Living the connected life
4th April 2008
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9th May 2008
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What is marketing?

Our job, as marketers, is to decide what behaviour we want from our prospects, to determine what the fair value of that behaviour is (easy if the behaviour is 'pay me $10', not so easy if it is 'give me your contact details) and then provide enough benefit (physical, psychological or emotional) that neither side (buyer or seller) feels they are losing out.

OK, it’s been a while since I posted. I’ve been busy with a major branding project overseas and I have some professional exams coming up which need my attention too. I’m also in the middle of setting up a couple of new joint ventures. Add in the need for some R&R after a very busy last two years for the business and it was about time I took a break.

But now I’m back, and I was asking myself, just what IS marketing? What are we, as marketers (and everyone is a marketer, whether they call themselves that or not) trying to achieve exactly?

It’s easy to think that what we want as marketers is for someone to buy what we’re offering, and I guess that ultimately it’s what we need: we need someone to ‘buy’ (i.e. give us something of value in exchange for) our product, idea or proposal.

But what is that "something of value"? Is it always money? What if all we want is for someone to give us their email address? Or to call an information line? Or download a brochure? Are the activities we undertake to make that happen marketing?

Ask the millions of marketers out there who target exactly that response and they’ll tell you, most definitely, "yes" – it’s marketing. You see, I think that the core of marketing is not to elicit a ‘buying’ response, but a behavioural one. Companies want a purchase, politicians want a vote, churches and clubs want active members, pressure groups want their idea to be adopted with passion.

Our job, as marketers, is to decide what behaviour we want from our prospects, to determine what the fair value of that behaviour is (easy if the behaviour is ‘pay me $10’, not so easy if it is ‘give me your contact details) and then provide enough benefit (physical, psychological or emotional) that neither side (buyer or seller) feels they are losing out.

To the buyer the cost will seldom be purely financial.

  1. Every action has a time cost. If we ask them to give us information about themselves it will take time to fill out the form. They may also perceive some future time cost, if they think they will get ongoing communication from us: the time to read a newsletter, listen to a podcast, process and file emails, etc. If we ask them to download a file they will perceive a time cost in waiting for the file to download, reading/listening to the file, etc.
  2. Every action also requires some form of engagement: handing over data requires them to invest trust in you as a person, not just a marketer. They have to believe you will not misuse the information. Reading or listening to your ideas will require them to consider those ideas, to process them and make a judgement.
  3. There may be a social cost – how will people’s perceptions of them chang when they are openly associated with your brand by wearing your logo, or visiting your premises?

All too often I see marketing where some part of the exchange is unclear or unbalanced. Either the reader can’t tell what they are being asked to do, or they can but they don’t really see what value they will get in exchange, or the value is there but it is outweighed by the cost.

If your marketing isn’t working as well as you’d like, ask youself:

  1. am I clear what action I want the prospect to take?
  2. have I made it clear what tey will get in exchange?
  3. are the benefits of what I am offering them in line with the cost they perceive of the action they have to take?

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