Learning about Marketing — and Community

September 16, 2008 9:54 am Published by

I want to write about some things I have been learning about “marketing” but I don’t know how to frame the issue and information in a way that doesn’t turn people off. That, historically, has been my reaction to “marketing” — makes me think of either high-dollar, high-glitz Madison avenue advertising campaigns or a slick (possibly slimey), fast-talking guy who gives you tips on how to sell people services or goods they don’t need and don’t really want. (My apologies to my marketing consultants who are wonderful, warm people that don’t come anywhere near close to this description.)

But this weekend I read an article about the intersection of marketing and living in community — a viewpoint which struck me as quite unique. Dr. Bruce Howard is a professor of business and economics at Wheaton College (my alma mater) and he shares the following thoughts:

“In graduate school, I was surprised by the first course I ever took in marketing. Like most people, I thought it would be about sales and advertising and learning how to convince people to buy your products. I could not have been more wrong. It turned out to be mostly about the practical arts of building community. I was expecting a perspetive that was primarily individualistic and self-centered, but learned that true marketing always takes the spotlight off me and focuses it on others.”

Dr. Howard then cites Theodore Leavitt’s article, Marketing Myopia, from the Harvard Business Review in 1960 (yes, that date is correct), where Levitt states that business “is a customer-satisfying process, not a goods-producing process.”

This actually cross-sects with Michael Gerber’s statements on marketing in his best-selling The E Myth Revisited (the “e myth” is that most businesses are started by entrepreneurs; in fact, most businesses are started by technicians and service providers who think they can “do better”).

Gerber emphasizes two key aspects to marketing:  1) know who your customers (or potential customers) are (demographics); and 2) know why they decide to buy (what he calls psychographics). He restates the classic line, “Find a need and fill it” to “Find a perceived need and fill it.” Gerber then argues that, for companies to be successful in marketing their products, companies must gather information about who their customers are and how they think about things.

He gets a bit intense when he states, “[I]t is absolutely imperative that you forget about your dreams, forget about your visions, forget about your interests, forget about what you want —forget about everything but your customer! When it comes to marketing, what you want is unimportant. It’s what your customer wants that matters. And what your customer wants is probably significantly different from what you think he wants.”

Now, back to Dr. Howard with his thoughts about marketing and living in community. He states:

“I … discovered that building the business enterprise is about creating a community that is linked with other communities for the purposes of enhancing mutual welfare. When people join a business, they don’t just want a job .. they want to be part of something greater than themselves. They want to be part of a community.”

He then asks a key question: “If business is supposed to be so community friendly, why does it feel so highly individualistic?”

He then discusses the current values driving much of the Western world’s marketplace — what is best for me (individually)? What costs the least for me (individually)? Dr. Howard then argues that effective enterprises must also be intentional about the values they bring to the marketplace, including the value of community.
It reminds me of social entreprenuership — developing businesses that also have a positive social impact as part of their mission (for some great information on social entrepreneurship, go to www.socialimpact.com).

Part of my interest in “marketing” is how I see it all around us, in almost every sphere of life.

  • The political process and all of the media communication surrounding Obama, McCain, et al.
  • The bombardment of advertisements in virtually every “screen” media — the Internet, watching a movie, television, email.
  • In people making daily life decisions — about cars, about food to eat, where to eat out, what movie to see, where to go to college, clothes to wear, where to go for professional services.

Secondly, I recently had an article in my community’s newspaper about a service I provide (a non-medication intervention for individuals with ADHD), and I was amazed at the amount of communication that resulted from this one “blip” on the marketing / information scene.  The story about a teenage girl who was significantly helped in her life by this approach seemed to touch people and they responded.

I guess I have a number of threads that are starting to come together in my mind (and don’t seem to be especially well-articulated yet!). Marketing seems to be largely about the same things relationships are built on: clear communication, understanding the other person and their point of view, trust in communication, providing accurate information, responding appropriately. Maybe that is why, as I am coming to understand what marketing is, it intrigues me.

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September 16, 2008 9:54 am

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