Marketing has been around for centuries; with some stating the Bible is the first big Marketing or propaganda piece printed. It has shaped cultures and countries and created wars and bloodshed even to this day. I’m not debating religion here simply stating that it has helped shape opinions for centuries and helped form decisions. Governments have taken the same message and have created marketing spins as well to get people to believe in their message. Whether it is United States Pride or all the way to belief in communism in Russia or U.S.S.R. at the time.
Lenin was the father of modern marketing. He got a whole country to buy into a belief created by an economist and perverted to fit his ideals and it lasted for decades. All campaigns fail over time, people get disinterested they get curious other factors breach in, but even to this day the Russian way of thinking is still fairly strong even when they switched to capitalism a lot wanted to move back to the old system. His people were so successful they came to America in the 40’s and early 50’s before the cold war and instructed our marketers how to do it, and the great United States machine was born. This included corporations, governments, and community groups, we all took lessons from there and applied it to get our messages across.
Most people today would say marketing is dead, it doesn’t work. They may be right, there are TIVO’s, DVR’s internet, Facebook and other social media, yet products are still purchased and people are still voted on based on marketing. Looking back to the last election, why did you vote your candidate if you voted? Some will say some deep rooted belief this person is greater because of X or Y, and they probably researched, I know I did and made my decisions based on what was important to me. Although, those people would be a minority. When surveyed did you hear most people’s comments of why they were going to vote one way or the other? One might have answered because the other candidate will lay off jobs and move them overseas, another might say if he’s reelected we’ll be a socialist country. Now there’s no real truth in either comment, although there are basis for where the ideas came from, yet these were repeated over and over again. The issue here is how we were marketed to.
In Politics, those that succeed understand that the media will cut down their lengthy speeches to 10 or 20 second bites. The most inflammatory and entertaining will be shown. So to get their message out they say excitable things that they know will get reported and will demonstrate their message. This is marketing or spin. The next time you hear a quote from a press conference, Google the you tube video for the whole speech. See if the comment was representative of the speech or just a one liner that they knew would be published. It’s generally the latter. However, we fall for this spin every time, well most of us.
Others say this tactic doesn’t work because of the internet and that we think for ourselves we do, and I’m not saying we don’t, though when was the last time you ever looked at the whole speech or the whole report or just took the summary of it. There’s a reason why Cliff Notes are still so popular. We like to get our information quick and move on, and marketers understand this. The days of sitting back and listening to both sides and then forming an opinion is done, it’s all about who can catch and hold your attention the best not necessarily the issues. Let’s talk about product. Why do you buy a specific designer blouse? Is it because it’s great fabric or unique colors? Usually not it’s because it is a certain label and you want to present a certain image. We’re all guilty of it. I sit at a local coffee shop every day and before school this group of sophomore girls comes in every day. They are the epitome of marketing. They almost always have the latest fashionable boots, and designer tops and they each try to outdo each other, and their friends, think about what we do in the real world with people we don’t know. We all fall victim to it, so how do you discover it?
Before we can get to that question, we need to see a little more how it prevails in our daily lives, here some places we can find it on a regular basis:
- Financial Markets – Who among us has woken up or come home and heard market crashes yesterday or market sky rockets? How do the media state it? Usually with words like down 300 points or up 500 points right? How do we react, depending on the news good or bad and it drives market behavior the next day? The problem here is we are reacting because 300 or 500 points seems like a high score and could be bad or good, but is it? Generally these moves are percentages of the overall market and range from 1% to 3%, would that get you to react? Probably not as it doesn’t seem as big as 300, thus the media reports the higher number to get a reaction, and reactions they get. When I managed money for clients I always knew how my day would be the next day after a news report like that, so usually when I heard the closing bell I tried to make pre-emptive calls either way to my clients and let them know the strategy and what we should do, I was spinning the spin before it got too big.
