In a post yesterday, Seth Godin makes the point that sometimes, good marketing means making your customers uncomfortable. His example is the ridiculous Black Friday ritual in which department stores kick off the post-Thanksgiving shopping season by opening early, and making everyone suffer. Here's what he wrote:
Tomorrow is the ridiculous Black Friday ritual, gaining in steam every year, in which large American retailers run big sales that start at 6 am. People line up even earlier to get in first. Kids are stampeded. Muscles are pulled. Friendships frayed. Credit cards exhausted.
This is actually a little optimistic. I saw an ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer announcing that Macy's was going to open at 4 AM today.
Yes, folks, that's 4. In. The. Morning.
Marketing, at the end of the day, is all about creating some kind of relationship. There are all kinds of relationships, both healthy and unhealthy, happy and awful. By recognizing this, and thinking about it, you may be able to find some new ways to build relationships with your clients that are effective, but not all about keeping them blissfully happy at all times.
For example, Google's AdWords system has this addictive quality. It's enormously tempting to keep playing with it, to try to better your results, which makes the whole program that much more compelling and sticky. The Typepad software I'm using for this blog works the same way.
I've often thought that big-box discounters, like CostCo, deliberately make the interior of their stores as cheerless and depressing as they do in order to create the perception in shoppers that they're suffering, and therefore, must be getting a bargain. "Look -- this place is a dump. These must be the lowest prices."
And I have seen law firms do the same thing, perhaps inadvertently. Wachtell, Lipton's web site is fascinating. It's in black-and-white, basically. No images. No graphics. No nothing. This website does not attempt to be enticing. Instead, it seems to me to be a little standoffish. Maybe a lot standoffish. They're not going to attempt to reel you in. If you don't know who they are already, they're not the right firm for you. This is a fascinating play on "If you have to ask what it costs, you can't afford it."
Oh, and by the way, Wachtell's profits per partner are over $3 million. They're the most profitable firm in the country.
If marketing is about managing the potential client's experience, maybe it shouldn't be all sweetness and light. Strong relationships aren't simple, because neither are your clients.