Prepared for the Canadian Marketing Association, May 2011
I was recently in a room with some industry folk whereby I stated that marketing is not some manipulative discipline designed to aggressively and unethically sell people things they don’t need. I told them I had always considered that marketing is more simply about making people aware of options and related information about those options to aid in the mandatory decision making that takes place in the purchase process. I don’t know, maybe I sounded all naïve and idealistic (wouldn’t be the first time I was accused of that) but I really do believe that to be true.
Fundamentally, I believe that marketing is about conveying accurate ‘information about products, services or brands’, for those people who are interested. And furthermore, I believe good marketing makes that conveying of information enjoyable for the interested party. And that when you add these things together, you get marketing that is, by definition: Authentic.
Let me explain a little more what I mean about ‘information about products, services or brands’:
Consumer Joe has to navigate the world of purchasing on a daily basis. What kind of alarm clock will waken him, what shampoo will he use, what milk goes on his cereal, what car does he drive, what service provider powers his smartphone, what band does he listen to, what food outlet does he frequent for lunch, what supplier to use at work, what beer to drink at the end of the day, what camp to book his daughter into for summer and I could go on and on and on…
Every day, in every way, consumer Joe’s attention and time is spent consuming. And every consumption decision requires an evaluation of what to consume, from an ever increasing number of options. So how does each and every one of those decisions get made? Well, perhaps he chose it cause it was the cheapest. Or because it would be most reliable. Perhaps it was because it was locally produced. Or the one which did no wrong to its workers. Perhaps it was the one with the most appealing packaging. Perhaps it was one he had the most personal experience with. Or the one that makes the least impact on our physical world. Perhaps it’s the one that gives back financially to support social or charitable causes. Or perhaps it’s was the sexiest, fastest, most posh, most elitist option. Perhaps it’s the one his family has chosen for decades. And I could go on and on and on.
For varying reasons, reasons that vary from product to product, situation to situation and even day to day, consumer Joe makes his purchase decisions.
So how does a product, brand or service navigate within this chaotic consumer behavioural environment?
Option 1: Try to define the largest segment of potential buyers or some niche select subset of that buyer group, and define them as your ‘target market’. Seek to understand the drivers of behavior for this now defined target market. Craft a message about your product, service or brand that will be appealing based on what you’ve come to understand. This is the option that has the potential to slide down the slippery slope of becoming ‘manufacturing information about your product, service or brand to try to appeal to your defined target market to try to get them to buy your product, service or brand’.
Option 2: Consider your product, service or brand as an organism: a living, thinking thing. A living, thinking thing with strengths (and weaknesses), with beliefs and values, with a vision and a philosophy. Uncover them, capture them. They exist. Then be a product, service or brand that authentically lives those strengths, beliefs, and values. As a means of growth and development, build on that vision and that philosophy, as a product, service or brand. Then let this naturally attract interested people in the authentic merits of your offering.
Option 2 is where authentic marketing naturally occurs. A product, service or brand seeks to uncover and capture the qualities that define it. It prepares that ‘information about the product, service or brand’ for the attention of interested parties. And then if the product, service or brand is really good, it crafts its communication creatively to be enjoyable for the consumer’s consumption.
Good Example 1. Old Spice. Knows what it is, and isn’t trying to be something it’s not. And communicates it in an utterly entertaining way.
Good Example 2: Van City. Knows who it is, and isn’t trying to be something it’s not. And communicates it in an utterly entertaining way.
So, I’m going to go right back to the beginning, to that naïve, idealistic place where I stated that marketing can be about simply conveying ‘information about products, services and brands’ to interested parties. And doing it in an interesting way.
That’s Authentic. And I believe that can be Marketing.