- Government – They have been doing this since the beginning of time. I’m going to use some more modern examples. First from World War II there are multiple spinning examples like Riveting Rosie highlighting that women are the backbone of this country and we need you to build the country while the men are at war, or war bond posters stating we need money usually with a young generic boy on it saying we need weapons, or it’s all up to you, and my favorite is the picture of a German helmet with an American soldier on the tip of it. All of these and many more inspired people to contribute to the war effort in whatever way they could, it built national pride and experience. Think forward twenty years to Vietnam, the war effort was hampered because of embedded media showing in real time the perils of war every night. This was a spin that backfired on the government instead of creating sympathy and pride it created resentment and hatred. Now what spin is occurring? No matter what your political affiliations and views are there are multiple issues occurring out there from abortion to gun control to Budget issues. The biggest one though is the Budget and the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling is our countries credit card limit and it affects paying bills and keeping the government running. Already we are borrowing dollars from federal pension accounts to pay our bills, per Timothy Geithner; if the situation is not resolved soon and measures like this continues then we will have a more serious problem in the future. However, what has been the major topic of discussion for the past two weeks and will continue to be for several more? Gun Control. This is a polarizing issue that most people have a side on and there will be campaigns for weeks for and against it, but the budget battle although still mentioned has taken the backseat, why? People don’t understand the budget issue the numbers is too large and it’s not personal to them, but guns one way or the other is and thus there is a stronger opinion. This is spin that allows cover to occur so they can proceed on the budget battle with less intrusiveness.
- Financial Pundits – You know who they are. The people that give advice on credit card debt or tell you what to look for in a financial planner or what product to purchase. Some of these pundits (talking heads) sold the very same products they hate now when they were in practice because they’re not popular now. Clients believe this spin making it harder for planners and advisors to do what is right for the clients and they have to counter months or years of negative spin to protect their clients. Which is okay everyone has the right to their opinion, the thing is you can never talk in generalities about something so personal as there is no one size fits all product.
- The products we buy – Why do buy Levi’s over Seven or vice versa? Why do you purchase Coke vs. Pepsi? Why do you purchase any product, Marketing or Spin? They sell you on why you need something and you purchase it. Maybe it’s the same product your parents bought and thus their parents, but somewhere along the line you were sold or someone was sold on the greatness of this product.
You’ve been reading through the past few pages and wondering where is he going to tie this back to financial planners or financial matters. I partly did up there but let’s delve a little deeper. Marketing affects planner’s lives every day. Not only do you have to compete with the latest products or vacation packages affecting your clients money but you also have to compete with multiple people saying how corrupt or greedy our industry is and what products to buy and not to buy. Of course the products on the approved list make you no money and even if it is the right thing to push a more expensive product you start to feel guilty because you are getting paid for it and are you doing the wrong thing here. As a manager, a leader, and a salesperson, I countered that every day and always had to do a plus and minus chart for every recommendation I made to the client. The weird thing is as part of my presentation I would always share that chart with my clients so they saw that I had done the research and was giving them the best option. At the same time I always presented two to three options with two to three charts so they could see I did my research and picked options that best suited them. I fell victim to the very spin I’m talking about.
And now as I reflect it’s okay to fall victim to that spin. They key is to understand that you have and to make sure you are making the right decisions about it. The way you do that is through research and through discussion. Whether you as the rep does the research or you as the consumer does the research come prepared, ask questions and figure out the best options. Ignore the spin and don’t let it control you.
As a planner I have to be a spinner as well. I need to take complex information and summarize it in a way my clients will understand. How do you spin things for your clients? Even telling them exactly as it is you still spin it a little to make sure they get the point, and that is okay. Embrace spinning and use it, but use it to educate and create thoughts and actions not to manipulate them. I think for many years I was afraid of a client saying I need to think about this. The key thing I have realized is the more they research the better I can do my job as it makes me challenge my decisions and thoughts and really apply it to the client, so I have become the spinner not the spinnee.
So again I’ll ask are you the spinner or the spinnee? And what are you going to do about it?