Bad Marketing in Action: Mubarak and Egypt

Posted by Amy Peveto on February 14, 2011

As anti-government protests in Egypt stretched into the third week, President Hosni Mubarak took to Egyptian national television for the second time. Although the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians crowded in Tahrir Square were hopeful that the 82 year-old would announce that he was stepping down, those hopes were dashed when Mubarak stated that he will continue to “protect the constitution and the people and transfer power to whomever is elected next September in free and transparent elections.”

The president spoke for several minutes in a tone that was by turns patronizing and rabidly patriotic. He spoke of his own idealism in his younger years, and said that he is saddened by the amount of injuries and deaths incurred during the protests. He praised the passion and strength of the young people of Egypt, and said that even now, the reforms they are demanding are being put into place (read the full transcript).

All this was said while in the square, hundreds of thousands of people booed, chanted “Revolution!” and held up the bottoms of their shoes toward the screen on which Mubarak’s speech was being shown.

Something’s off here

Although the speech itself enraged many, it was a quote by Egyptian academic Mamoun Mandy which struck me hardest:

“...I have been convinced that the people around Mubarak gave him a distorted image of what has been going on on the ground. On the ground, you’d never remotely think that speech was acceptable. It was written from a pre-25 January world which has no connection with what’s going on on the ground. I am so worried about the future of this city.”

If what Mandy has suggested is true, and Mubarak does not know more about what is going on right under his nose, not only does it show that he isn’t listening — it shows that the individuals the president is trusting to help him make good decisions aren’t listening either.

What Mubarak should have done

This isn’t an article in which I take sides on an issue. And I don’t pretend that a company’s not listening to its customers is on remotely the same level as a dictator abusing the people he claims to love and want to protect.

Yet I can’t help but notice a parallel.

Marketing is about listening twice as much as you speak. Mubarak and those closest to him are clearly not listening.

  • His government blocked Internet access — when they should have been mining it for information.
  • He fired his cabinet and selected a Vice President — when his people were demanding that he step down.
  • He made a speech in which he mourned the loss of life — loss that probably would have been lessened had he heeded the demands of his people.
  • He made a speech in which he praised the passion of the protesters, spoke at length about his own patriotic zeal, said the people’s demands were being met — and then proceeded to treat the entire country like a room full of kindergartners.
  • He stated that he would remain in office until the next election — and then resigned and fled less than 24 hours later, leaving it up to his Vice President to make the announcement.

Learn from someone else’s mistakes

Are you listening to your customers? Do they have a place to which they can go and ask questions or submit a support ticket?

Are you weakening your brand and undermining your authority by saying one thing and doing another?

Is everyone at your company—from the assistants to the sales team to the CEO—willing to listen to customers and make changes, or do they plow ahead, convinced that others will eventually see the light?

Do you discourage dissent and possible improvement by removing negative comments from blog posts, videos, and third-party forums? Do you ignore those comments you can’t remove?

Because Mubarak was unable or unwilling to listen to his people, he was unprepared for the anger and protests; the steps he took to resolve the peoples’ complaints were too little, too late — and he lost.

A company that is unwilling to listen to its customers is a company that is going to fail. What Mubarak seemed unable to understand is that a customer base ignored and abused is a customer base that is going to look elsewhere for leadership.


Photo: Public Domain.

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