
In my own career and in my personal life, I've found it necessary on every occasion to read what opposing voices have to say. This is true as a government communicator, as a patriot who is also a pro-Israel activist, as a feminist, and even as a brand consultant. Early on, I argued that we should incorporate the views of other companies into our own best practice literature, and was roundly shouted down: We must only promote ourselves.
To that I responded, is going to rise and sell almost anything, because they let other vendors in on their site.
When the government was hit with reports of a particular scandal, the name of which I'm not going to share, all the news was available very early on in a publicly available bulletin board. I used to read that bulletin board every day, collect the information and share it internally - begging the powers that be to respond. 
"Don't even go there."
It is ironic to me that we routinely promote the importance of negative feedback, and then ask people to pass a political correctness litmus test before we pay any attention to them.
In fact, it's just the opposite: The more you try to orient yourself to people who have already "drunk the Kool-Aid," so to speak, the more guaranteed you are that your brand will be speaking only to itself, and will fail to gain any appreciation by its audience.
Remember that show, "Keeping Up With The Kardashians?" I loved that show from Day One, and in policy-wonk DC they laughed me out of town for saying it.
Look who is making billions now.
Not wanting to hear from your opponents is a primitive survival mechanism. But it doesn't do much for you in the world of PR.
If you really want people to listen to your point of view, you must engage the very critics, contrarians, competitors and communities of interest you fear.
Photo of 1943 Kool-Aid advertisement by clotho98 via Flickr Creative Commons. All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.