Friday, July 6, 2012

Wherein our hero forgoes trees for the forest and ends up talking in circles.


I'm going to start this one out with something of a crazy guy manifesto on what marketing means to me. I am not a full on stereotypical sleazy 80s business guy (although I do appreciate the safety dance) and as this is the field I have apparently chosen for myself I feel like it would be a positive to get my thoughts on the discipline down somewhere. This will also have the added bonus of laying some groundwork or future entries on other subjects.

Let me begin by exploring how I came to the place I am today. Despite a rather promising predilection for maths during high school, during my final years I moved away from that area of study and towards he humanities. This culminated in studying English, Literature, and Advanced Placement Literature in my senior year. Along side these subjects I also studied Studio Arts: Film.

It is fair to say that I like words.

It is fairer to say that I like communication.

In university I did the dreaded Bachelor of Arts with the even more dreaded English major. I was a double major, however, with my second major being in Comparative Literature Studies; essentially critical theory by another name that serves only to be more complicated to say.

Within this degree I tended to skate by on charisma and talent. Typical stuff. The areas that I excelled at were in poetry. To the extent that I was accepted in to poetry honours after completing my BA.

Again: words and communication. Just now with bonus structures of analysis and thought.

I did not end up doing my poetry honours (although alternate history Llew is probably having fun with his Poetry PhD about now) and instead entered the workforce at the university as a researcher. My task was to research the visual language of the user interfaces of games to see if there was anything we could glean for a product we were developing.

More communication. This time with the joy of exploring exactly why and how PowerPoint was terrible.
When this time of gainful employment came to an end I decided to undertake a Master of Business, with a specialisation in Marketing.  Eighteen months later here I am having completed said degree. 

I tell you this history because it is important to my overall conception of marketing as well as the approach I took to the study of marketing during my Masters.  Similarly it affected my approach to my study of management, similarly it affected my approach to my study of ethics, and critical thinking, and so forth, and so on.  Whilst it was my weaker area of study during my undergrad my history of critical theory has been helpful, as it has allowed me to utilise multiple lenses for the analysis of information.  It is in this way that my approach to marketing is best understood. 

Marketing is not advertising; advertising is a function of marketing.  Marketing, similarly, is not event sponsorship, nor direct mail, nor the salesperson you buy your ice cream from (although these composite elements do make up Integrated Marketing Communications, but that is a different discussion). 

Similarly marketing is not focus groups, it is not surveys, or databases, or data mining, nor networking. 

It is not the product, it is not the price, it is not the place, it is not the promotion (4 P’s 4 eva). 

To distil marketing down to any of these aspects is to focus on the tree instead of the forest.  At best it is a needlessly metonymic approach to reducing complexity, whilst at worst it is a damaging disservice to the complexity of what is fundamentally a holistic approach.  This is because marketing is a lens through which we can attempt to make sense of the world. Marketing is much like any other system of thought, or structure of concepts, or value system; it is a tool that can be utilised to decipher and to form the basis for decision-making. 

Now, this decision-making tends to take place on the corporate level; if not the corporate level then the consumer-seller dyad.  Similarly the concepts and behaviours marketing is helpful for making sense of typically reside in these areas. My area of particular interest – consumer behaviour – is one of the subsets of marketing that is somewhat helpful in this regard.  I am not so foolhardy as to suggest that we can use marketing to solve all of life’s problems or anything to that effect.  I’m not THAT GUY.  
Everyone hates that guy anyway.  I certainly wouldn’t suggest its usage to examine ethics, for example (Rawls is much more fun for that).  But it is a philosophy of sorts that can be enacted at each level of an organisation or each stage of a product’s development. 

It is this philosophy that I’ve spent almost a thousand words building towards.  I am nothing if not verbose, as it turns out.  Asking me vague questions is like asking Kasparov to pass the salt when the tablecloth has a chequered pattern, or asking a Sagan-ite to bake you a pie.  Context is required.  Scaffolding.  Foundations.  Other buzzwords.  However this context is required to allow me to explain what I consider to be the fundamental function of marketing.  The question that reduces all complexity in much the same way that I raged against barely two paragraphs ago. 

What Is Value Here?

Value is the central concept of marketing.  What is valued here, and by whom?  How do we create value? How do we communicate value?  How do we deliver value?  All decisions must be made with value in mind.  This brings us to the next step. 

What People Value is What is Valuable.

Why yes I do like sounding like a fortune cookie, thank you for asking.  Try the beef and black bean.  Essentially what we must accept is that for things to be valuable people must value them.  This seems obvious on the surface but one sees it ignored regularly by any number of individuals, companies, charities, governments, and so forth.  People have to care.  Moreover, we – for better or worse – live in a capitalist society, so not only do people have to care, they have to be willing to meet the costs of our value proposition. 

Think VHS vs Betamax.  Think Minidiscs.  Think GUIs vs terminals.  Think the mouse vs the keyboard, and touch screens vs the mouse.  Think Political Party A vs Political Party B. 

There may be other value propositions that are objectively superior but if you cannot communicate that value effectively then they have essentially no value. 

And here you were thinking that all that stuff about words, languages, and communication earlier was just a waste of time.  Chekov’d. 

This is an extremely roundabout way of exploring the fact that I view marketing as customer focused communication.  And effective communication is based more on listening than speaking.  Based on building a shared understanding with the recipient of the communication.  Again, this all seems obvious, yet so many fail to embrace this to its fullest extent.  Whether it be because of time, money, misunderstanding, or just not wanting to put in the effort. 

Marketing is not about what you want to say. 

Communication is not about what you want to say.

It is about what you want the recipient to hear. 

These are not the same things.  Always remember that.  

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