Contemporary theories of marketing are increasingly defined in the context of collaborative relationships between a marketer and consumers that operate on behalf of meeting needs of the latter. But honoring this idea is often problematic because a continuing focus on sales quotas pressure marketing and sales staff to concentrate more on making deals than on helping people meet their needs and fulfill their aspirations.
At play here is the issue of corporate culture and the challenges involved in synchronizing the espoused corporate values, marketing and operating policies and practices. It also depends on redefinition of rules and terms to which staff and management have long become accustomed.
One of the terms begging redefinition is marketing. The Cluetrain Manifesto defines marketing – or what its authors think it should be – as “a conversation.” However, too often marketers frame the contents of a monologue rather than the outlines of a conversation. That is how it was in marketing – when the marketer had virtually full control over the message and the medium. To optimally benefit from a company brand a company needs to assume the role of conversant instead of message master.
There is a need to understand what it takes to generate and maintain authentic, enduring and mutually satisfying conversations with customers and other stakeholders. Our colleague David B. Wolfe author of Ageless Marketing and Firms of Endearment has identified three elements that form the foundation of such conversations:
Conversational reciprocity. Relationships work best for all parties when each party evidences to the other that he’s not only listening, but also is being influenced by the other party. The spirit of conversational reciprocity should be liberally present throughout a brand’s message universe. Little will do better to convey a company’s standing as a ready collaborator with customers in fulfilling their aspirations. It’s a matter of creating marketing messages that talk “with” rather than “at” intended audiences.
Reciprocal empathy. Empathy is “identifying with and understanding another’s circumstances, feelings and motives.” However, traditional marketing only takes into account the marketer’s empathetic connections with customers. In brand husbandry it’s important that empathetic connections flow bilaterally – that a consumer empathetically connects with the brand and vice versa.
Reciprocal vulnerability. Marketers want consumers to let down their defenses and be vulnerable to their product messages. However, marketers ignore the need in satisfying relationships for sustaining mutual vulnerability. Reciprocal vulnerability humanizes relationships and helps to keep the “me” in balance with the “we” in relationships.
The result of the successful adaptation of these three elements is mutual trust which is better viewed as a report card on how well a marketer is expressing those elements than as an isolated objective.
To have a strong presence a brand must stand for something that is meaningful to consumers aside from its functional attributes. It must symbolize values and beliefs that resonate with consumers’ own values and beliefs. In telling its story, a company needs to project their values, but a thin line exists between brand messages that reflect an organization’s social conscience and messages that are merely expressions of braggadocio.
Maslovian resonance (aspiring to self-actualization) considers life as being processed ala B-cognition (for being-cognition) by self-actualizing people. We spend most of our lives processing the world through D-cognition (for deficiency-cognition) said Maslow. Typically traditional marketing takes its cues from the D-cognition domain. For that reason marketers see themselves as “curing” consumers’ deficiencies. This presents unfamiliar challenges. How do you approach consumers who have no sense of deficiency in a Maslovian sense their lives? The answer is creating a culture that serves as a gateway for being (meaningful) experiences that support achieving customer life aspirations.
The Maslovian orientation can give a company a formidable competitive distinction that is likely immune to erosion by competitors. However, reaching that state depends on a profound understanding of the differences between marketing based on consumers’ deficiencies and marketing based on consumers’ beingness.
Finally, understand and build your campaign upon the principles of Ageless Marketing. As appropriate and depending on your product or service, as you execute your marketing efforts fashion your messages to:
- Reflect your product or service as a gateway to meaningful experiences and aspiration fulfillment
- Connect your brand with core human values and motivators (identity, connectedness to others, purpose, adaptation and preservation of well being) that are the fountainhead of all behavior
- Reflect images/copy of who customers want to be not who they are – an introspective context
- Reinforce your product or service as being in touch with your customers values and motivators and that you want relationships them
- Reflect your product or service as providing/supporting a sense of meaning and purpose to a customer’s life
- Reflect your product or service as meeting desires for a simpler and balanced life
- Reflect your product or service as offering novel experiences to help maintain a sense of vitality
- Reflect your product or service as offering opportunities for learning for pleasure, personal growth and improved skills
- Reflect your product or service as offering productive pursuits and self expression to achieve a vibrant physical and mental self