Napoleon would agree with one online marketer who wrote to me recently, over 50% of marketing is wasted. Too bad neither of them took their own advice very seriously.
Junk mail comes in all shapes and sizes these days, and just as it did when Napoleon crossed the Pyrenees.
However, Napoleon’s old propaganda was less offensive then most of the stuff I’m bombarded with. Paper propaganda can be recycled to make some pretty neat crafts. Obvious spam is annoying, but my email has widgets that filter most of that out. *
What’s annoying is when spammers don’t think that they are spammers. Like some guy who left a comment on my blog post to try to sell me SEO, whatever that is. He told me he wasn’t commenting on my blog because he didn’t read it, but he had something to offer me. I wish I he’d tried that against the Mamelukes, or the Army of Egypt, or both.
This SEO “expert’s” blog isn’t even as high on the search results as mine is. So do you think I listened to him when he said that he doesn’t listen to me? At least Napoleon entered Egypt with a string of victories behind him.
As far as I’m concerned, the SEO “expert” can go off and join some vanity “writers” group and exchange “likes” with total strangers. Or, as the great sage Oscar the Grouch would say “SCRAM!”
Then there’s the webinar that tells me how to market more effectively. They didn’t even bother to use mail-merge so that my name would appear in their email after “hi”. You might think that they didn’t have my name. Well, they obviously knew my name well enough for it to be in the “to” field of the email they sent.
Do you think Napoleon ever sent an email without addressing his recipient? I’ve read thousands of letters from that era, and they all appear to be as personalized as possible. If it’s the king, you might address him as “your excellency”, if it’s a criminal, you might have addressed him a little less formally, but never did I find Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Jefferson, or Mohamed Ali addressing someone they were doing business with as “hi.” (Well, hypothetically he might have, if the other guy called Napoleon “hi” first.)
And each and every letter was personallized, even those that were sent in duplicate or triplicate. There was always some kind of personal note saying like “Hey Captain Bainbridge. How’s the misses? Sorry to hear about your son joining the enemy. My wife’s died of fever, but I think my daughter might live after a painful amputation. I don’t think I’ll tell her that I killed my son in law in a duel until she’s fully recovered. Please find these attached messages and respond ASAP. Oh, and I sent you a crate of Maltese oranges, enjoy.” Of course, they did it all in a more formal and polite manner (the above message could cover ten pages).
Yet despite today’s lack of ettiquette, I replied to the webinar wonder. While I’m sure his webinars will never be as rousing as Napoleon’s speech to his troops before the Battle of the Pyramids, perhaps “Steve” had knew a thing or two about SOMETHING.
So, I sent “Steve” an email, asking a few questions. Hey, I’m a potential customer with an open wallet. No response. What can I learn about marketing from these clowns?
Steve wasn’t the only marketer to turn off his clients, and sadly, he won’t be the last.
I used to to subscribe to a strength newsletter from a wrestling champion. His website had grabbed my attention, and eventually I bought a few of his books. (Great books too, the tips in them actually worked. And best of all, he uses exercises from history’s greatest strongmen.)
I remained subscribed to the athlete’s newsletter, and started saving up for more of his work out advice. And then it started happening. In addition to his historically proven work out secrets, I was getting emails related to his love potion ideas and how to get rich quick. What? I didn’t sign up for this “law of attraction” garbage! I signed up to look like the terminator, not act like Dom Juan or Donald Trump.
So, I left the list and didn’t buy from him again.
Despite not spending a fortune on “laws of attraction”, I happend to get accepted to do a Masters in Media Production (I even got a scholarship to help pay for it). The teachers were great, but I wanted more. So, I signed up to a newsletter from some guy who taught 3D lighting and texturing techniques. And, despite being a penniless student, I actually paid an annual subscription to learn more from this online teacher.
So far, so good, right? Well, just as I graduated and started pushing my business forward, my Internet-based animation teacher started trying to sell me some kind of get rich quick or MLM scheme. The guy who taught how to set up the lights right in 3D was now a self-proclaimed business guru of some sort (okay, he didn’t use those words, but he had the attitude.)
So, I unsubscribed from his 3D instruction service, and I don’t think I’ll buy any more of his products.
I’m not the first person who felt this way though.
When Napoleon first invaded Malta, he was welcomed as a hero. The Order of the Knights of Malta was seen as, if not corrupt, excessive in their control of power. Napoleon and the French revolution offered “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” The actions behind these plans included a democratically elected assembly in Malta.
While the ideas of the French Revolution were greeted with open arms, the actions of Napoleon’s soldiers were abhorred. The people didn’t like it when their religion was disrespected, when their churches were looted to pay for Napoleon’s conquests in Egypt and elsewhere. Napoleon offered other services, including economic “reform” which was seen as nothing more than theft. The liberator became a con artist.
Though the British replaced Napoleon’s democratic system with a military dictatorship (under a British military ruler), the Maltese generally seemed to welcome their new overlords at the expense of the old.
What good was so-called “self government” if foreigners could just take whatever they pleased? The Maltese continued to lobby the British for a return of the assembly brought over by the French, (and their British overlord lobbied on their behalf.) Yes, a few remained loyal to the French, but very few liked having every last penny squeezed out of them.
Napoleon was not completely at fault. His ambitious mission was desperately under funded. However, it was a great irony that, during the sea battle of Aboukir, all the loot the French had stolen from the Maltese and their churches went up in flames. Napoleon lost the trust of potentially loyal people, he lost a strategically placed island, for nothing.
Napoleon was slightly more prepared when he went to Egypt. His administration there made sure that the people did not pay as much in taxes to Napoleon that they did under the previous system.
