You have to be a marketer

Marketer’s have gotten a pretty bad rap, and there are some pretty good reasons for that.

After all, some of our worst habits are apparently driven by their diabolical machinations, and they do tend to festoon the world in annoying, flashing banners. It is well known they are making people stupider and the world uglier. Climate change, absurdly expensive political campaigns, heart disease, childhood obesity–it’s all their fault.

But this isn’t a reason to hate marketers, it’s a reason to become one. In fact, marketing is the relevant domain for those who wish to inform, educate, convince and influence—all of which good marketing can and should do. Whether you have a concept, product or even an idea, if you want to bring it to the world, you’ll have to tell people about it. Marketing is simply about finding the people who your idea will likely interest, and letting them know about it.

If you have an idea, unless you plan on living on alms, you’ll have to bring it to market. If its a very novel idea, you may have to change peoples’s behavior (their lifestyles.) This is marketing. And unless you think the world is great as it is, it’s actually not a bad idea.

In fact, marketing in the respect of compelling people to think and behave differently has historically been the domain of the artist. But while the modern “artist” has been relegated to making wall hangings and various bric-à-brac, it is the marketer who wields all the tools of our age with authority.

It is an enviable kit of tools and cultural material at the disposal of one who chooses to practice this craft: all of the technology of our electronic age, an astonishing array of multimedia tools, an amazing virtual landscape in which to ply them, and a rich cache of multicultural tropes, potent symbols, images and metaphors from across the ages. It is storytelling, and the making of meaning.

What do marketers really do?

Marketers don’t just sell products, they change people minds and lives. And if it isn’t for the better, then it isn’t the fault of marketing but people. Marketing is nothing but rhetoric, with us since ancient Greece and probably before, and described aptly by Aristotle as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” He divided rhetoric into three persuasive audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos. And from there it has not departed far, other than the astonishing evolution of the “available means of persuasion.”

Along with Aristotle, some of the world’s most astounding marketers have been the Apostle Paul, Attila the Hun, Michelangelo, Napoleon, and Picasso, Leon Trotsky and Barack Obama.

What people object to most in marketing is its potential to galvanize the mob. Because rhetoric on this plane is essentially propaganda, it is very crude and appeals to what we consider our lower instinct. Violence, fear, hate, and resentment are all provoked in order to stir people, whether onto an arguably perverse brand loyalty or political action–but marketing is not limited to these negative tactics.

What do niche marketers really do?

Niche marketing, in contrast to traditional mass marketing, is not concerned with reach but with precision. (Multiple-niche marketing can and does occur on a mass level, and an extraordinary example was the recent presidential campaign, which broadcast many versions of the candidates to different niches.) Niche marketing is targeted at communities of consumers who have organized loosely around certain lifestyles or ideologies. These consumers are very resistant to and resentful of traditional messages, and have eschewed traditional channels such as broadcast television.

Reaching these consumers is the work of niche marketers, and as niches become increasingly specialized and insular, we will also continue to see, from necessity, a move towards product development and even marketing that is co-created.

These consumers expect the market to come to them and they demand responsiveness. These consumers increasingly expect a brand experience that is embedded or blended into their lifestyle. They want one continuous media–they don’t expect marketing to jar them from a smooth media experience. In addition to aesthetic appeals, they expect marketing to answer to reason and altruism. If this seems like a lot of work, then you have an idea of what’s ahead for businesses trying to woo wary and discerning consumers who expect value for each dollar—and are counting.

How marketing can add value

The great news is that consumers have experienced enough pain in a constantly changing and unreliable market to be considering radical behavior shifts. Convincing them to take a chance with you will depend on your marketing. Consumers expect marketing to add value to their lives. And good marketing actually does add value. Yes, though it may be hard to believe, good marketing can actually be entertaining, empowering and edifying. An example? Lego, a company whose products are equal to their wonderful marketing.

Lego does not advertise in traditional media outlets, but they have a very focused and thoughtful campaign. Their stellar marketing came to my attention as a consumer. The parent of a young child, I had requested a Lego catalog. We received a video containing short clips from a films made about Legos’s hero toys, and other short pieces about the production process at Lego. The DVD, technically a marketing tool, quickly became one of my son’s favorites, and we’ve ordered the full movies many times. Even the scenes from the Lego factory were well done enough to hold the attention of a four year old child rapt after many viewings.

We’ve since ordered many of the heroes, and even the online order process is a pleasure. An email referencing bits of the story follows and you can create your own hero design and have it delivered. What a powerful experience for a young child! Lego adds value at every step. They take every opportunity to tell their story and reinforce the positive feelings their product and careful marketing have cultivated. A significant portion of our toy budget is spent with Lego, and we feel good about every dime spent. They make us feel good.

Access to experience

Another way marketing can add value is by giving consumers access. Getting people to try new experiences can be tough. One example of successful marketing that does this is Tough Love Yoga in Atlanta, Georgia. The owners of this successful studio offer yoga classes to hold yoga classes heavy metal music. They don’t go for a gentle approach—they really push their clients. This approach might offend some purists, but the way these ladies market yoga makes it accessible to a group that might not otherwise enjoy the practice, and it allows them to tap into a market that is a little more difficult to persuade. It just so happens that they are persuading people to do something fabulous for their health.

Where to begin

The bottom line is that if you want to be heard or represented, if you want to reach people, you’ll have to become a marketer. Beyond that, becoming a niche marketer requires immersion and focused engagement. You become a marketer with desire. You have to put yourself in the place of the people who need your ideas or services. Once you understand their desire at a visceral level, it becomes simple to see how you can answer that need. Excellence and innovation are all you need, and they are yours if you only give them the attention they deserve.


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