You may have more in common with Gwyneth Paltrow than you think. And not in a good way.
Yes, oops, she did it again. Headlines like CNN’s “Gwyneth Paltrow Makes People Mad — Again” are blaring, and even a Green Beret vet has entered the fray with a scathing reprimand. He and others are offended by a recent interview during which people perceive she was comparing online insults aimed at her to the ravages of war. The was an uproar over this, even though business people and many others use war analogies every day. Before that people were annoyed, because they perceived she was saying her career as a movie star is more arduous than a regular “office job.” She again attracted a rash of criticism for the way she went about announcing her pending divorce from Chris Martin. Meanwhile, she is genuinely perplexed and frustrated by all of the hoopla. And her faux pas seem relatively harmless compared to the tangible damage done by some celebrities. Why do people find her so annoying? Why was she recently voted most hated celebrity?
Looking at this through a marketer’s lense, “perception” is the pivotal word. Apparently, the very people she markets to perceive that she is out of touch. They see her as pretentious and oblivious to what life in the real world is like for the average woman. She may be completely tuned into what they go through, but perception is reality through the eyes of the market. Via her lifestyle blog and site, Goop, her goal is to “help her readers save time, simplify and feel inspired.” Rather than feel inspired, many of these readers, judging from online commentary, merely roll their eyes at the $185 faded cutoff denim shorts, $163 t-shirts, and recipes calling for sea urchin tongues and Maldon sea salt, and tune out. Wearing their best discounted TJ Maxx attire, they feel lucky if they get from work to the day care center before closing time. A successful dinner is mac and cheese from a box and maybe a canned vegetable.
President George Bush, Sr. can relate to Gwyneth’s plight. In the midst of a recession and his reelection campaign in early 1992, he toured exhibits at the National Grocers Association convention, and his enthusiastic reaction to bar code scanners became a symbol for how seemingly out of touch he was with life for the average American. It didn’t matter whether the incident was fact or fiction. The story resonated with the public and became a defining moment in his reelection bid and ultimate loss to Bill Clinton, who campaigned on “It’s the Economy, stupid.”
Are you guilty of being out of touch with life in the real world of your clients?
Like the Gwyneth “haters” and 1992 electorate, company executives often express their own flavor of open disdain — it’s aimed at the likes of management consultants, enterprise software companies, and other service and technology providers for how out of touch they are, and it’s no wonder. I remember being a young consultant at a large provider with a reputation for arrogance, only to see it was rooted in reality when I heard my colleagues mock the illogical and inefficient processes at client companies. It would have taken just one day in their client’s shoes to realize how those byzantine processes had evolved to where they were and why it was difficult to change them. The attitude in some places is that “clients are stupid, and we’re here to save them. We’re so smart.”
How often have you been guilty of this, even just a little? Check yourself. It’s a slippery slope. And clients hate it. This is one reason I’ve periodically gone to the other side – joined a company either outright or as a virtual CMO – to get a good strong dose of hard reality. It’s incredibly humbling. There is a huge difference between being on the outside and spouting advice and wisdom vs. being on the inside trying to do your regular job, navigate politics and deal with the myriad other tasks and responsibilities that get thrown your way. And of course, reality is never as clean as theory. A technology, process, strategy or marketing approach (including the Apollo Method) can sound so clean and easy on paper. But trying to implement these in the midst of the unpredictable, ever-changing chaos that your clients live every day is quite another task.
If you find your company being bashed in the press or receiving what you feel is undue criticism from clients; if, like Gwyneth, you or the company often feel misunderstood, maybe it’s time for a reality check.
Remember: Stay in touch.