This Isn’t Your Father’s Marketing

In just the last several weeks since the spring semester has ended I have been really interested in marketing. So, I’m currently now reading or planning to read several different books on the subject. The main thing I’m learning: everything I learned about marketing in my MBA classes is wrong. It’s outdated. The “4 P’s” (Product, Price, Place, Promotion) may have been effective in the past, but today’s consumer is a much different animal. People are increasely responding less and less to advertisements that are being constantly thrown in their faces. Ads are everywhere – on TV and radio, in magazines and newspapers, on billboards and cars and trucks and blimps, in pop-up and pop-under ads, on race cars and sports uniforms, and anywhere else you can think of. Recent research estimates that we are exposed to over 3000 every day. That’s over two advertisements every minute. No wonder customers are ignoring this stuff.

So what does most of the business establishment do in response to this backlash? Why, run more ads, of course! It’s insane – companies are spending billions of dollars every year on mass market advertising and are increasingly getting less and less in return. Something needs to change.

That is the basic premise of the books I’ve been reading. I read Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force over Memorial Day weekend, and loved every minute of it. The authors, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, do a great job of explaining how to turn your customers into your sales people by word-of-mouth instead of spending tons of cash on traditional advertising. The current book I’m reading, Free Prize Inside: The Next Big Marketing Idea, by Seth Godin, greatly compliments this idea by teaching readers how to create inexpensive “soft innovations” that can make your product or service remarkable. If you have a remarkable product that makes people talk, people will buy.

These concepts aren’t new, but they definately weren’t mentioned much in college. These books (and several others) are getting back to some very simple, but powerful, ideas. Listen to your customers. Create cool products that your customers like and want to share with others. Create small innovations that don’t cost a whole lot instead of betting the company on a single project.

This stuff isn’t rocket science, but most companies aren’t doing it, or aren’t doing it well. Why? I think it’s the establishment. Marketing departments in big companies are given a lot of money to spend, and which they must spend in order to increase or maintain their budget for the next year. What’s the best way to spend advertising money very quickly? Do some mass marketing. Buy some ads during prime time. Maybe buy an ad during the Super Bowl. That’ll burn through some cash fast. In fact, I think a large problem is the marketing department itself. Marketing is being treated as some distinct business area instead of being integrated into the product or service. Every person in the organization needs to be a marketer, so to speak. Everyone needs to be an innovator and listen what the customer wants and needs. It’s not hard, but it’s hard work.

Some other books related to the subject that I hope to be reading soon (you’ll see that I’ve become a diehard fan of Seth Godin!):