Gaza, Cannabis and Internet Marketing

Ordinary people – the likes of you and me – are often bemused about decisions taken by politicians and those in the “establishment”. Today we see two seemingly different decisions – one about the charity appeal for suffering in Gaza and the other for the reclassification of cannabis as a “Class B” drug. Both are actually the same decision, at heart. And the decision has important lessons for anyone running an online business – indeed any business.

Cannabis is a drug with known health consequences. Of course, we could debate the extent of those health issues and compare cannabis to a legal drug, alcohol, and determine which is worse. Governments find it difficult to admit that something they have legalised (alcohol) contributes more damage to society than something they ban (cannabis). We knew back in the 1960s that cigarettes kill people and that they are one of the biggest drains on healthcare spending. But 40 years later we are still only teetering on the edge of really dealing with smoking.

The Government simply doesn’t want to upset people – there are no votes in doing that. So today, they have tried to please the anti-drugs lobby by re-classifying cannabis, but are not changing the penalties, so that the cannabis users also don’t get upset. This is typical political fence sitting – trying to please all of the people all of the time.

And that’s precisely the mess the BBC has got itself into over Gaza. Whoever is to blame for the Israel-Palestine conundrum doesn’t really matter. People in Gaza are without food and shelter and need our help. But the BBC doesn’t want to broadcast a charity appeal for fear it might be seen as anti-Israeli. The BBC is trying to please the pro-Israeli lobby by not broadcasting the appeal, at the same time as attempting to give the issue maximum publicity so the pro-Palestine lobby can say they were helped. More fence sitting by the BBC – remember Jonathan Ross?

So what has all this to do with your business? Well, go down to your pub today and listen in to the conversation. Some people will say the BBC should broadcast the appeal, others will say they shouldn’t. Others in the pub will talk about drugs; some will want them banned, others think it should all be open, like alcohol. In other words, the conversations we – the ordinary folk – have are rarely “fence sitting”.

That’s because we don’t like fence sitting; it makes it difficult for us to get along with each other because we don’t really know where our friends and colleagues stand.

And that’s the problem with many business – particularly those online. So desperate are they for customers they end up trying to please all of the people all of the time. And as customers, we never know where we stand – so we leave those businesses. Who then have to try and please more people more of the time in order to survive. The result is an ever revolving door of customers coming in, and then going out because they simply can’t “get” the business.

If your business suffers from the revolving door syndrome – as many online businesses do – it suggests you are not being decisive enough. It implies like the BBC and politicians your business is trying too hard to please all of the people all of the time. And that never works.

Who cares if you upset some people because they disagree with your business? They were never really going to be customers anyway. Do you think TopShop gives a fig that some of the older, more prudish people in society don’t like the more skimpy clothes they sell? They don’t care – because their customers do like them. Top Shop has come down firmly on one side of the fashion fence. Remember Marks and Spencer a few years back? It was going down the tubes because it was trying to please every fashion buyer, rather than being decisive and being happy to reject potential customers.

In times of economic crisis businesses often try to hang on to their customers; but being firm and rejecting some customers could be the best thing you do. That’s because the customers who you do choose will know what you stand for; they will identify with you better and buy more from you as a result. Unlike the Government, who we don’t know what they really stand for because they sit on the fence too much. Their strategists suggest to them that this will please most people and provide them with more votes. But it’s really quite simple; it will have the reverse effect – it will lose them votes from both sides of the argument.

And the BBC? Well I’m quite clear and non fence-sitting about it. As I said at the time of the Jonathan Ross nonsense, the Director General coped badly and should have resigned. This morning on BBC Radio 4 that same director general was hesitant, confusing and constantly fence-sitting. Time for him to resign.

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