Do marketers understand the 21st century
Too many marketers are still pushing their products. That needs to change.
Text: Michiel Breeschoten BSc SMP, Marc Paulissen and drs. Vincent Hooplot RM*
Trying to make the customer buy more, at the expense of everything else: it’s an approach customers increasingly see through. The younger generations especially expect companies to have a genuine involvement in their interests and they are insensitive to the old-fashioned ‘product push’. Yet many marketers have still not embraced this trend. They are behind the times.
Younger generations place less and less importance on things such as vertical careers, a lease car, a high bonus and doing overtime until it kills you.
Increasingly they value the intangible things such as belonging, authenticity, sustainability and meaning. It’s a development which would not have surprised Maslow. Just before he passed away, he apparently admitted that his famous pyramid was actually upside down. The creative human appreciates non-tangible aspects of his life and a sustainable reality much more than material fulfilment. In that scenario, material fulfilment is at best a result and less often a goal. In a society geared to cooperation, supported by technology, people with the same worries, goals, dreams and beliefs seek each other out.
People influence each other through social media and together they create new solutions for issues or aspirations they have, like open source software. In marketing literature, the shifting focus from the material to the intangible values are sometimes summarised as a transition to a world in which it is no longer all about the rational (‘the mind’) but increasingly about feelings and emotions (‘the heart and the spirit’). Philip Kotler gave this transition a prominent place in his most recent work.
You would expect that modern marketers, being the pseudo psychologist that they supposedly are, feel this trend and are exploring it, so that they can better understand the modern customer.
However, nothing is further from the truth, because the old-fashioned product push is still calling the shots for many marketers. This is a missed opportunity, not only for the companies that the marketers work for, but also for the marketers themselves.
The product push, based on one-way traffic, in which customers are bombarded with product attributes, in fact dates back to Henry Ford’s one-dimensional philosophy (marketing 1.0).
Later on, marketers realised that different people have different wishes and needs. The concept of market segmentation was discovered, and ‘marketing 2.0’ was born. That approach led the way for many years. In many cases it led to products and services being better attuned to customers’ wishes, but this approach has also run its course by now. To conquer the heart of the modern customer, the marketer will have to learn to understand that customer better.
Stagnation leads to negative results
In a changing world, in which consumers are increasingly seeking fulfilment in intangible values, product push has a diminishing effect. Think of the younger generations, who are fast losing interest in buying and owning a car. The added value of the marketers who continue to hang on to old fashioned product push, will therefore decrease. They will become further removed from the consumer. The result: decreasing turnover, unhappy company management and less job satisfaction for the marketer himself.
The vicious circle can only be broken if marketers truly get interested in, and immerse themselves in, the true challenges, wishes and ambitions of their customers. In other words: what makes them tick?
The vicious circle can only be broken if marketers truly get interested in and immerse themselves in the true challenges, wishes and ambitions of their customers. In other words: what makes them tick?
They will also have to represent the voice of the client within the company and fully commit to marketing 3.0, in which the importance of mind, heart and spirit are recognised. Of course there are marketers who have already embraced this approach, and who are feeling all the positive effects of this for the companies that they work for. Coca-Cola for example is very good in connecting its brand to happiness. They are better attuned to developments in society, they understand what is important to the customer and they are not afraid to make fundamental choices in product development, service and communications.
Passing off old ideas as new
For the record: marketing 3.0 is not passing off old ideas as new, but it is here to stay. Yet for many companies it is still unknown territory. Partly because of that, they are often not or not fully focused on sustainable solutions and improvements for the customer.
Take the Cadillac. Once a prestigious American car brand, but because of lagging technical developments it has fallen behind. And yet they try again and again (often unsuccessfully) to compete with strong brands such as BMW and Mercedes in the European market.
Time and again there is an introduction of a new Cadillac model in Europe – an adventure with an uncertain outcome. But one that has cost considerable investments in time, money and effort. This is all diametrically opposed to the philosophy of marketing 3.0 and the trends which support this. Cadillac would possibly have been better off thinking about transport in a more modern way. After all, once you have a car, even if that is a BMW or Mercedes, you need to keep it serviced, put winter tyres on it and you’ll have to deal with all sorts of running costs, like insurance and road tax. Even when your income is temporarily lower.
