Virtue marketing

No one cares if you like kittens

It's surprising how many people, even senior marketing people, think that the way to convey the value of your product or service is to tell potential customers that you like kittens. In general, I tend to argue against the generation of kitten-related content--perhaps this has had a negative effect on my career.

Alex, I can't believe you hate me.

Alex, I can't believe you hate me.

Why? Do I hate kittens? Am I a monster? Or do I simply lack the  ability it takes to write effective kitten content?

It's not that I hate kittens (or world peace, or ending hunger, or diversity, or mitigating global warming). It's that I want to write content that addresses the customer's problems more, and those problems rarely involve kittens. In my personal life I am free to like, or not like, kittens as I wish.

When your potential customers read your  kitten-focused copy, they rarely think "hey, these guys care about kittens. What great folks. They must have products that are particularly useful to me." Did I say "rarely"? Make that "never".

Do we really think customers leave their critical faculties behind when we lead with our love of kittens? What do we do when we want to compare products or services, go to a corporate website, and have to wade through kitten photos, kitten stories, and photos of the employees holding kittens? We skip over them, the way we skip over anything not of immediate value to us.

There is nothing wrong or immoral about providing a useful, valuable product or service to the market, and telling people about its benefits. That doesn't make you awful, it doesn't make you greedy, it doesn't make you uncaring. It makes you someone who is creating something valuable to other people.

Still, you will always have the sneaking suspicion that everyone else is saving the world and loving kittens while you tediously create software or kitchen tools or event planning.

Get over it.

There are two reasons you should. One, there certainly are other people doing self-sacrificing things that help others in incredible ways, but they are not participants in your market, have little or nothing to do with your marketing problem, and are not you. Two, marketing people tend to be both lazy and risk-averse, and putting a picture of a kitten in a blog post is way easier than doing all that hard research, thought, and message creation that will really convey your value to your potential customer, and has the additional benefit that its effectiveness cannot be measured.

I shouldn't have to say this, but just to be sure, I DON'T HATE KITTENS. Or people who are refugees, or homeless, or suffering domestic abuse, or discriminated against, or unemployed. All of those issues deserve our attention and care. I just think that resorting to proclamations of your own virtue is an easy default for a business, and demonstration of actual value is a hard path to follow. The appearance of virtue all too often stands in for a quite different reality.

There is no shame in demonstrating your value. Follow the hard path, and close your ears to the plaintive mew of the kittens your marketing people want to bring you.