People Marketing

People Marketing: How I Learned To Love People starts with a large man shouted “Your company is stupid”.  I was sitting in a tiny office. The office was so small I had to sit knee to knee with a large angry Greek named Dean Zutes. Dean Zutes was the last of an independent breed. When I joined M&M/Mars (1983) there were hundreds of small candy and tobacco distributors.

By the time I left the field to work on developing computerized sales systems (1984) the number of distributors in the Rochester & Buffalo market was cut in half. Two more years and attrition and consolidation  would reduce the number of independent candy and tobacco distributors in Rochester and Buffalo to two.

Dean Zutes was howling at the moon. Dean was more than three hundred pounds of twice a month meeting fury. He would scream about not being able to make money on Snickers and M&M’s. “Why don’t you have the margin of these wax teeth,” he yelled once holding wax teeth in his meaty hand an inch from my nose. I knew our routine by this time.

I was twenty-five. Trained by Procter and Gamble and now selling candy for M&M/Mars in upstate New York. Buyers yelling at me was common. “Dean,” I would say patiently knowing my part in the play, “how many wax teeth are you selling other than at Halloween?” I never got an answer. Dean Zutes knew small margin on lots of sales meant more money to his bank than the big margin on few sales.

I wasn’t mature enough to know WHY Dean Zutes was howling at the moon. I came to like and love him. He was honest, experienced and willing to share stories and ideas with a “kid”. Dean’s generosity was HUGE. “Dean,” I said one Friday about half way through the year I knew him, “I’m getting married Janet and I would like you to come to our wedding”.

Dean took the extended invitation, opened it and stared at it a long time. “You’ve taught me a lot and I know Janet would love to meet you,” I explained. For the first time, Dean was at a loss for words. Then he rolled to his right, stuck his hand in his front pocket forcing his knee hard into mine. He pulled out a wad of cash.

Dean peeled off two $100 bills, handed them to me and said, “Kid, you and Janet do something for yourself with this money”. Accepting Dean’s cash was against every M&M rule. Janet and I had NOTHING.

Janet had more than $20,000 in student loans and she worked for almost nothing in retail. I’d moved to M&M to increase my salary, but I was still paying off the year I worked for Vassar College as an Assistant Director of Admission. We were beyond broke living in a beautiful and FREEZING carriage house off of Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo.

Two hundred dollars in 1983 was such an amazing gift. I accepted Dean’s generosity breaking every rule in the M&M book. “I can’t make it down to Pennsylvania for your wedding, but I’ll think about you kids,” Dean said not surprised I kept the cash. Dean couldn’t travel because he was ill though he never told me. We continued to meet every two weeks and Dean’s yelling seemed to go down by half a notch.

I ran my promotion to Sales Analyst working at M&M/Mars national office in Hackettstown, New Jersey by Dean. “Sounds great, you should do it,” he said. He was selling Zutes he said. He would sell to Cauldron, a larger candy and tobacco distributor. “Time I retired,” Dean said not sharing the real reason – his health. I told him how much my replacement and I would miss him not knowing a passing of the guard was taking place in more ways than one.

Lessons Dean Zutes taught me are WHY I understand “markets” now. So much of marketing obscures a critically important fact – segments, personas, demographics and psychographics are all labels we use to describe PEOPLE.

People Marketing moves emotional connection and marketing’s ability to create loyalty, love and advocacy to the front seat. Segments, personas, and demographics need to hop in the backseat. Our ability to aggregate and understand is important, but telling, curating or sharing a single Dean Zutes story is more valuable in a social, mobile and connected time than our ability to label.

Diary of Anne Frank image

Diary of Anne Frank

For some reason, I watched I’ll Not Forget You the documentary film about nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal yesterday. Simon explained that “One little girl did more for our cause than millions dying at Auschwitz-Birkenau”.

The Diary of Anne Frank, Wiesenthal explained, allowed readers to project themselves, their children and grandchildren into the story. Anne’s pain and suffering became their (readers’) pain and suffering. Empathy is created from these “like me” moments.

Numbers especially BIG ONES such as 6,000,000 are hard to comprehend. There is shock, but connection happens reading the diary of a 14-year-old girl as one of my favorite Indian sayings explains:

Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.

Wiesenthal called himself a “researcher”, but his ability to document and tell stories was his real talent. Wiesenthal knew how difficult his stories were to HEAR too. Entire governments would rather FORGET, deny and obfuscate.

Easy to understand why. There is only a single stage of Kubler-Ross 5 stages of grief that aren’t escapism:

Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief image


Anne Frank’s story created acceptance through empathy. Might be crazy to connect branding, online marketing and why marketing is best when people provide context with Anne Frank’s Diary. Extreme examples can help create a “shock of the new” realization.

What is true for Anne Frank and Simon Wiesenthal is true for your marketing too. Wiesenthal’s intuitive understanding that a 14-year-old girl’s story created “like me” empathy is an important realization for every marketer still reading this post.

Your job is to create PEOPLE context. Another more clear way of saying that last idea is your job is to tell, discover and share STORIES. You need more stories than YOU or your team can create. Like Wiesenthal, you must CURATE stories providing “like me” connection.

Are numbers important? Yes, but marketers must remember our customers, stakeholders and advocates BUY WITH EMOTION and JUSTIFY WITH LOGIC. We “JOIN” brands we don’t BUY them Faith Popcorn so famously said long before the social / mobile / connected revolution even began. Think Popcorn’s statement is more or less true today?

Dean Zutes, Simon Wiesenthal, my family, and friends response to the leukemia challenge I face and the realization that life doesn’t come with a “do over” is how I’ve learned to love people. I started doing the hard work on ME by reading Pema Chodron (Places that Score You, When Things Fall Apart) and Eckart Tolle (Power of Now). Chodron talks about forgiving.

Forgiveness of our flaws, lapses and mistakes is the first step to loving yourself. Clichés are often true. Chodron’s note about how you are with yourself is how the world comes to you helped me RELAX some, forgive and focus on helping others. People, even the ones yelling at you, can be easy to love (not that I realize it at the moment all the time lol).

Be sure to read Curagami founder Phil Buckley’s great Fear, Shame and Asking For Help post too. Phil’s post is one of Curagmai’s most popular and his ideas will help your marketing focus on people.

How about you? How are you curating content and creating PEOPLE MARKETING? What is your STICKY and easy to create “like me” empathy Diary of Anne Frank content? Share your stories in comments and we will riff into the post.

Final Note
We selected this cover on purpose. What context did your mind create when you saw the image at the top of this page and on the cover of our blog? People, even in silhouette engage our “story” reflex.

If there is something more important than creating the connection in this social / mobile / connected time we don’t know what it is and PEOPLE begin that journey so learning to love ’em, even the ones yelling at you, is an important web marketing lesson.

The idea for this post can from one of our most successful Haiku Decks: Social Media – It’s About The Conversation Stupid

Social Media: It’s The conversation, stupid – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires