There are two distinct ways to approach the world. You can be a hawk, or you can be dove. Doves seek friendship and try to find areas of common interests between disparate groups with competing goals. Hawks can do nothing but attack, and they are constantly looking for enemies that they can define themselves against.
In real life (or business) you have to be able to play both roles. Game theory has shown that the best approach is to always start by being a dove, and when possible parry off (or just ignore) slight attacks. The advantages you achieve by working together with those around you offset any small attacks you may incur by being so open. But, when truly attacked you have no choice but to turn into a hawk. So the best strategy is really a blended one. It's be a dove most of the time, and a hawk only when necessary.
So what does this have to do with interactive marketing? Simple. Imagine your company is being insulted by an aggrieved colleague somewhere online, how should you respond? Well according to game theory it's always best to start by being a dove. Reach out, parry off any insults and listen to their complaint. If it's something that can be resolved, it's always easier to resolve it than to argue.
But, what if that doesn't work? What if the person is so intrinsically angry that reasoning with them isn't an option. Well, then one has to assess the damage that's being incurred. Most people who are upset have very little credibility. Their anger impedes their ability to think rationally. And that's usually quite apparent in their rants. In those cases, it's better to ignore than to argue. But, sometimes you have to respond. In these cases it's usually best to shed as much light on the situation as possible. Does the person attacking have a personal vendetta that's motivating them (ex-employee, ex-vendor, or ex-wife?)? If so, you can undermine their credibility by providing proper context. People tend not to believe the complaints of people motivated by revenge. If they're not credible, then the story won't spread and the damage is contained.
The problem with a lot of marketing is that it tries to say too much, and it ends up saying nothing. Good marketers figure out which market is uncontested and which aspect of their brand story is the most compelling to the market. Then they create simple messages that communicate their brand story, and embed those messages in the minds of their potential customers.
Most marketing literature over the last four decades revolves around this single topic. Al Ries & Jack Trout called it Positioning. Seth Godin referred to it as the Purple Cow. The Harvard Business School said it's not marketing 101, it's advanced business strategy and they rebranded it the Blue Ocean Strategy. The HBS even created matrices and strategic frameworks (complete with acronyms) to make Blue Ocean Strategy appeal more to analytical thinkers. But, these books pretty much all say the same thing. They say the key to growing your company is to find an uncontested market space, create a simple message that communicates that fact and own that market space in the mind of your consumers. And they're right. That's the secret to great marketing.
But, what makes marketing hard is that most companies aren't unique. There are always more "me too" companies than there are remarkable ones. And, unfortunately, if you're not a market leader or the first in your particular niche/space—you're a "me too" company.
So how does a "me too" company create great marketing? They have two choices. They can shift their strategy, focus on a corner of the market and become dominant in that space by identifying an aspect of the product that other companies are ignoring (AKA -- they can become remarkable, find a unique position, or identify a blue ocean). This is the Volvo method. When others car companies focused on fast/comfortable/fun. They focused on safe, and grew because of it.
The other option is to take advantage of new/emerging media and become dominant in that medium while the bigger competitors are slow to adopt. It's not a market opportunity, it's a media opportunity. This is the burma shave method. Burma Shave recognized in the 1920's that cars were playing a much bigger role in people's lives, and they took advantage of this new roadside medium with a campaign that placed a series of rhyming signs along all the major highways. Obviously, the same thing is happening today in all corners of the web (facebook/twitter etc). Those that are the first to take advantage of the opportunities win. Companies that leverage the web have huge a advantage over their competitors.
The secret to great marketing isn't really a secret. So, whether you decide to become a purple cow, own a unique position, or sail to a non-competitive blue ocean—all you're really doing is finding a marketing opportunity and taking advantage of it.
There is always a risk in changing. Sometimes it's possible to measure the risk and calculate the value of taking or leaving it, but sometimes changes are made in the dark-- the risks are unmeasurable or unknown. At the heart of all customer, fan, and audience reactions are a slew of stored up emotions, expectations, and desires. Psychology can be a useful tool in marketing, but unfortunately psychology cannot ascertain the future or perfectly predict the predictably irrational human psyche.
In the world of interactive marketing, the hubs of conversation are most definitely not agency blogs. For all of the talk about embracing web culture, understanding content creation, and taking the dive into social media, there is a gaping lack of collaboration and interaction between digital agencies. We're creative folks with our minds on big things. We understand the new economy, the new technology,
and the precise future of advertising. We understand pretty much everything except how to take our critical lens off of our clients and off of media to reexamine ourselves.
The lack of interaction on agency blogs is appalling: no guest posts, rarely @replies on Twitter, and, not surprisingly, a lack of comments on posts. Most of the posts on agency blogs are vain attempts at gaining thought leadership. Of course, very little is actually gained. When a thousand arms reach for the pie in the sky, no one gets very much.