Napoleon studied the religious beliefs of the area, and wrote marketing propaganda to fit that. This marketing propaganda was sometimes translated into Arabic (apparently with the help of an Arabic printing press he’d stolen on a previous campaign.)
Yet here again, Napoleon showed his failure to research his customer base. The people he wrote to were not entirely literate. Even if they were, the interpretations of religious texts varied drastically at that time. As George Bernard Shaw later observed, no man believes the Bible says what it says, they all believe it says what they say.
Even worse than this, France had been good friends with the Ottoman empire before the invasion. Britain was always seen as an outsider, with her restrictive monopolistic trading practices and aloof way of communicating. Many in Egypt didn’t like their Ottoman overlords, but they liked what seemed like an unprovoked attack even less. The French lost friends by invading their territory.
The Egyptian people didn’t take too kindly to being ruled by a foreigner, and local leader were able to twist Napoleon’s revolutionary promises to make them look like satanic lies.
However, Napoleon’s effort was not completely wasted. When he got to Egypt, he talked to religious, military and merchant representatives. He tried to deal justly with the general population.
Even though the French were repelled, they left a better impression in Egypt than they seemed to in Malta. Not only did Napoleon listen, but one of his generals (Menou) stayed, married a local, joined the local religion. Though Menou was eventually assassinated, he and other “French Mamelukes” helped spread goodwill about the French nation.
Napoleon’s goodwill gestures, and the effect of Frenchmen who became Egyptians, took some time to develop into a positive brand. It’s hard to get someone to like you when your guns are pointing at their homes, and your bullets are flying through their gardens.
The British came to the rescue, perhaps to earn the trust of the Ottoman Empire, perhaps out of fear for the security of India. The British told the locals that they were their friends, and they even invited one of the Mamelukes, Elfi Bey, to dine with the British royal family and take a tour of London.
Elfi had a swell time, but Britain refused to answer his questions of whether they’d come to his aid. They refused to meet with Elfi in an official capacity, for fear of alienating his enemies. Elfi’s friends responded to this snub by snubbing him too, they thought he’d done something to upset the British. Elfi responded by refusing to overtly offer his help in defeating the French.
Now, this reminds me of the few times I respond to one of these bad marketers, and they don’t reply. They expect me to wait in the wings, and do whatever they ask, buy whatever they have to offer, while they can’t even bother to acknowledge my existence.
One of these invited me to connect on LinkedIn after telling me he didn’t have time to see my website or my CV (Americans: CV means resume). This was after I answered a request for my opinion on his website. I don’t often click “don’t know” when someone invites me to connect, but this spammer deserved it. I hope his business tanked (I haven’t heard about him since, so I assume it has.)
Let’s get back the Egypt.
After the smoke cleared, many people turned to the French representative in Alexandria, Bernadito Drovetti, asking for the French to return in one form or another. Some also asked the East India Company’s representative, Colonel Ernest Misett, for help. (Misset won a friend or two through well targeted diplomacy, and helped bolster his country’s reputation in the region.) But as the British failed to answer these pleas, Drovetti was soon bombarded with demands for French military assistance.
As Egypt spiralled into civil war, and Britain sat on the fence to see who the victor would be, even those warriors who were Britain’s staunchest allies during the war approached Drovetti.
All this communication with the French so alarmed the British that they invaded at just the wrong time, in 1807. The slowness of the postal system during the age of sail (and while a war was going on) was one factor, but the government’s delayed decision made the postal system look fast.
Britain had snubbed their main Egyptian ally repeatedly, and then his name was dragged through the mud as an excuse for Britain not coming to his aid. Finally, he was assassinated, and his supporters no longer saw Britain as an ally, but rather as an enemy. When the “help” occured, it was seen by the Egyptians on all sides as nothing more than an invasion.
The British were nearly massacred when they arrived in Egypt that year. It was the French Representative in Egypt (Drovetti), the Brit’s old ideological enemy, who saved British lives by bribing Egypt’s de facto ruler to treat his British prisoners well. This act of apparently selfless service by Drovetti was as humiliating for Britain as it was good for Drovetti.
Drovetti saved France’s reputation in Egypt, despite the lack of clear policy he got from his superiors. The British representative helped his country with damage control as well. (How Missett did this is another story… Fortunately for Missett, he was temporarily ejected from Egypt before Britain’s reputation was at its worst, so that on his return he had the chance to save his reputation and rebrand Britain’s image.)
Likewise, if you have had disasterous marketing in the past, local representatives can help your brand to survive the bad publicity in the local marketplace.
Napoleon made some terrible marketing errors, but he’s still remembered. While he failed to market the French revolution in the mid term, and while the actions of conquest hurt Napoleon’s reputation in his lifetime, he was still able to turn himself into a legend through good marketing techniques.
When Napoleon was succeeding, it was because he took some time off to listen to his customers and to the conquered people. He made the right people feel important, like their needs and desires were important to him.
When he invaded Russia, however, Napoleon lost many of these hard earned allies. Some were frozen to death, others turned on his arrogant dreams of conquest.
However, a loyal few stood by Napoleon’s side to the end, because they would always remember him as being in the front on the battle field, as knowing his men and officers, as having the courage to show himself and not hiding behind some wall of impersonal waffle that modern marketers throw at us.
Now, imagine if Napoleon started trying to sell love potions or get rich quick campaigns. Do you think he’d have any fans today? (Okay, so Ben Franklin was a bit of a snake oil salesman, and some people still like him. But his political activism makes up for his nagging maxims and bad poetry.)
Contemporary marketers should remember to listen to their customers. They should not pretend to be selling fish, and end up giving their customers a snake.