Stealth Mode is not smart

Stealth Mode.

It’s a term that you often hear associated with either startups or poorly executed consumer interaction strategies. Like when Nvidia tried to "gift" gamers into saying good things about them. Or when an agency tried to sneak bloggers into the blogosphere to talk up Raging Cow milk, check and marching orders in hand.

I found a blog post today from the WinMarkets blog about the LEGO Ambassador program that I built. While this program was invite only, it was by no means stealth. The community at large knew all about it, and could apply to participate. (We had final say on who was invited in)

Nilofer on the WinMarkets blog post says:

This is a great example of how marketing can build a strategic fortress around the company and it’s customers and prevent competitors to steal them away. This one is branded and visible. Even more powerful can be the ones built more in stealth mode with key influencers. We’re doing a series of them right now with clients to help them enter new markets.

I responded in the comments, but I thought I’d elaborate here a bit. While the praise for the LEGO Ambassadors is much appreciated, I was saddened to read those last two sentences.

Ambassador programs (or any type of consumer interaction program) is almost always a bad idea in stealth mode. (There are exceptions, mostly involving top secret projects –  this was the case with the LEGO Mindstorms NXT project)

In a best case scenario, keeping  this hidden from public eye means that you’re missing a huge audience to show the world at large that you’re interested in consumer opinion.

The worst case is that consumers feel like you’re lying to them. It doesn’t matter what your original intentions were, you always come out looking sleazy. Just ask Nvidia.

Entering a new market should be about building an actual, ongoing relationship. What are relationships based on? Trust. How can you build trust when your introduction is based on a lie and/or secrets?