Let’s put on a show

That’s what professional marketers do. They put on a show, on purpose.

There are plenty of naive marketers who are quite (accidentally) successful. My friend Al Yeganeh ("no soup for you!") didn’t treat customers at his soup stand the way he did as a marketing ploy. It’s just who he was. He was a naive marketer, not a professional one. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Most artists are naive marketers).

The show can be overt (like Cirque de Soleil) or quite subtle (like the music of chirping birds played outdoors at Epcot). But professionals know that they’re putting on a show and do it on purpose. Big company CEOs put the show on for guests and investors and underlings. It usually involves lots of assistants and waiting around. Sometimes, as Andy Grove demonstrated, the show involves sitting in a cubicle just like everyone else. Hiring HR people put on the show too.

If I parodied your show, your brand show or your personal show, would people recognize it? Could I spoof you on Seinfeld or imitate you if I were Rich Little?

The buying department at WalMart is one big show, with tiny cubicles and all sorts of rules of engagement. And of course the TSA is nothing but security theatre.

If you had a budget for props, what would you buy? What about costumes?

Your resume might put on a show, and perhaps you put one on at work. Kevin at Digg puts on a show, and does Carly Fiorina and every successful politician you’ve ever met. Some people insist that they’re not putting on a show. That’s a show too, of course.

If you can live the role, really be in it, and be transparent about your motivations, putting on a show is productive and highly leveraged. If you work in customer service, marketing yourself as friendly (and being friendly!) is far more effective than just acting however you feel in any given moment, isn’t it? That’s because, if you’re good at it, you realize that becoming a friendly customer service marketer is exactly what you need to do. Not pretend to be friendly, actually be friendly.

On the other hand, even if you’re a professional marketer, if your show is cynical or manipulative, it’s going to fall apart on you. Even Marlon Brando couldn’t live the show all the time if he didn’t believe it.

The difference between a professional and a naive marketer is that the professional can put on a different show in her next job, or for her next brand. Al Yeganeh, on the other hand, can only sell soup.

The difference between a company that makes stuff and a company that markets is that the latter is conscious of the fact that the market demands a show. So they put one on, on purpose, the best they can.

The next time you build a trade show booth or answer the phone or write an email, take a moment to think a little bit about the show.