When it comes to marketing: Customer will always be king.

By Helen Bailey. February 2020.

It’s a popular opinion that’s become firmly entrenched in business lore over recent years: Marketing has changed beyond all recognition; and that ‘traditional’ practices are dead.

Having studied and worked in marketing for more than two decades, I find this a rather myopic and ill-informed view of an industry that has its roots going back hundreds of years.

In fact, I have not hesitation in saying:

It’s not true: 

Marketing has not eaten itself or reinvented itself. It’s only the channels that have changed.

Customer will always be king

Marketing is – and has always been -about serving the needs and wants of customers for a profit.

Look at the most successful companies of our time:

Amazon has built a global empire that’s based on customer insight and service. 

Apple is the branding master. 

Mircrosoft ploughed investment into product innovation. 

Tesla is the innovator.

Regardless of the plethora of tactics and tools that have bust onto the scene in the last ten years or so, all of these businesses followed the tried and tested rules. The only difference is that they excelled at one or more of them at a scale that’s beyond belief. 

Centre of the strategy

And at the centre of all of their strategies is identifying a target market, finding out everything they could about this market and then devising a strategy to anticipate need and give them what they want.  

It all sounds very old-school marketing to me. 

But with the growth of social media; it’s true there are new channels to consider. And it’s true that these channels bring with them the opportunity to execute a wider variety of campaigns and messages more than ever before. 

It’s also true that these new channels have provided opportunities for all size businesses to publish and promote. 

Why marketing’s in a muddle

Yet with this explosion of channels and tactics, the term marketing today has become much less about strategy and the co-dependence of the product, price, place and promotion and more about making as much noise as possible.  

Somewhere along the line, the preoccupation with channels and tactical execution has led to the marketing industry chucking out the baby with the bathwater.

Have we now got the point where we’re losing sight of what’s right?

Why we’ve got to this place

It’s not difficult to see why we’ve got here. 

With so many new technologies, platforms and channels exploding onto the scene, there’s a lot to be distracted by. 

So what’s driving the preoccupation? 

  1. FOMO – The fear of missing out. It’s a well documented condition to which many of us fall prey. The worry that we’ll miss out on something good means too much time is perhaps spent obsessing over how to exploit new channels and tactics rather than thinking about our customers. 
  2. Marketing: Just about all social media channels need to make money from brands in order to monetise their platforms. What seems to work very well for them is to attract marketers and business owners with alluring lifestyle-based imagery campaign depicting tattooed entrepreneurs ‘living their best lives’. Suddenly, starting a business on Instagram is very cool, very affordable and very accessible. Dreams are there for the taking – and it’s all just an ad campaign away.
  3. Bias on the ‘net: Martech companies looking to sell automation tools have flooded the internet with optimised articles that create a radical bias into the effectiveness of promoting over digital channels. Sadly, impressionable marketers and would be entrepreneurs are too ready to believe the hype. Writing branding, advertising, publicity and offline channels marketing methods out of the picture in this way is creating a false truth – and denying people access to the balance of opinion they need.

Drowning out reason

And it’s perhaps this latter point that is most concerning for the marketing industry. Because, finding a balanced, well-informed article about developing a sound, customer-led strategy is – as a result – getting harder and harder.

Voices of experience and reason are drowned out by a single-view opinion that seeks to re-write the script. Suddenly, ‘everything is dead/long live inbound’: It’s a mantra that’s been repeated over and over again. 

Marketers are overlooking teachings from the marketing greats of our time; and are turning instead to the advice that’s dished out in vast quantities by the silicone start-ups that only have their own interests at heart.

Yet the biggest irony of all of this is that we’re starting to forget the number one, indisputable marketing truths of all time:

Marketers do not represent the customer. 

We are not the customer

Just because we as professional scour the internet day by day, publish our own articles, participate in chat-rooms and forums and seek out like-minded clients on professional networking sites; it doesn’t mean that all would be customers behave in the same way.

Marketing teams need to put aside their own experience, assumptions and channel preferences and look instead to gain objective evidence into the behaviour and motivations of the end customer.

Because let’s face it: A marketer at a certain stage in their life might be happy to spend their days scrolling through boosted content on Facebook.

Yet, the same probably can’t be said for a brand conscious delivery driver with a penchant for expensive trainers.

As Adidas found out – the hard way.

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