During the last few months, I’ve been teaching and advising some students over at Stanford University on Entrepreneurial marketing (in a class taught by Chuck Eesley).
My key thesis is that Marketing is Dead. In many ways, old news. And, the more helpful and less theatrical lesson: Marketing in the 21st century is always about the product and the purpose it serves.
You can no longer expect to have a so-so or weak product and then marketing your way to winning the market. For example, a current public situation: RIM/ Blackberry lost its ability to build devices that the perceptive business or consumer audience wanted, but then spent tons of money on advertising. What would have worked 10 years ago, doesn’t work anymore.
So today, you have to start with killer products that serve real needs. Evernote, Fast Company, and General Mills are all companies that make great products. But they do something else that causes them to be known: they have a purpose that is bigger than them. Evernote allows their users to obsess about being informed, information-connected, and productive. Fast Company engages the hearts and minds of the pioneer. General Mills applied their efforts to eating better. Each of those is bigger than what each actually sells in an app, a magazine, or a cereal, respectively.
So, what replaces marketing is shared purpose. Through it, you have the basis on which to engage in a community. You no longer talk at people; you co-create with people. I’ve already shared why this is a key norm in the social era.
To make this real, let’s talk about five ways to do that:
- Have a bigger goal. Have a reason to care that reaches beyond you / your product / your company. The secret is that it’s something people actually care about outside your organization – something they are already pursuing, and you happen to also be pursuing it. You then get to band together to go after common goal. All the effort is then about participating in a dialogue with fellow travelers. The better you are at serving the goal, the more the fellow travelers turn to you when they need to buy something and the more trust they have in your brand.
- Participate in conventions already in play. All of us know that colds spread through a very common convention, the handshake. One sneeze in a room full of 1000 people can then infect people all-day, and all-week long. (Yeah.) Long before foodspotting, people would take pictures of their food, thus allowing there to be a site where that becomes publicly shared, and thus create more meaning to restaurant menus. If friends today solicit fashion advice via email (private forums), asking them to be public about that advice might not work. What is the convention or habit of the people you want to engage with? How can you take become a part of it?
- Focus on pleasure. People share that which they enjoy. Hence, the funny cat videos that are shared around the web more so than Economist articles or policy documents. Or using the virus metaphor, an overwhelming number of viruses are transmitted sexually, or by taking drugs that increase pleasure. On a practical level, just visit a local Apple retail store and you see this same push on pleasure. It’s pretty, and clean, and lets you immediately start playing. All the while, no one focuses on getting you buy anything. It’s pleasure personified. I can’t go downtown without my son wanting to go into the Apple store to check out the latest apps. People aren’t just there to buy products. They come to share their passion and interact with other enthusiasts. While other retailers struggle, Apple can barely keep up with the demand. Why? Because it’s fun. Hence my advice to Best Buy recently – become social thru Pinterest as the new reason for people to come in and check out home entertainment or fitness equipment because all of a sudden you become a magnet for what’s hot. You can accomplish your purpose and have fun. So back to you: What’s the part of your purpose that is entirely about pleasure? Tap into it.
- Go to the tribe. Just like viruses need people to spread; to have shared purpose, go to where the people are. Enclosed spaces such as hotel conference rooms and airplanes are wonderfully efficient in spreading the flu (The TED conference has something participants affectionately call the TEDCold.) But so are populations of people who care about what you care about. That’s why I actually think that tradeshows will continue on, in interesting formats and conferences matter more so than ever before. In the end, each of us needs to be infected by new ideas, and to find people in our tribes that care about we each care about. So, if you are about fashion, you need to find a way to weave yourself into places people care about fashion, already shop, and share – so that you become involved (and maybe even central) to the conversation already going on. Then be infectious with your ideas and purpose, one person at a time. Never talk mass, talk personal.
- Manifest the purpose fully. Whatever it is that you decide your shared purpose is, don’t do it half-heartedly. Whatever it is – complete the picture. One of the companies I advise is a start-up focusing on telling the story of indie fashion houses, so I’ve encouraged them to tell the full story. Don’t just have pictures, have video. Have a person wearing it. Have the designer talking about why they made it the way they did. Have the curator tell how they might style it on a person. In other words, complete the story that becomes their promise of “story” in its full manifestation. One of the reasons that Fast Company is an amazing brand is that their writers embody this pursuit and passion for entrepreneurship, and they themselves are the pioneers of what’s next. They embody it in their events, and who they feature, and even in their advertising /sponsorship choices. That’s integrity, and in doing so …even the advertising is part of the purpose of the magazine. What is the manifestationo of your purpose in its full (not half-hearted) format? Do that.
Purpose. It’s the new marketing.
(And before you all pile up on me that I’m not reflecting marketing fully… please remember that I started my career in the analytic side of marketing (research, pricing). I have a deep love and appreciation of the different roles of product pricing, go-to-market, competitive differentiation, etc that make up the marketing value chain. I’m not discounting the strategic parts of making sure there’s a business model, but I’m focusing on the part that the vast majority of people think of as “marketing”. You and I might know this is more about promotions than the full range of marketing but most people don’t recognize this distinction.)