Friday, March 18, 2005

Advice to Karen Hughes

Karen ...

Selling America isn't as easy as selling W. Allow me to offer a few pointers from the perspective of a relationship marketer.

Americans believe that information – massaged, spun, branded, amplified and put to music – can solve almost everything. Information is our currency. We believe the more we know, the more we can fix things from the economy to the social order to who runs the country.

We also assume that to know us is to love us. But this is self delusion. Our friends, our allies and even our enemies already know us. What we think, how we look, what we want and how we act are on display every minute of every day for the entire planet to see.

Our story doesn't delight everyone. Knowing us provokes fear, envy and disgust among traditional societies. If anything our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for men and women and W's fervor for "democracy" is a threatening and destabilizing concept to the leaders of fundamentalist cultures.

The people we seek to persuade think very differently that we do about time and constructive support. Americans believe in quick fixes. It's a given that with the right attitude, the right resources and the right brain power anything can be fixed, solved or changed quickly. We are a culture of 30-second gratification. Our audiences are not. In fact, they have the patience to wait centuries and to endure countless humiliations in search of desired results. Don’t expect too many quick wins.

Our friends, allies and enemies know the richness of our people, our spirit, our land and our resources. And they know how we have wielded these assets as sticks and carrots. They want to share in our prosperity. They want to benefit from our largesse. They have seen how quickly and generously we can mobilize in the case of the recent tsunami. But they also know that when it comes to Uncle Sam, there’s no free lunch. Our outreach effort has to incorporate the needs, hopes and practical politics of our target audiences. It probably wouldn't hurt if we didn't lie to them as often or held the same POV for more than six months at a time.

Let’s not pretend that snappy ads, exotic billboards or famous spokespeople will breakthrough to the imams, the mullahs and the tribal chieftains we seek to influence. Those we need to persuade are very sophisticated media users with highly tuned filters to cope with state-controlled media, countless broken promises and over-the-top global consumer claims.

We who preach the gospel of a consumer driven market, must let the consumers drive our messaging and marketing strategy. We have to listen and respond rather than preach and teach. We need to understand how America is perceived from the outside looking in then craft strategies to use that perspective to engage the ambivalent and the hostile.

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