Are You an Accidental Marketer? The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

GOOD:  I recently read an article about ‘accidental marketing’ describing serendipitous moments when we ‘sell’ our product/service without having really planned it.  In this case, it was a nonprofit staff member (let’s call him Joe), who went out to pick up some donated furniture.  Joe accidentally knocked on the wrong door.  In explaining to the neighbor who he was/why he was there, Joe was so passionate in speaking about his organization that the neighbor made a donation.  Talk about a good elevator pitch! Serendipity, however, can be squandered unless we give it a boost.
            Marketing Take-Away: Plan ahead to take advantage of serendipity.  Joe’s organization had a culture of philanthropy and customer service where every single person on staff lived and breathed the mission.  They had trained all their staff to create a great customer experience and deliver a good elevator pitch. They worked collaboratively, rather than in silos. Joe knew a lot about the organization’s work and its impact in the community.  He was proud of this.  He wasn’t just a pick-up/delivery guy in that moment. He was much, much more. Purposefully assure your entire staff are mission-based marketers.
BAD:  When we use a tool, get great results by ‘accident’, and then ascribe those results to use of the tool, we’re in dangerous territoryTools are only tools. They’re the ‘how’ of marketing and not the means to an end (the ‘what’ and ‘why’).  If we don’t think carefully about what we want to accomplish with our tools, we’ll end up with something that looks like an accident. As in train wreck.  Here’s an accidental marketing example from Bryan Eisenberg, written over a decade ago, that’s surprisingly still applicable. 


It’s frightening to watch people get all excited about new technology that allows them to perform miracles and then track the results of their miracles with thousands of metrics — when those miracles have little or nothing to do with actually converting traffic or closing a sale… So what’s wrong with the greatest and latest marketing tools? Nothing at all … However… picture the following scenario. You and I decide to get into the entertainment business, perhaps making movies, since I hear you can make big money from it. We find some investors, buy some great real estate for the studio, buy all the latest equipment, negotiate awesome distribution deals, contract with some high-priced talent (how about Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts — let’s not spare a dime), then spend like mad on advertising for a movie about… how wall paint dries differently in different climates. Can you imagine how unsuccessful we would be?
            Marketing Take-Away: Plan to provide value that will satisfy your constituents’ desires.    You can’t just apply a tool and hope against hope that, by accident, the tool will deliver the right product. Posting any old thing to your Facebook page will not create engagement. You don’t get points just for using the tool (unless you get lucky). Hopefully we’re operating on more than a kiss and a prayer. Use strategic planning tools and research to determine what folks find value in. Define the ways you provide this better than your competitors. Never lose sight of the consumer perspective. Purposefully promote the benefits (not the features) that satisfy your constituents’ desires/needs.
UGLY:  Ugly marketing occurs when you just don’t give a d—m. In this ‘accidental marketing’ article we learn from Elizabeth Kraus about businesses that insist marketing is simply a by-product… an unplanned, word-of-mouth activity – that presumes that what you’re doing is so awesome people will just come to you. This is like thinking folks will buy all that stuff in your garage even if you don’t plan a garage sale.  Or like thinking folks will donate to you even though you never ask for a gift. As the author so aptly describes:
To give you an idea of how effective it is as business strategy let me ask: Would you do accidental bookkeeping, hoping customers would remember to pay you (and would pay you the right amount) without giving them a bill? Accidental accounting? Accidental tax reporting? Would you provide services to your clients by accident – without consultation, without education and without strategy? 
An even uglier form of accidental marketing is described in Kivi Leroux Miller’s blog post about the accidental rebranding of the Komen Foundation.   It’s about what happens when you don’t plan ahead for how you’ll communicate.
            Marketing Take-Away:  Be intentional in your marketing communications approach.  Believe in its value, put resources into its planning and execution and integrate it into all that you do. Why?  Because a good product/service is a terrible thing to waste. Elizabeth Kraus wrote a book, 365 Days of Marketing, filled with tips about how to incorporate marketing into your business model in simple steps.  If more people could benefit from what you do, it’s your responsibility to purposefully assure this comes to pass.
Do you have examples of good or bad marketing accidents to share? 
Have you ever ‘outfoxed’ yourself with lack thereof marketing?

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Good reading, very informative. thanks!

  2. Dearest Anon,
    You are most welcome!

  3. Thank you! I will be recommending your blog to my students.


  4. Thanks so much Mariana. I'm touched. Do let me know if there are other areas on which you'd like to see future posts. And please encourage your students to comment and join the discussion. I endeavor to respond to all comments. 😉

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