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The True Meaning of Marketing

By: Dr. John Story

The Christmas Season is a great time for retailers, but I often think it is the worst time of the year for marketers. Let’s face it, marketers don’t have the best reputations any time of the year. From stereotypes of used-car salespeople, to annoyingly repetitive commercials, to subliminal messages creating cravings for things we don’t really need, to instances of obsessive consumption, marketers have a somewhat checkered past. Each Christmas Season sees a new frenzy of ads trying to convince us that Christmas and Consumption both begin with C for a reason, and that the secret to a really Merry Christmas is a maxed-out credit card. While some of the negative stereotypes associated with marketers are deserved, I would like to make the argument that marketing is not about getting people to do things they don’t really want to do, and will regret when the next credit card statement comes, if not tomorrow morning. Marketing is really about creating value, by satisfying wants and needs better than any other offering in the market.  

Real marketing begins with understanding people’s wants and needs, because those represent the opportunity to create value. Great marketers then search for those unique opportunities where their firms’ abilities match customers’ wants and needs. We call that “fit.” If that fit doesn’t exist, it’s time to find a new market, or create new abilities. If that fit exists, marketers then analyze whether consumers are willing to pay more than what the product will cost to make. If they won’t, then the question becomes whether they might be convinced to pay a little, or even a lot more. Some brands are really good at this (Apple comes to mind), while others move on to new products or markets. Once a firm has products people will want, which they can sell at prices people will pay, they choose a distribution strategy. Once again, the key is to have products available when and where people want to buy them. Whether it’s online, in retail stores, or by drone delivery, customers are happiest when they get what they want.  

The interesting thing is that most of those decisions happen behind the scenes and all we, as consumers, see is the result. Most of what we actually experience of marketing is promotions – advertising, selling, discounts and sales events, giveaways, contests, special deals, and on and on. All of these marketing communications are meant to build awareness, create interest, spark desire, and promote purchasing. The truth is, they work. Those ads that show people coming out on Christmas morning to a new car tied in a giant bow actually convince people to do things like that. They’re all really happy when they see those cars in the commercials, right? Won’t my (fill in significant other) have a wonderful Christmas if I buy them that new car they want? Maybe so, but how will both of you feel when the first payment comes due? 

The real measure of marketing is not whether I can convince you to buy something, but whether I can fulfill your wants and needs in a way that will create a lasting impression, trust, commitment, and a long-term relationship between you and the brand. Convincing you to buy things you don’t really want and need is not a long-term success strategy, and isn’t really marketing.  

As we approach my favorite holiday as a person, if not as a marketer, remember the true meaning of Christmas, on that night long ago, unto us was born a savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

The true meaning of marketing is that consumers don’t exist so that they can buy what companies want to sell, but that companies exist to create value, fulfilling the wants and needs of society in meaningful and responsible ways.  

That is what marketing is all about.  

Merry Christmas! 

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