White Knights Need Not Apply

If you read the blog regularly, you know I still have a love for the world of integrated communications agencies.   I enjoyed my time in them tremendously and luckily, with Nucleus, I still get to interact with agency folks quite a bit which is great.

However, the other day I was reading about Dell’s troubles and it reminded me of a miserable experience I had with an agency that was actually pitching Dell albeit several years ago. I feel okay writing about it now because the agency is no longer in business. They were a well-known, larger independent in their day but let me tell you, after working with them, these guys put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional.   I remember being in some awful new business “war room” sessions with people jockeying for position in front of the agency leadership, saying the same thing as someone else, complaining, belittling each other, etc.   In one of the meetings, one of the over-stressed, under-balanced staffers screamed (talking at abnormal volume seemed to be a regular occurrence around there) that we desperately lacked information about Dell’s customers’ pain points!! Pain points. One of those expressions you only hear in agencies (and in acupuncturist offices).   However, it wasn’t the first time I had encountered this heroic mindset.

I had done some work with another agency and was given their strategy brief template. One of the key questions was, “What problem are we trying to solve?” Call me crazy but this whole approach is just counter-intuitive to me. Believe it or not, consumers aren’t typically out in the streets clamoring for brands to solve their problems. No one is looking on craigslist for “White Knight For Hire. Fiery Steed Included.” (Bonus points to you if you catch the Footloose soundtrack reference there). To me, it sets up a formulaic, problem-solution type of communications approach where the brand sweeps in to save the day, preventing certain doom and destruction.

When I was in college, there was a perhaps well-intentioned but over-zealous student religious group on campus that eventually was asked by the administration to cease its operations. Their tactic was similar. They’d approach you on your way to class and usually outnumber you two or three to one. They’d ask you a bunch of questions about your life and start to find lots of problems and holes for you and then guess what would fill that void you didn’t know you had? Membership in their cult.

No one likes to be made to feel like that, whether you’re trying to save souls or make sales. So stop trying to be the hero and get over yourself. It won’t win you the Dell business or make you many friends for that matter.

Nucleus Marketing Lab is a confederation of marketing thinkers collaborating as a hybrid account planning, research, insights and ideation consultancy. The firm’s fundamentally simple mission is to leave clients smarter, more informed or more enlightened at the end of an engagement than they were at the beginning. Nucleus has worked with clients large and small in industries that include retail, restaurants, electronics, apparel, consumer packaged goods, medical devices, real estate, financial services, tourism, healthcare and more. The Lab was founded by Steve Bast in 2005 after a career in marketing that included time as a Planning Director, Marketing Director and academic.