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“Punk Marketing” – a Q&A with author Richard Laermer

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip May 3, 2007

When the exceptions outnumber the rules of marketing, it’s time to “Go Punk.” Richard Laermer is co-author of the new bestseller Punk Marketing: Get Off Your Ass and Join the Revolution

. Laermer is also head of

RLM Public Relations, a top PR firm based in LA and New York. More info about the book is available here.

Listen to the full 25-minute audio interview (what follows is only an abbreviated transcript):

Richard, what led you to “Punk Marketing”?

We asked why it is that everybody we know in marketing is unhappy. Well, maybe it’s because they’re just doing what they’re told to do rather than what works. So we put together this book which is a manifesto on everything you should be doing to realize that the customers are in control, that basically “anything goes” in marketing if it knocks customers off balance and engages them.

As a marketer, you must break through the clutter, and if you do it well and bring creativity into it and you don’t just scream out at who you’re selling to, then you can actually win.

What is “Punk Marketing,” exactly?

Nowadays everybody who buys something is completely aware of everything an advertiser is doing. So how do you build brand recognition and reach this group of people who create their own entertainment; their own content, and who don’t need an intermediary?

In our Punk Marketing Manifesto we talk about all these great ways to jump out and stand above anybody who’s competing against you. One of the ways, of course, is by doing something not only totally unexpected and gigantic, but something that actually makes people think about your brand.

Everybody talks about user-generated content and how it’s so important to have a video. But most of that is clutter unless it actually gives somebody something to think about. In the Doritos Super Bowl ad, that was just a lot of people’s videos. That was a waste of money because nothing about those ads said anything new or interesting about Doritos.

Contrast that with Apple. They get people buying songs and iPods and machines because everybody wants to be a part of this “thing” they developed.

When consumers take over the content and you’re in the business of connecting advertisers with listeners via advertising, as radio stations are, what do you do?

I was on a Chicago station the other day talking about this and they were saying, “Well, we really want to connect with our listeners in a way that isn’t just another contest.” So I suggested that they find somebody with a big garage, some regular guy, and just do their show from that garage and invite everybody over from the neighborhood and have some fun with it. Have people bring things like a bake sale and talk about it on the air. Or, invite people over to do a local talent show, whatever. Just have some fun with it.

Because the truth is that listeners wants to be involved. Consumers want to have their say. But most marketers don’t realize that the era of telling everybody how great you are and how cool you are and how cheap you are is over because people already know it.

Here’s one of your manifesto points, Article 11, “Know Who You Are.” How often do you find brands who don’t know who they are?

Most brands don’t know who they are these days. They just put it out there. It’s a like a thought bubble of a brand. “Hmm, maybe this’ll work.”

Article 1 is “Avoid Risk and Die.” But for a lot of companies, certainly a lot of radio companies, risk is something to be minimized.

Yeah, I know. I hear that every day. The truth of the matter is that so many media companies are finding themselves in the crosshairs of tremendous competition where you have to be courageous and stand up and say, “This is our differentiation and we’ll do whatever it is we can do to prove our value.”

If you don’t do something that is completely and utterly “out there,” then you’ve put yourself in the awkward position of eventually failing, because the people who are going to be buying from you are looking for you to be a kind of offshoot of what they expect from you. Because as we always say, “In times of change,” like this one, “the greatest risk is to take none at all.”

Article 3 is “Take a Strong Stand.” It occurred to me that a strong stand and a strong stand that matters might be two different things.

Yeah, a strong stand that matters is important because you can just stand up and shout and scream – and who cares? The political candidates do that every day and they’re not really saying anything.

Let’s say a radio station has an incredible mix of music. That’s not a strong stand, it’s just pandering. It doesn’t really mean anything. It’s jargon. Broadcasters will talk about it in conference rooms, but it doesn’t really say anything to the audience. “Greatest mix.” What does that mean? Yes, I get it. I know what it means. But what are we talking about? If you’re trying to be all things to everyone, that inevitably results in being of little interest to just about anybody.

Understand this about “the greatest mix”: You can’t be the “greatest,” you can’t be the “best.” You’ve got to really make your differentiation obvious.

Article 12 is “No More Marketing Bullshit.” What do you mean by that?

You have to get to the point. You have to express it clearly. As Einstein said, “things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”

What do you say to the radio manager who says, “Look, all of this sounds like it requires a lot of effort and expense to be Punk. We can’t justify that. That’s not how we’re going to maximize our margins”?

Well, we’re finding in our case studies that much of Punk Marketing costs very little, that if you do it right you’re actually saving tons of money.

When people say they don’t have money I laugh because I see the money that they’re wasting on things that aren’t working.

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