The Golden Rule of Marketing: Recognize unto others

Instead of shouting, “look at us,” your message should be, “look at them”

Guest Wisdom by Rich Polt

(originally published alongside Paul Riecks’ column for the July/August 2014 issue)TL_Rich_Polt_feature

I’m about to distill my entire 20-year public relations and communications career into a single piece of advice. This is the essence of everything I’ve learned and experienced. Get ready, it’s quick: Use your marketing resources to recognize the people that make a difference to you.

It’s a deceptively simple sentence, just 14 words. But realize that this short sentiment is loaded with meaning. To be clear, I am suggesting no matter how large, small or nonexistent your marketing resources are, you can and will benefit by purposefully spotlighting individuals who are essential to your existence.

Who are the individuals that make a difference to you? Employees, customers, volunteers, community partners and prospects. How do you recognize them? Do it through advertising, social media, public relations, content marketing or even billboards. For the moment, the tactics and the specifics of the matter are a secondary concern.

A friend recently told me there are two kinds of people: the ones who walk into a social situation and boldly declare, “Here I am!” and the ones who declare, “There you are!” Both attendees draw the attention of the crowd, but for very different reasons.

Whether you’re an individual at a party or a business fighting for customers in a crowded marketplace, recognizing other people communicates partnership, trust and gratitude. Self-interest is no longer the obvious driver, so your audience perceives it as more genuine. In this era of corporate citizenship and social interaction, allocating marketing resources to recognize others says more about the kind of business you are than any self-promoting campaign ever could.

The fact that recognition works as a marketing strategy (and companies are starting to embrace it) should come as no surprise. Employee recognition programs have been a mainstay in corporate HR departments for decades. In the customer service realm, we strive to create personalized touchpoints, like when we recognize a customer’s birthday. Sales professionals have long understood that success comes from asking questions and recognizing prospects’ pain points. But marketing and PR have been relatively late to the party, and shout, “Here I am!” upon arrival. All things being equal, marketing professionals (particularly those who cut their teeth in the pre-internet days) have difficulty using their marketing real estate and budget to focus attention elsewhere.

To be clear, I am not placing a value statement on either approach. Sometimes we need to self-promote, if only to let people know that we exist. Rest assured it is quite possible to assert the “here I am” approach in a convincing, memorable and respectful manner. However, when given the option to proactively shine the spotlight on someone else, a business has an opportunity to build its own brand, while strengthening its relationships with key constituents. That’s a strategy that yields many positive dividends.

The size of your marketing budget is irrelevant for practicing the principle of recognition; we are always marketing ourselves and our organizations. We’re marketing at networking events, in our press releases, on our websites and in our collateral material. We’re marketing with ads, advertorials, Facebook posts and tweets. Here are some ways you can practice recognition in your marketing to build brand, engage constituents and create communities.

Launch a campaign to recognize people who embody your values. Every business has a target audience — the folks who are predisposed to consuming your products or services. We define our target audiences in many ways: age, sex, ethnicity, income level, even their psychographic make-up. Increasingly, both for-profit businesses and nonprofits build marketing campaigns around individuals who embody their audiences. Notice in the following examples that the ads don’t actually talk about how these people use the advertisers’ products, but instead zero in on what’s important to the people they’re featuring.

  • Buick sponsored content in the May 2012 issue of Marie Claire, featuring real women doing real good. According to an advertising manager for GM, “We’re about being approachable, so we’re looking for real people that the readers can identify with and not so much the celebrity who makes millions of dollars.”
  • California-based Montage Hotels & Resorts celebrated its 10th anniversary and its commitment to making a difference in the lives of its customers by recognizing five young humanitarians (and gifting them $10,000 each toward their efforts).
  • The Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore periodically showcases Champions Profiles, “regional rock stars who are … making a difference in business, education, government and in our community.” 

Recognize the people you want in your circle. Similar to the examples above, other businesses recognize people who will likely benefit from their services, but in providing them with a platform for recognition, they are building their community and consumer base from the ground up.

TED is a prime example. What is now a multimedia empire consisting of brilliant thought leadership events and content began as a single annual conference. Today, it has spawned global offshoots, a successful franchise (TEDx) and an online content empire. All by giving people a platform to share their “ideas worth spreading.”

Rich Polt is principal of the Public Recognition consultancy Communicate GOOD, and founder of Talking GOOD, a global community that recognizes people who are making a difference.

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