Are You Putting Lipstick on a Pig?

There’s an old saying “You can put lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig”.

In business the term “putting lipstick on a pig”  is a way of saying that you’re making superficial or cosmetic changes that don’t change the underlying structure of an undesirable or unattractive object. In terms of social media, its a phrase we can apply to trying to  make traditional marketing more palatable using social media channels to deliver the marketing message. Unfortunately using social media for traditional marketing doesn’t result in effective social media marketing. In fact it may even create negative consumer reaction to your efforts as they feel you have “invaded” their safe social space.

Its easy to understand why people flock to social media marketing for their businesses.  Its the latest and greatest thing. Its  free or low cost compared to older traditional methods of marketing. And everyone is speaking about it. The simplicity of the tools and their ease of use begs individuals and companies to dive in without thinking that any additional thought or training is needed. And that mean that most people will use the marketing knowledge that they have to craft their social media engagement, talking bout what is important to them at the times they think are best , to the people they choose.  But that doesn’t mean you’re engaging in social media marketing. It may mean you’re just putting lipstick on a pig.

Seth Godin’s 1999 book Permission Marketing bore the subtitle “turning strangers into friends and friends in to customers” which sums up the strength of social marketing in one sentence. Through the various channels of the Web 2.o world small  businesses and professionals are able to find online communities to interact with , and through their interaction become  trusted members of the community. Because they are trusted members of the community, members are pre-disposed to use their services or buy their goods when a need for those goods or services arises.   Sounds simple doesn’t it? It is simple, but like so many great ideas, the difficulty is in the execution.

Place a keyboard in front of us and we forget the basics of social interaction. Everyone knows that a guy who comes up to you at a party and starts talking to you about his children is a bore. And we all know that someone who comes up to you at that same party and talks to you about your kids is a fascinating conversationalist.  everyone is the star of their own movie, and to reach them in an engaging manner, you need to find out what they care about, and talk to them about that on their terms, when they are ready for a conversation. When we do that, we aren’t  putting lipstick on a pig anymore, we’re actually improving our game and increasing our value to the community and its members.

We are all experts at ignoring commercial messages and presentations. We use Tivo to skip TV commercials, we throw out our direct mail and we tune out banner ads on websites. We are sophisticated consumers that are not easily fooled, and we do not respect those individuals or companies that don’t appreciate  our sophistication. But we will vote with our feet. When social spaces become littered with too many commercial messages, we will abandon them in favor of other channels where there is less clutter.

So if we want to reach consumers in a meaningful manner – or as Seth Godin says, “turn strangers into friends and friends into customers” we need to respect their needs, speak to their issues, and provide them with value – to change our interaction at their very core – and not just put  lipstick on a pig.

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