Marketing Can Do Better
Why are so many marketing campaigns brand-destroyers and money-losers? Why is "branding" becoming a devalued asset, whose returns are dwindling (witness Google building the world's mightiest brand with barely a penny of orthodox marketing expenditure)? Why do people and communities exact steeper and steeper discounts, price-cuts, and margin-crushing concessions from the beleaguered, besieged companies once known as the masters of the universe? The half-life of companies is shrinking and the weary practice known as "marketing," adding little to no real value, seems powerless to help. The unvarnished truth is that the fundamental assumptions behind "marketing" haven't changed for decades. Though you may be using slightly more efficient channels (like "social media"), more "creative" ideas, or more productive mechanisms (like pay-per-click), it's still a militaristic, adversarial school of thought that's largely about cramming "product" down the already overstuffed gullets of "consumers" by "targeting" "messages" jam-packed with illusory, imaginary benefits at them, in grand "campaigns" that make overblown promises ("See this beer? It's going to land you the girl of your dreams!!"). I'd argue that marketing as we know it is, still, largely about talking down. And that's not nearly good enough to send this Great Stagnation packing. Marketing can do better. Here's how: Instead of talking down, start listening up. Here is what I don't mean. Listening up doesn't mean surveilling your customers, and then discovering slightly cleverer ways to trick them (yet again). Listening up doesn't mean holding five thousand focus groups a year, and thenprice discriminating the daylights out of hapless customers. Listening up doesn't mean delving into mines studded with billions of seams of "data" about "consumers." Listening up definitely doesn't mean techno-stalking people in creepy, weird, and slightly sinister ways. Here's what I do mean by "listening up." • The "up" is the really important part. It means having dialogues about what elevates and betters
people, what raises them up to higher standards of living, doing, having, and being, what really makes them better of in meaningful ways that matter — and then igniting a movement to make it happen. When Wal-Mart talks to stakeholders in its ground-breaking value networks — as much as you or I might not like Wal-Mart — it's beginning to listen up.
about not just their "wants"
and "needs" but about their hopes and fears.•
Listening up means spending time actually talking to your customers. But you know who's getting a bit better. and call themselves Bob. high-impact gains. instead of dissimulating and misdirecting. • Listening up means asking questions that matter — and then being tough enough to hear that. five billion layers of management removed from the boardroom? Because most companies. enduring. their greatest achievements and biggest regrets. • Listening up means empowering as many people inside your organization as possible to spend
time talking to your customers to have those conversations. their opportunities and threats. to flat. subprime — and low impact — stuff like Farmville. people.
just maybe. How many other CEOs do you know who do that?
. meaningful. honestly do suck at having real. yes. you really. a small step beyond merely conditioning them to buy. faster than others? Oddly. Hey. It's not just about sating immediate desire with lowest-commondenominators. It
meansempowering people to be heard. it probably means rethinking the shape of your organization. buy. and circular. tiny. he might never admit he's wrong. to networked. Facebook's making many mistakes. No company's made it this far — yet. and empowering them to talk to one another openly. Pepsi Refresh is a simple. in inimitable. it just might be Steve Jobs — now notorious for responding to random emails about Apple. so people can be heard. To get there. as much lip service as they might pay to the latest hip management idea. from tall. but at least he responds to. imperfect example of investing in people. It means responding honestly. Why is it that customer service reps. in an act of farcical bureaucracy so awfully absurd it's worthy of Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition. and Jim — when you know and they know their real names are probably Anup. Ask yourself: why is it that the only person you ever really talk to at most companies is either a powerless cashier or an even more powerless customer service rep. have to fake their own names. Essential to the art of listening up is making those investments. Pepsi's in the sugar-water business — but at least a tiny chunk of its marketing bucks aren't anymore). Priya and Bayani? Because most companies can't deal with even the simplest. most basic level of human truth. and away from services that produce lasting. buy more selfdestructive stuff (yes. limited. Relationships aren't just
idle promises: they're patterns of mutual investment. Here's my favorite example of just how much companies feel they have to misdirect and dissimulate. outsourced from the lowest bidder — it's about learning to help people achieve longterm fulfillment. instead of just trying to shout them down or drown them out. • Listening up means investing not just in "market research" but in people. but perhaps the biggest is slanting its platform heavily towards lightweight. lasting benefits. are still talking down. • Listening up means letting your fiercest critics rip away at you — and hearing them. resonant ways that rivals can't. meshy. Steve. tangible. well.
to listening up (with emphasis on the way. You might just learn how to topple the status quo. buy. You might smoke out your own weaknesses and limitations. and revolutionaries on the frontier. If you can actually help them flourish and prosper in meaningful ways that matter. well — they probably won't just be grateful. way up). yet. that build common cultural foundations and let customers and companies feel like they're part of a shared movement. Today. it is a deep dedication to real dialogue (as opposed to this). in your own tiny way. In recent history. the folks who have been tuning you out. and steadfast perseverance really mean — and can do. You might gain a little bit of empathy. complex. sow the seeds of prosperity. buy. has been listening up for years. Instead of merely discovering the next "feature-set" for your latest. you might even be able to ascertain how to. maybe. If you can do that.0 is in large part about moving from shouting down. But here's what you might get in return. and unpredictable joint creation of shared values. I'd trace it back to the Cluetrain Manifesto gang.
. Yes. You might discover what more abiding passion. Jerry Michalski. Doc Searls' VRM is a giant leap towards building an economy where organizations listen up--instead of shout down. Getting from where we are to where we need to be is going to be more like a climb. admire and even love you a little bit for it. the people formerly known as "consumers. bigger purpose. But there are some wise elders. well then. just maybe." the hard-working folks who've gotten a raw deal in this Age of Austerity. tremendously awesome Dragonfly Effect is an ode to doing meaningful stuff that matters — by listening up. the ones who are inured to the cries of buy. they'll start to respect. young firebrands. Da Nang. Jennifer Aaker's insanely. and Johor Bahru even before I finished this blog post) you might discover how to change the world. with understated elegance. It is more than a commitment to transparency. And if you keep at it. greatest snoozer of a product (yawn — It got copied by approximately four hundred different factories in Shenzhen. it's the lofty ideal — and no company I can think of has gotten all the way there. Philip Kotler's masterful Marketing 3. and less like a stroll.Listening up is the emergent.