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Culture of Arrogance vs. Culture of Ignorance

March 5, 2008

This being election season, I suppose it’s inevitable that we’ll see politics infecting every conversation, including those on real estate and marketing. As a fairly longtime veteran of the political blogosphere, I want to keep the focus just on real estate, marketing and technology. But this has to be addressed, because I fear that we’ll draw all the wrong conclusions from it.

Pat Kitano at TransparentRE quotes a Huffington Post article with approval, suggesting that there is a culture clash coming in real estate between a culture of arrogance and a culture of collaboration. Mark Lesswing at the Center for Realtor Technology picked up on the idea and expanded it to talk about Persona 1 vs. Persona 2, etc.

Pat drew a nice chart entitled Culture 1.0 and Culture 2.0 that you really do want to take a look at fully. But let me delve into a couple of examples.

Methodology Microtrend messaging – create separate campaigns for different constituencies and hope contradictory messaging isn’t exposed. This is “politics as usual”. Macrotrend messaging – develop unified messaging to the masses. Stay on an unwavering course builds a platform of integrity.

So “Culture 1.0” is the highly targeted demographically-aware data-driven marketing that not one real estate organization has mastered to date? But “Culture 2.0” is unified messaging to the masses, otherwise known as Mass Media?

I think Pat is much smarter than this; it must be the blinding cult of personality surrounding His Obamaness that is affecting him. Considering the recent Hillary victories, it appears to me that the boisterous proclamations about the Obama-method were a bit premature. Maybe that old Culture of Arrogance is alive and well after all.

Here’s how I, a supporter of neither St. Hillary nor His Obamaness, would classify things.

Hillary’s “Culture 1.0” methodology is pre-cluetrain last-generation database marketing. Let’s dissect the audience, spot microtrends and microgroups, BUT never tell them the truth. No Interest Group Left Behind, but none of them truly knows what Hillary thinks or stands for, because she’s trying to be Everywoman to Everybody, triangulating like mad. Is she going to stay in Iraq? Or pull out? Is she pro-business or no? Is she actually religious or just mouthing empty words? It all depends on your particular “microtrend” and what you need to hear in order to buy the product. This is more or less the definition of database marketing.

In contrast, Obama’s “Culture 2.0” methodology turns out to be Mass Media Communication, of the variety invented sometime in the 50’s with the advent of television. His is a throwback campaign, to John F. Kennedy’s, but without the substance. It’s a pure cult of personality, long on style and rhetoric but entirely empty of actual policies, actual ideas, actual answers. Witness the recent amateur hour on what he really meant about NAFTA or not… or maybe… oh but I had no idea. Come on. And then there’s “I’ll invade Pakistan” kerfuffle. Long on style, short on substance. That’s almost the definition of TV advertising.

And in contrast to both of them, McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” campaign turns out to be cluetrain-empowered. Well, as cluetrained as politicians can be, considering their whole modus operandi is to be flexible with the concept of truth. Conservatives despise McCain for a number of his positions, but they can’t accuse the man of peddling a bunch of bullshit. They can think he’s an idiot for McCain-Feingold or think he’s a traitor for McCain-Kennedy, but they can’t say he isn’t sincere. Unlike either of his opponents, people know where McCain stands on issues like Iraq. Neither glamorous nor micro-targeted, McCain is just trying to be McCain — that cantankerous, maverick, American hero — and letting the people decide for themselves. This is more or less the definition of cluetrain marketing: markets (and voters) are conversations.

But enough of politics. Let’s apply this to marketing.

The danger of embracing tags like “Culture of Arrogance” is that the opposite is not the “Culture of Openness” but the “Culture of Ignorance”. It’s fine and dandy to talk about leveraging existing “macrotrends” and grassroots marketing and so forth, but at the end of the day, you either know how house values are assessed for tax purposes, or you don’t. You either know that rainwater drains towards the house from the hills behind it, or you don’t. You either know how to value a home for sale, or you don’t. You’re either an expert, or you’re not.

This whole “Let’s work together” approach is wonderful, but let’s face facts here. The only reason why I’d want to work together with a real estate agent is if he or she knows shit that I don’t. If she knows as much (or as little) as I do about the market, about the neighborhood, about the house, about zoning regulations, tax rates, school quality, etc. etc. — then why bother? Just because I need another ignorant opinion? Because I’m just itching to give away 6% of the sale price?

No thanks.

Even in the Cluetrain world, there is a value to expertise. It would be extreme folly to believe otherwise.

The challenge frankly isn’t to make the jump from the so-called Culture of Arrogance to a Culture of Collaboration. The challenge is to go from Culture of Arrogance to Culture of Conversation — conversation in which one side is an expert, does know things the other does not, and is not going to take advantage of that fact to peddle some weakass bulltwaddle. Not triangulation and obfuscation, but honesty and authenticity, rooted in expert knowledge and experience.

At the end of the day, the American people want to elect someone they can trust, someone they believe is an expert in things that they themselves are not, and someone they think can get things done for them. The same with homeowners and home buyers. They want to work with someone they believe is an expert, someone they can trust, and someone they believe can get things done for them.

You can get there in three ways.

Microtrend-em, figure out what they want to hear, and tell them whatever lies you need to tell.

Or you can make a cult of personality out of yourself, speak in big empty words — “Yes, You Can Renovate This Fixer Upper!”, or maybe “This Neighborhood Represents Hope and Change for You!” — and hope they’re just blinded by your personal charisma.

Or, you can become an expert, and without condescension, without obfuscation, just have a conversation with them about their needs, their hopes, and tell them the truth and advise them as best as you can.

I know which agent I would hire; and so do you, I think.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2008 5:41 pm

    Hey Rob, well thought out addition to the post. I should mention that my post was more focused on the methodologies of the two candidates, not on the efficacy of the methods on the general populace (nor on the actual politics…). Obviously, kitchen sink campaigns still work… Simply put, I just think there is a growing subset of people who have adopted Web 2.0 / Culture 2.0 perspectives and prefer to be treated less arrogantly.

  2. March 7, 2008 2:28 am

    Hey Pat –

    So glad you’re not pissed off. 🙂 Since that was not my intent.

    I just think we might be making too big a deal with this web 2.0, community-generated-content, passion of the crowds, etc. stuff.

    The methodology of the campaigns are distinct, but I think it’s too big a leap of inference to look at Obama campaign and draw the conclusion that it’s about some sort of new cultural phenomenon. If anything, his campaign is based on a very old cultural phenomenon: oratory. That dates back to Greek times with Pericles.

    I just don’t know what is meant by “people who have adopted a culture 2.0 perspective.” Liberals have been waiting decades for a charismatic leader who makes pretty speeches without any substance, since the substance of the liberal position is fairly unpopular with the American public.

    People want honesty and no bullshit — whether in politics or in buying houses or looking at cars. The web just makes that more likely than before. The desire has always been there, and it isn’t a cultural shift, IMHO. Ultimately, I think the Obama campaign (and if he actually wins, his administration) will disappoint millions of people because it lacks that fundamental honesty. It’s artful instead of authentic. Same can be said for most marketing campaigns today.


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