“Marketers get people to buy stuff that they don’t need”

This was the quote I heard last night from someone I know, his impression was that the role of Marketers was: “to get people to buy stuff that they don’t need”. Partially, he is right. The reputation of marketers is often negative, where marketers are considered to be involved with trickery, deceit, and mass consumerism.

In business school, we learned that the classical definition of Marketing was to connect customers with products, yet the defintion never included tricks, lying, or manipulation. If you’ve read Seth’s book that All Marketers are Liars, you’ll quickly realize that the premise of the book suggests that marketers actually tell consumers the stories that they want to hear. I know most marketers will feel better about their profession after reading this book.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, while many may despise marketing, great products without great marketing often don’t get to customers. Ok products (or crappy ones) may get sold to consumers due to great marketing.

Here’s where social media counts, as it levels the playing field between marketers and consumers. The promise of social media is great, consumers an directly share their opinions with each other, leaving marketers in the wake.

Question: Many consumers loathe marketers, now consumers can bypass marketers with social media tools, the power has shifted to the participants, how do marketers stay relevant?

Answer: Marketers must participate, or let consumers participate on their behalf, it’s a new world.

23 Replies to ““Marketers get people to buy stuff that they don’t need””

  1. In order for ad agencies to make the shift from push to pull, it will require a fundamental change at the top of their organizations – specifically in their definition of talent. People who can create pretty pictures and write clever headline copy will always be needed, but agencies must also invest in those who are curious about – and have a commanding knowledge of – new mediums.

  2. The job of a marketer always was to participate! Otherwise he/she couldn’t analyse the customer needs and this is what marketers are for. I think most people in marketing confuse their job with advertising, but this is only the last step in a long process. Social media makes it for the marketer easier to listen to the customers. So this is not a new world, but a better one 😉

  3. Excellent post. While old-school marketers and companies have a problem grokking the importance of participatory marketing, folks like me — who have a killer product but “zero budget” — understand the wisdom and potential of directly interacting with the audience, and asking them to participate in the evangelism of the product.

    We hungry upstarts use free online services (and their communities) in unexpected and creative ways to spread our memes. From Twitter and Seesmic to the new Y! Live video service, we’re using the long tail approach out of necessity … and a great many of us have success stories (and large, active audiences) because of it.

    Thanks for the excellent post, and for speaking out about this new world!

  4. I think it’s a little more nuanced than that, Jeremiah. I’ve spent more than a few years marketing to “geeks” — developers and IT types who are famously anti-marketing. My takeaway has been that most people who say they hate marketing actually just hate bad marketing, the kind that doesn’t understand their needs or interests and/or that doesn’t speak to them in their own style.

  5. Yes, sir! You welcome that argument, as Barack Obama would say. Participate, create, ignite interest to learn/do more. Call it marketing, communications, politics, Socratic…this is human behavior. Maybe not a great analogy, but both of my kids do these things (like marketers) innately to influence or persuade me to get what they want. Before I just say yes, they peak my interest and I try to learn more.

  6. This is definitely true Jeremiah, participation matters. But what hasn’t been brought up in this discussion is that with the leveling playing field and people sharing their experiences about the products and services they are using, it is ever more important to focus on the DESIGN of products and services.

    I’m not talking about mere stylizing, but design as it should be, through asking tough questions about the essence of an offering and which problems and needs should it solve for the customer. Thinking out of the box and questioning every single element in the experience; where does an experience start and where does it end; how can an experience be made both self expressive and shareable (via social media or without it). Great design gets shared as well as very bad design. Mediocre design stays unnoticed.

    As Seth Godin himself said, the best way to go about viral marketing is to design and make great products.

  7. My guess is, the marketing we all say we hate – is the marketing that is irrelevant to us.

    At any given moment – the majority of marketing messages we’re exposed to (regardless of how creative or clever) are irrelevant to us. Thus – we “hate” marketing. We say – “Stop interupting me to tell me about things I don’t care about”.

    When we’re ready for a marketing message – all of the sudden the exact marketing techniques and messages that annoyed us last week – are viewed in a different light.

  8. What’s wrong with this definition of marketing? Blogging is “getting people to read stuff they don’t need to.” Let’s not be hypocrites. 🙂

    Guy

  9. I don’t think that marketers have been by passed. We live in a an echo chamber. Most people still get there messages through traditionally crafted messages. The delivery of those messages may have changed, but the content is shaped by pros.

  10. Haha Guy, Ive often wondered myself if reading all these tech blogs is a waste of time. Then again I just got the job of a lifetime because of all the knowledge I gained about web 2.0 and emerging web trends. Damn that useless info. 🙂

  11. Up here in Canada, KRAFT is making a “new” product claim by trickery and stupidity.

    Shreddies cereal, a breakfast staple since the 30’s, was always square-shaped. One day they decided to market it as new Shreddies Diamonds. Silly, irreverent, you name it. But did it get attention? It got mine, but not in the way they had hoped. And I’m not alone.

    Why would KRAFT spend millions in duping consumers to believe it’s new when it’s not?

    More here >> http://tinyurl.com/2t3wn2

  12. definition of bad marketing = “to get people to buy stuff that they don™t need”

    My definition of good marketing = “earn the respect and recommendation of your customer, they will do the rest”

    Andy

    Author, Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking (http://tinyurl.com/2twm77)

  13. It has been said that great leaders know how to share power. If this adage is true, marketers can become even more powerful than before — if we are willing to look at our jobs differently. We should view ourselves as coaches and help every single customer and employee of our organization become more effective brand advocates. For instance, let’s look at employee blogging. Marketers need to be the ones helping their employees embrace blogging. This doesn’t mean we should ask our people to become company shills in their blogs. Rather, we should help all our people experiment with social media and act as participants — realizing that intelligent, transparent, and authentic voices in the internet speak well of any company and its brand. To Andy Sernovitz’s point, bad marketers will screw up this process (as they have already), but the blogosphere will expose them (as has occurred many times). But good marketers will help great ideas bubble to the surface as the good ones have always done. The difference, though, is that the good marketer will figure out how to be a better participant, enabler, and listener. It’s an imperfect process, per this blog post: http://www.superhypeblog.com/2008/02/11/boy-did-i-screw-up/

  14. I too posted about the difference between “old-school” marketing and the direction it seems to be heading now.
    http://monicahamburg.wordpress.com/2007/12/28/i%e2%80%99ll-tell-you-what-i-want-%e2%80%93-what-i-really-really-want/

    Your point about participation is an excellent one. Marketers should be participating in the conversation and, as you pointed out, consumers have great power. And the power is not always to the detriment of the marketer or product. In fact, consumers can be a great resource and can aid marketing – but it has become a two-way street and communication between the two parties is no longer optional, it is essential.

  15. He’s right. A lot of marketing gets people to buy crap they dont need. Most of it. Phone calls, TV, Radio? Look at all the junk?

  16. Excellent post. While old-school marketers and companies have a problem grokking the importance of participatory marketing, folks like me — who have a killer product but “zero budget” — understand the wisdom and potential of directly interacting with the audience, and asking them to participate in the evangelism of the product.

    We hungry upstarts use free online services (and their communities) in unexpected and creative ways to spread our memes. From Twitter and Seesmic to the new Y! Live video service, we're using the long tail approach out of necessity … and a great many of us have success stories (and large, active audiences) because of it.

    Thanks for the excellent post, and for speaking out about this new world!

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