Turning human beings into revenue streams
Recently I have been talking to groups of marketing people about issues that run a little deeper than the latest mail marketing gimmick or sponsorship opportunity. Issues that go to the heart of what we are doing as individuals when we are “marketing”. Issues that drill down to our personal ‘philosophy’ of life as it applies to marketing activity. And the response has been significant, astounding even.
The phrase that resonates most powerfully with people is “turning human beings into revenue streams.” That is my definition of the objective of marketing most of us follow. It is the clear intent of loyalty and CRM programs. Since Day 1, Marketing has been 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 whatever we decide to send them or sell them. Consumers are “outside the circle of trust” (from Meet the Fockers.) The fact that we call them consumers should be proof enough of our attitude towards them.
But once we describe the dominant paradigm, weautomatically reveal another alternative: a bottom up, lateral, omnidirectional, other-focussed model. This may take some thinking about, but the place to start is – as always – with the customer. Bring them inside the Circle of Trust and see what happens. Look what happened to Harley-Davidson when the company chose to follow product design innovations introduced by customers, such as the Hell’s Angels who first ‘chopped’ the bike and attached extended front forks, creating the Easy Rider look that is so much of the bike’s brand.
Harley-Davidson was, for a period of its history, in the hands of professional managers, not the bike enthusiasts who started and built the company. Naturally during this period the brand became irrelevant to ardent followers because they knew these guys in suits didn’t get it. The company went broke and was bought by the sons of the founders, who returned to the good old neighbourly ways. And profits returned. Not that profit is the company’s most dominant motive. The individuals who work there love the bikes just like the customers do. They are enthusiasts making and selling bikes to enthusiasts.
Which leads me to an 18th century Hasidic saying I think holds the answer: “When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you – and then they are purified and become and holy fire in you.” This may have several meanings, but what it means for me is that we are not separate individuals, like atoms, making our lonely orbit around some centre of gravity. We are living parts of a living organism called the human race and an organism called Planet Earth. What we do as individuals affects everyone.
How can you 'do' marketing in a way that synchs with this reality. How can you plan for marketing ina way that brings the consumer inside the Circle of Trust? There is a way. it's called Holistic Resource Management – a radical methodology invented by Zimbabwe’s Allan Savory* for managing farm enterprises. It brings all stakeholders inside the circle by getting them to contribute to an “Holistic” Goal – a vision of the enterprise and the community it lives within and serves as they will be after a period of time. It is a shared goal, not something dashed off in a minute. Everyone must contribute and sign off on the Goal which is consulted each time a major decision is made, and is revisited as time passes to ensure it remains relevant and resonant within the hearts and minds of stakeholders.
The Hasidic saying contains the powerful truth for people in business today. What you carry in your heart determines that value and validity of what you do. The same action, done for exploitative and non-exploitative motives will have significantly different outcomes, if only in the heart and the soul. If you think of your customers as so many sheep to be sheared or suckers to be fleeced, eventually that attitude can’t remain concealed. But if you ‘love’ your customers and genuinely want to serve them, the feeling shows.
Richard Branson strikes me as someone who genuinely wants to help people, and does it by doing business and offering them services. That old bastard Henry Ford had a genuine feeling for the people he was serving by inventing the modern production line which gave him the power to make cars the ordinary family could afford. Both men appear to want to make a contribution more than to make a name for themselves. (The latter is impossible to avoid when you do good things for people.)
Bringing the customer inside the circle means relinquishing power to them. Letting them dictate company policy. Most companies are too scared for their future to try something different. After all, managers have to manage, don’t they? Managers make decisions, not customers (except whether to buy or not – pretty much the most important decision taken by anyone.
Again the deathbed story: while lying on your death bed, dying, will you look back on your life and say,”I sold a lot of people a lot of crap.” Or “I made a difference in many people’s lives for the better. I helped a lot of people.”
FOOTNOTE: *ALLAN SAVORY, a former national parks ranger, fought beside Robert Mugabwe to liberate Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) from the British. He became a politician, but, disillusioned, left to pursue his vision of global redemption via saving the soil, the productive base on which all complex civilisations stand. His "Holistic Resource Management" has grown into a worldwide movement of farmers who manage to regenerate the biosphere. The management principles are also applicable to non-farming enterprises.