The Absolute Truth About Marketing
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
  The Philosophy of Marketing, Part 2: All you need is love
Recently I spoke at the Marketing Week conference in Adelaide. The theme of the conference was “Convergence”. What does it mean? I asked the organisers, the attendees, and marketing professionals I met in the weeks prior to the event. No one could tell me with any certainty. I suspect it is the next hot buzz term. It will have its day in the sun – books will be written about it, conferences will be held, sales organizations such as advertising agencies will use it to put a new spin on the same old stuff they sell… until the next buzz term arrives.

Convergence joins a long list of terms - including CRM, integrated marketing, relationship marketing, database marketing, niche marketing, interactive marketing, digital marketing, loyalty marketing, segmentation, customer service, direct marketing, the 4 Ps, brand marketing, even the term ‘marketing’ itself, advertising, channel management, incentives marketing, public relations, sponsorship, etc. etc. – that claim to have an independent life in the ‘field of marketing’. But they are merely new labels for the same old stuff and, as such, they obscure the nature of marketing rather than teach us something new about it.

What do I mean? These terms – like ‘convergence’ - all refer to the same top down, linear, one way, self-centred, ego-driven, male, mining-mentality, exploitative, dehumanising process of shoving things down consumers throats. It reduces human beings to revenue streams. How could it be otherwise when our definition of the purpose of marketing is ‘to move product’ in order to achieve our chosen definition of the purpose of a business: ‘to make profits’. Consumers in this process are the passive recipients of communications which beguile them into buying what we choose to sell them.

Immediately, you can see, simply by describing the dominant paradigm, we almost automatically reveal another alternative: a bottom up, lateral, omnidirectional, other-focussed model. This is what makes the study of Philosophy useful. It reveals schools of thought and therefore alternative ways of seeing the same old stuff.

What is your purpose of marketing? Why are you doing it? What do you hope to achieve? When you are lying on your death bed, will you look back and say, “I sold a lot of widgets for XYZ company! I made the shareholders happy.” This is not a stupid question because what is a company? It is the sum total of the personal ambitions and values of the individual people who make it up. Companies are created new everyday by the humans that live and work in them. People. Humans. Not business concepts.

Furphies that the dominant model has perpetrated on the industry include the following: People have relationships with brands. The high point of farce was achieved with this concept by the author of Love Marks, Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts. Naturally it had to be an ad agency. Flash as a rat with a gold tooth. People do not have emotional human relationships with brands. The assertion that they do can only be made if you mistakenly deduce attitudes from behaviour. Clearly people can hate brands and yet appear to be in love with them by their continued choice. Another furphy perpetrated by the same shallow thinking is this: brands have a life of their own. They don’t. A brand is simply an agreement between a group of people to act in a similar way. A logo then becomes a standard that they march behind. No people, no logo display. No brand.

Marketing, therefore, is people doing things to and for people. What are people? What do they need that we in marketing can do for them? People are complex bundles of emotions and intellect whose greatest need is self respect and whose dirty little secret is that they don’t like themselves. Super models do not like what they see in the mirror. Do you? Given this analysis, an incident of bad customer service does not offend because it causes inconvenience. It deeply offends because it confirms the individual’s own self assessment of worth. “You are worthless” says our action of poor service. “You are right, and I hate you for reminding me,” says the victim.

Do people feel ‘bigger’ after dealing with you? Or do you reduce people to dwarf size? In other columns I have covered the highest level of human need on Maslow’s hierarchy: self actualisation. Growing into a bigger, better human being. “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier,” said Mother Teresa.

If marketing is about people, not brands, let’s go one step backwards and ask: why are people born? What is the purpose of people? I believe we have three reasons for being here: 1. To learn who we are. 2. To fulfil our potential. 3. To learn to love and be loved. Christ said our task is to “Love one another as I have loved you.” The story in the Bible says He sacrificed his life for people. Was he asking us to do the same? In another place he says, “The greatest among you shall be the servant to all.”

Where will a consumer’s patronage and contribution to profit go? Toward those whose purpose is to reduce them to a revenue stream? Or towards those who genuinely feel love for them and express that love in a spirit of self-sacrifice and service of the type Mother Teresa described? As a race, people aren’t happy; they are haunted by existential angst and fear of being alone. How much will they cling to someone who proves by their behaviour that they are not alone?

NEXT: Bringing the consumer inside The Circle of Trust.
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