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More is Better. Or Not.

by Steve Woodruff  |  
June 3, 2009

The industry I work most closely with, pharmaceuticals, is being forced to question its sales model. Over the years, pharma focused on "reach & frequency" - more sales reps repeating the brand message more times to more doctors. This led to an arms race among pharma companies, fielding ever-larger sales forces, and also created a backlash in the marketplace. A growing number of institutions and doctors won't even see drug reps anymore.

R&F - Reach and Frequency - does work up to a point. In fact, huge swaths of traditional marketing approaches have relied on this method. And that is why, once social media appeared more prominently on the radar screen, a growing number of marketers (and spammers) have jumped on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other channels as means to pump out one-way messages to a growing audience.
repeat.jpgSome well-known folks on Twitter - such as Guy Kawasaki - openly embrace this model, using social tools to reach an ever-larger audience with frequent messages (although in Guy's case, he does actually interact with people on-line).
Those of us who are active in social networking tend to decry this development - the commercialization of what started off as a peer-to-peer approach to communications - but the fact is, we're not going to be able to stop it entirely. Brands will promote. Celebrities will blab. Spammers will annoy.
Instead, let's concentrate on not getting sucked into the R&F model. Yes, it is potentially a good thing to have a large number of followers/readers/connections on social platforms, but there's a mentality to avoid - a mentality that sees people as means to an end. That's the traditional marketing and selling model, and whether your goal is to extract dollars from wallets or collect names as followers, it's all the same - people as objects to be manipulated.
I hope that people won't be turned off to social networking because it has devolved into another reach & frequency method of self-promotion and manipulation. It's easy to see through that, and, like many healthcare professionals, simply shut the door. Let's continue to encourage people to enjoy peer-to-peer networking, and patiently instruct newcomers (individuals and businesses) about Authenticity-Based Communications (the A-B C's of social media).
The first enthusiastic flush of social media newness and idealism is rapidly passing by. It's time to settle in for the long haul. I'm in - are you?
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Steve Woodruff is the world's only Clarity Therapist. He connects people with their purpose, their message, and with other people in order to create new business opportunities. He writes at the

Steve is an unusual hybrid of conceptualizer, strategist, marketer, analyst, wordsmith, semi-techie, and all-around decent fellow, except when there's bad coffee or lousy wine.

Steve can also be found on Twitter, LinkedIn.

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  • by C.B. Whittemore Wed Jun 3, 2009 via blog

    Steve, I'm definitely in for the long haul! Your post makes interesting points about these new tools, ones that I've been grappling with. How does a tool like Twitter continue to offer value when R&F clutter the communications? It will have to evolve so users can benefit from relevance. Otherwise, the meaningful conversations will migrate elsewhere. Methinks the long haul will be very interesting indeed!

  • by Beth Harte Wed Jun 3, 2009 via blog

    Steve, I totally agree with you and C.B., it's about the long-haul. Way back when, 1-to-1 marketing was all the buzz, but it was more about using a CRM system auspiciously while throwing in some variable printed direct mail ("Hi's our stuff"). [I know there's more to it than that, but we don't have all day...] Reach and frequency don't work when the doors are shut. And they can't be pushed open...but maybe, just maybe they can be slightly pulled open with some sincere conversation.

  • by Tom Martin Wed Jun 3, 2009 via blog

    Steve Couldn't agree more. Companies should focus on impacts not impressions. They'd see more success and spend fewer dollars IMHO. @TomMartin

  • by Steve Woodruff Wed Jun 3, 2009 via blog

    I think the big challenge will be filtering technologies and more sophisticated settings that will allow us to minimize the R&F "noise", and focus on the valuable "signal". It'll happen. Meantime, we just have to keep setting a good example and building valuable networks...

  • by Lewis Green Wed Jun 3, 2009 via blog

    Steve, You are right on target. I haven't been a "reach" advocate for two decades. It isn't about numbers nor frequency of communications. It is about the "right" numbers and quality communications that reach people where and how that want to be reached. Thanks for your smart post.

  • by John McTigue Thu Jun 4, 2009 via blog

    It's certainly true that social media is being exploited by a variety of parties to reach as many potential "buyers" as possible. I continue to be annoyed by all the affiliate marketers and their get-rich schemes, but I do have a choice. I don't have to follow their tweets, connect with them or befriend them, so there is that degree of control by each of us. Instead of trying to somehow contain or limit the R & F factor, we should focus on providing good, helpful content. Then it doesn't matter how big the reach becomes, because it's all good. I think consumers are catching on to this, and like me, they're becoming selective in the channels they listen to. There will always be noise, but if we focus on the signal, social media will only grow in value.

  • by Steve Woodruff Thu Jun 4, 2009 via blog

    @john - dead on. The opt-in aspect helps considerably. And the cream does rise to the top - the R&F exploiters will, I hope, just become a layer of sludge at the bottom of the tank!

  • by Elaine Fogel Thu Jun 4, 2009 via blog

    Agreed, Steve. However, if I can jump back to your comment on pharma... Do you think the cost of drugs would be more reasonable if pharma reps weren't paying for entire medical office lunches each day of the week? Just asking.

  • by Steve Woodruff Fri Jun 5, 2009 via blog

    Elaine, My hope is that a lot of those practices will go by the boards in time. I'd love to see serious reform his lobbyists and lawyers and politicians while we're at it...

  • by Leigh Rubio Wed Jun 10, 2009 via blog

    So true. It'll be interesting to see where platforms/tools like Twitter are in a few years. Who cares if you have thousands of people following you, if there's so much noise going on that they don't even read or care about the updates?

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