Thursday, September 10, 2009

Selling Ice in Newcastle and Coal to Eskimos (aka Knowing Your Audience)

There's several old sayings about trying to sell unwanted, oversupplied materials - coal to Newcastle or ice to Eskimos. The implication is that the market is already oversaturated with these items, and you're banging your head against the wall trying to move your goods into that market.

On the Internet, no one may know you're a dog, but they know you check out sites for dog food regularly. Where you go, how long you are there, what you do - all of that is tracked by any number of means. When a customer comes back to that same page offering premium dog biscuits for the third time, there's your opportunity to sell coals to Newcastle.

Despite the fact that demographics are long dead and the Internet is ruled by psychographics, marketers still insist on seeing their social media from a broadcast perspective. Get that message in front of enough people, regardless of the relevance, and surely someone in Newcastle will want your coal!

True story alert: My mother picked up the phone one day to find the man on the other side selling headstone-less graves. She let him tell her all about the advantages of not having a headstone and when he was done, went into a detailed rant about how all she'd ever wanted was a nice headstone for her grave and how dare he.

What makes this story funny is that, after the guy hung up on her, she called a friend who had just gotten off the phone with a guy selling cookbooks. The friend had launched into a tirade about how she was a world-class chef and how *dare* he.

My mother is not obsessed with the headstone on her grave and her friend is not a world-class chef. They were just in a mood that day. The point is, the telemarketers were throwing out the word about their products to anyone who would pick up the phone that day in the hopes that a small percentage of them would be interested in buying their goods.

As I have said repeatedly (and will continue to say,) many companies treat Social Media as if it is a media outlet for press releases or an advertising channel. In a sense, they are no better than those poor telemarketers trying to sell my Mom and her friend unwanted graves and books.

Yesterday on Twitter I received a Direct Message asking if I needed help with training at my company. I checked my Tweets and sure enough, there was no mention of training anywhere. Why would this person think I wanted training solutions when I don't have that problem?

Social Media provides an unprecendented chance to understand your audiences issues *before* you offer them options. Read their Tweets and look for patterns in their communications, search to see who is talking about the kinds of things you provide. If there's someone in Newcastle who actually needs coal and you have coal to sell, you don't have to make a fool of yourself asking the other 189,862 people that don't want it.

Using Social Media, its easier than ever to sell ice to Newcastle and coal to Eskimos. All you have to do is listen to what's being said, so you know your audience.
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