Business is about numbers. Marketing is about people. That’s a built-in conflict, and people tend to lose out. Management guru Peter Drucker argued that the essential functions of a business were marketing and innovation. By Drucker’s reckoning, people should always come first. But it never works out like that.
Marketers have had to continually remind themselves to keep people front and center. During the Mad Men era of the 50s, 60s and 70s, David Ogilvy admonished his peers with the pointed quip, “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.” If this sounds harsh, you can see what Ogilvy was preaching against on any episode of Mad Men that depicts a focus group.
But Ogilvy wasn’t the first or the last. Drucker first stressed the importance of putting customers first back in 1954. Harvard marketing guru Ted Levitt did so again in the 1970s and 1980s. Consultants Don Peppers and Martha Rogers added the spin of one-to-one personalization in the 1990s. Emory marketing legend Jag Sheth added an organizational spin in the 2000s. Then came digital, and the fear of losing the customer in the haystack of Big Data led to another revival of the idea, which is now recirculating under the banner of human-centricity.
Yet, despite continual reminders to ourselves, we keep forgetting. We let ourselves get distracted by own cleverness and new technologies. It almost leads one to think that the answer to better marketing is nothing more complicated than better marketers. Meaning, marketers who ask better questions. Questions that start with people in mind.
For example, is wall-to-wall advertising a good experience for people (vs. an efficient consumer experience)? Or is hard-sell marketing a fun experience for people (vs. a quota-driven sales tactic)? Or does an ad bring human value to the moment (vs. the bookkeeping count of eyeballs)?
Obviously, marketing has to sell something. But marketing that doesn’t put people first engenders resistance, builds skepticism, and contributes to the apathy about marketing and advertising that is the biggest barrier to connecting with people in the marketplace.
If marketers would stop and ask if what they are pushing is something that they or their friends or their family—or as Ogilvy so pithily put it, their wives—would like, marketing would be infinitely better.
The next frontier of customer-centricity is likely to involve sustainability and the need to focus on whether marketing contributes to people thriving (vs. heedless growth). Because bottom line, the numbers that run business won’t add up without people.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider By: Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer, Brand & Marketing at Kantar
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