What is marketing really all about, at its core, and under the layers of shiny cool stuff which we all love to play with?
Marketing as sales
Let’s be honest, marketers are focussed on sales. As the American Marketing Association says:
Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.
(my favourite definition of the marketing industry, because of the scope of ‘value’)
Marketers connect the consumer with an object in exchange for something of value. This could be a social object, a desire purchase or thought-space. And the exchange could be financial, cognitive or minutes and hours.
But you can’t really expect someone to transact just because you say so.
Marketing as behavioural change
Marketing should be focussed on behavioural change far more than sales – sales come as a result of behavioural change (if I always give money to charity X, it takes a change of routine, habit and behaviour to get me to give to charity Y).
But individuals won’t change their behaviour just because you say so.
Marketing as trust
Deeper than behavioural change and sales is the notion of trust.
Changing behaviour takes effort on the part of the consumer, and sometimes pain. They have to trust that any discomfort experienced will be worth it in the longer term.
When the consumer is ready for a transaction, they have to trust that the transaction will be worth it and that the object will repay them to a level at least equal to their investment. And if it doesn’t, they have to trust that they can return it with as little disruption as possible (otherwise the object becomes cognitively more expensive).
But you can’t expect a consumer to trust you just because you say so.
This is the Trust Economy
Trust has to be earned. Thus a marketer needs to develop an environment where the consumer will trust them.
This doesn’t mean wheeling out experts to back up a claim.
This means providing real, tangible reasons for the consumer to start to trust what you say. Among other things, this includes incredible brand management, superb consumer targeting and integration, open, honest and rewarding interaction – and consistency across the board.
Promise the moon and deliver a lump of cheese, and the trust is gone. Be great by all means – but be consistently great. And if you do stumble every once in a while, make up for it with stellar customer service and put the issues right. Don’t waste the trust.
The Trust Economy works both ways
As much as the consumer needs to trust the marketer, the marketer needs to trust the consumer.
And that’s the scary part. The consumer can be fickle, potentially going elsewhere for the best deal at the drop of a hat. Or changing their mind at the till. Or lying (consciously or subconsciously) in the focus-group. And it’s not as if they’re a homogeneous group we can put a service complaint into.
But if we can’t trust the consumer, we’ll never be as open as we need to be in order to gain their trust.
If we can’t trust them, we’ll market what we want, rather than what they say they want (OK, so sometimes the consumer gets it wrong as well, but hell – green ketchup doesn’t even sound like a good idea in the first place).
If we don’t trust them to stay with us, we’ll be in danger of discounting and diluting our offering until its worth is so low as to be virtually free. We’ll throw ourselves at their feet in desperation, rather than trusting in their stated-loyalty and rewarding it every now and again (which creates a pleasant surprise and can increase loyalty). [Note – there is a sensitive balance here between trust and complacency – watch out for it]
If we don’t trust them, we’ll wear them out with focus-groups and questionnaires until they go elsewhere just to get some peace.
We need to work on our own insecurities to build that trust
That’s not easy, I’m not claiming that it is.
Anyone who is passionate about their offering is always going to worry that tomorrow it’ll all be over, that the consumers will flock off elsewhere, that someone new is going to come into the ring and beat us to a pulp.
We need to have that self-trust in order to be more relaxed and trusting with our consumers, to help them trust us, to encourage their behaviour change and reward their transaction. When we trust ourselves, we can open up all of the other opportunities.
The Trust Economy begins with us, in our heads, at our desks, in our briefing meetings, in our relationships at the office. You might even say in the fabric of our brand and the brand we’re creating the behavioural and transactional spaces for.
Therefore, the Trust Economy is more than creating clever communications which (rationally or emotionally) persuade the consumer to trust us in order to start a process of behavioural change and transactional positioning.
It’s a whole way of looking at marketing, consumers and brand.
Trust me on this.