Maybe Cadillac would be better off creating flexible transport solutions, focused on use rather than possession. This would possibly enable Cadillac to actually make things difficult for the established players.
What skills should you have as a ‘marketer 3.0’, specifically when considering it is about mind, heart and spirit?
The marketer who still identifies with the philosophy behind marketing 2.0 will have to reinvent himself, both in a personal and in a professional sense.
That’s a big challenge for the die-hard product push marketer.
Crucial qualities for the marketer 3.0 are, among other things, excellent listening skills, a critical view of one’s own functioning, forging ties with colleagues and clients, forming winning coalitions, developing a helicopter view and above all a desire to keep reinventing yourself.
These are all qualities that are sometimes in a person’s nature, but more often need to be learned. Luckily there’s a lot of helpful literature available such as that by Philip Kotler, Stephen Covey and Anthony Robbins. Their books offer the necessary reference for gradually increasing your effectiveness as a marketer.
But just reading the literature is not sufficient. As Stephen Covey says: “To know and not to do, is really not to know.” This means that coaching, training, repeatedly trying, and learning from your mistakes is crucial.
Sometimes it even takes a healthy dose of guts to leave the well-trodden paths that exist within the company you work for (who at Cadillac dares to ask the question out loud: is Cadillac’s purpose in this world to produce cars or to meet a demand for luxury transport?).
In summary, you could say that as a marketer 3.0 you have to be proactive (as opposed to defensive) in dealing with new developments, develop vision regarding the profession and your own functioning as well as learn to make deliberate choices.
Advantages for society
The advantages of mind, heart and spirit have an impact on different levels. Let’s start with the world. Above, we wrote that marketers need to embrace mind, heart and spirit as a trend. But we’re taking it a step further than that.
Marketers should actually actively contribute to strengthening this trend.
Advantages for marketer and company
The words mind, heart and spirit already hint at this: admitting the intangible values into the marketing profession can contribute to a more authentic world. Maybe even a better world. This could be having genuine interest in what is occupying your colleagues’ or clients’ minds or learning to ask questions so that you can immerse yourself deeper into their point of view. But the intangible values involved in mind, heart and spirit also relate to sustainability and quality of life. Who, for example, would not want a more sustainable planet? And who would not want some more connectivity in our society, as sociologists and other scientists increasingly warn us about the negative aspects of our prevailing individualism?
For companies and marketers, embracing mind, heart and spirit as a trend offers clear advantages. Marketers who deepen their knowledge of the trend and work on their own effectiveness will achieve more and enjoy their work more. Management will more clearly see the added value these marketers provide.
In short, the abovementioned negative vicious circle will change into a positive spiral. Because he who succeeds in truly listening to others and acting upon that, builds effective relations with colleagues and customers. Clients who feel heard will be receptive to your brand and see that you are authentic, which is something which is all too often lacking. Just think of the financial consumer who, after the 2008 crisis, is still very mistrusting of financial institutions.
The world of tomorrow
Other sectors also struggle with customer perception. Examples are the food industry, construction companies and housing corporations. The mistrust is understandable. Many companies have long stuck to trying to sell as many products as possible at any consequence, but the modern consumer will not stand for that any longer. You cannot regain the lost trust without really getting to know your customer and the person behind the customer.
Listening to mind, heart and spirit means that you should not pull the wool over your customers’ eyes. You sometimes just have to accept that some customers are not for you. And then you’ll have to have the guts to admit this, in all honesty and with the utmost respect.
The clients you miss out on by doing this will, in time, be more than offset by the business you generate by being authentic. Because if you tell customers honestly that your product is not the solution to their problem, they will appreciate this and be quick to recommend your company via the social media channels.
At the same time, your company can focus on the truly relevant and sustainable interactions with those clients who do experience the added value of your products and services. Those clients will also recommend you and moreover will remain clients for longer.
The motto is therefore: ‘Do not sell customers anything they do not need, but everything that they do need.’
It may seem like the world of tomorrow, but we are convinced that is a mistake. The world of tomorrow has already started. It is time marketers realise that things are different in the 21st century. Of all people, this is something we can expect from them!