Why Has Marketing Become a Dirty Word?

December 30, 2014

It is hard to remember that marketing was once a noble profession.  Marketing was about conceiving and delivering value to customers.  That is why Peter Drucker singled out marketing and innovation as the two business disciplines responsible for revenue generation.

We have lost our way.  Marketing is now regarded as essentially synonymous with unbridled consumerism and, worse, outright manipulation.  New media channels and new understanding of the neuroscience of behavior have created exciting opportunities to convince consumers in ever more invasive and insistent ways to spend money on things we never knew we needed.

This is the first year that I can recall an advertiser (Target) equating “holiday spirit” directly with consumption.  No irony.  The ad that came closest to capturing the true spirit of Christmas for me came from a Jewish law firm.  Plenty of irony.  Jack Daniels also deserves a honorable mention for “It’s not what’s under the tree that matters most, it’s who’s around it”

The role of marketing appears to consist of inventing an ever-expanding series of pretexts for persuading us to buy more stuff based on the perennially powerful motivators of greed (“unbelievable bargains!”) and scarcity (“limited time only”!).  We have invented whole new days dedicated only to spending – Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday.

As marketers, we require discipline to remind ourselves that success is measured in terms of developing valued relationships with customers, not on gratifying their every short-term whim (let alone creating that whim in the first place).   At a time when technology is making supply-induced demand (aka promotion-driven selling) such a reality, it takes discipline to remind ourselves of Peter Drucker’s maxim that the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. As he noted “the aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

Let’s resolve that 2015 will be the year in which we focus on how to use these new channels and new understanding of human behavior to increase customer value rather than just make the quick sale.  Let’s make Marketing a noble profession once more.

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