The statesman, the lawyer and the marketer

There aren’t so many statesmen. People who speak truth to power. Leaders who describe what they see, whether or not it serves their short-term interests. They say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done, as long as it serves the long-term needs of their constituents. No wonder we like them so much.

Lawyers are sworn to be advocates. It’s their duty. They take a side and they argue it. They’re not supposed to tell the truth, they’re supposed to argue a point of view.

Guess who has a better reputation?

Which leads us to marketers. Have you noticed that most of us act like lawyers?

Perhaps, just perhaps, someone would be better off with a competitor’s product instead of yours. Or perhaps the world doesn’t really need what your factory just rolled out. If you’re a lobbyist, it’s hard to act like a statesman and keep your job. Or if you’re a pharmaceutical sales rep. Or a PR firm. Or a brand manager at a software company.

Marketing culture has become a culture of lawyers. Apparently, marketers are now advocates sworn to argue on behalf of a client.

This attitude leads to spam (hey, it’s not against the law and it helps my client) and to dicey product claims and to awful side effects like obesity, shoddy products and massive debt. If your job is to represent a product and ensure its short-term sales, that’s exactly what you’re sworn to do.

I believe that anyone, regardless of situation, deserves the best possible lawyer. Our advocacy-based justice system depends on it. But does every product, service and organization deserve the best possible marketer?

What happens when marketers stop arguing on behalf of their corporate or organizational client and start arguing on behalf of the customer instead? What happens when marketers become statesmen?

This is a very practical hypothetical question I’m asking.

When a sales rep says, "You know, after hearing your situation, I think you’d be a lot better off with my competitor’s product instead, here’s her number," it actually creates positive word of mouth and long-term growth. When a brand manager says to the product development people, "I’m not proud of this design, we’re not going to market it, so you better make something else," it actually creates market share growth. And when a CEO says to Congress, "Our industry relies on chemical X and we’re going to keep using it as long as our competitors do, so please ban it," she creates a long-term path to stability and growth.

The lawyer works with constituents who fully expect him to be an advocate. The judge, the clients and the jury (hopefully) understand that he is making a case, not telling the truth.

Marketers work in a different world. As marketing has transformed from a specialized subset of business to a ubiquitous element of society, marketers still have the chance to be believed. But trust belongs to statesmen, not lawyers. People don’t say, "I trust her, she’s the lawyer for the other side."

The real question, I guess, is this: who’s your client?