The Eric Morecambe syndrome

“Playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”

[NB: If Eric Morecambe’s Grieg piano concerto routine has passed you by, the punchline is here.]

Playing all the right notes in the wrong order is an increasingly common syndrome that afflicts the vast majority of companies trying to use digital tools for B2B sales and marketing.

The symptoms are prolific social media activity with very little commercial effect, disillusioned marketing teams and in severe cases, bored and even irritated customers.

Sufferers have usually diligently drawn up a digital strategy and a content calendar and are busy writing blogs and white papers. They're regularly posting on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and are sending weekly newsletters and podcasts out into the digital ether. But very little is coming back. Conversations are one-sided and conversions are non-existent.

All the right notes are there, but because they are playing them in the proverbial wrong order it makes everything sound out of tune. No one wants to listen to dischord. Bum notes fall flat with any audience.

Everyone will be able to identify Eric Morecambe syndrome businesses in their timelines. Those that are self-centred and never shut-up. Those that have a inappropriate sense of humour or try too hard and just end up looking like a politician in a backwards baseball cap. And worst of all, companies that are just plain boring.

One of the hard truths for management to accept is that no one cares about the things companies care about, especially on social media.

The cure for Eric Morecambe syndrome is not always easy medicine to take. It’s hard to look yourself in the corporate eye and say “we're boring and no one wants to hang out with us”.

ur doin it wrong

It’s a long road to recovery because the cure is to add a regular and healthy doses of human. You have to stop talking like an excel spreadsheet, spouting corporate boredom and commercial guff, and start behaving like the kind of person you'd like to spend your free time with.

What do you like reading on your Facebook timeline? I bet it’s not corporate solutions whitepapers. What kind of links do you click on from LinkedIn or Twitter? Whose newsletters do you always open and read? Who regularly posts articles that you then share? Work that out then start doing the same.

My wise former colleague Jerry Hughes had the tonic perfectly distilled: “Just be awesome”.

On my social feeds I don't care that you had a great time at a trade show, or that you've launched a new kind of filter for your air conditioning solutions service. No white papers, tweets, surveys or podcasts about air conditioning will make me give a damn.

I do care, however, that Gareth, the air-con guy posted a really interesting article on LinkedIn that I then shared with my followers too. It had nothing to do with air conditioning or filters. He was just an interesting bloke to chat with and the article was popular with my network, so he helped me to look good. He was just a good, likeable, human being quietly awesome.

When I need air-con, I will call Gareth. He’s probably awesome at air con too.

Recently, I was asked to help a specialist generator company who couldn't work out why their prolific digital and social output wasn’t having the desired effect on sales. Or in fact any effect.

The very obvious problem that they had missed was that there were no humans to be seen, or heard, anywhere. From their website and newsletters to their tweets and LinkedIn pages there were no stories about people, no quotes from people, no opinions, no conversations, no recommendations, not even any pictures of humans. It was all products, prices, promotions and pronouncements.

I did find one picture on their website of the back of a high-vized and be-helmeted engineer, but he was just a blur in the background behind a crisply focussed generator. It was all deeply soulless.

The cure for the generator company’s Eric Morecambe syndrome was a simple but drastic full amputation of their old digital and social media policy. The post-op rehabilitation is much trickier because it’s required a complete change of culture, attitude and expectation in the sales and marketing team. It is taking time to find and encourage the natural story-tellers and to create a genuine human voice that the whole team can use.

They are only just beginning to understand that using these incredible tools is not enough. For the tools to work you have to use them like a likeable human. No one wants to hear about generators on Twitter or Instagram. They want to hear from Dave the interesting generator guy who occasionally shares wry Dilbert cartoons. That’s how awesome starts.

Of course as Eric Morecambe proved, if you're a very likeable human it is very endearing to play all the right notes in the wrong order. It doesn't matter how often you've seen the gag, that’s deep and hilarious awesome.