Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How to Sell a Better World

For once, this has nothing to do with gaming. Thanks to Communicopia for inspiring me to write this post, in their rather unique way.

In previous posts, recent and old, I argued that the future of marketing and business in general will be about giving a better world to the customer. With the philosophy change from Push Marketing to Pull Marketing, it is inevitable that we will find ourselves thinking more and more at the individual customer level, studying their needs and desires.

Such deep drilling may eventually cause every business out there to converge at the market of meeting the most common needs of everyone on the planet: a world with more social responsibility, more environmental conscience, more transparent institutions, more human rights, more accountability, more justice and freedom, better education, healthier children, happier people - a better world, for short. That has been the focal point of my arguments before.

This time I am going to elaborate on why this did not happen before, why we need it, and why businesses should care.

A Better World for Everyone
This approach simply does not work, and I will argue that it might very well be the root of many evils we face today on this planet. In the old days, businesses rarely attempted to provide a better world for everyone. The reasons of this are not hard to understand.
  • People have always had a hard time agreeing on a vision of what makes for a better anything. For the purposes of market segmentation, it was nigh impossible to find a better world vision that appealed to a large enough customer base.
  • Especially when customers did not have the means to express that vision. In a world without social networking, social media, tweets of fame, and bestseller blogs of the ordinary people, it was the will of the collective that ruled over the individuality of persons.
  • Collectives of any kind have the tendency of diluting human values as they grow bigger: the size of the group is inversely related to centralization of responsibility and accountability, while directly proportional to the power it commands. In other words, the bigger the collective, the more power it has, and the more distributed and diluted the responsibility. This means the definition of a better world is often dramatically different at individual and collective levels: i.e. you may be against torture, but your government will do it anyhow.
  • Governments are the best case for this. I am not going to argue over the virtues of democracy and representation. I will merely make a factual statement that they do not always seem to work as intended. The latest financial crisis, or the state of the health care system in the US are just a couple examples. Even in healthy functioning democracies (where lobbying is not just another word for legalized bribe) the spirit of politics is compromise; which means a slightly better world for some, and a slightly worse one for some others alternatingly. From a business perspective, it means unsatisfied customers are a part of the business model by design.
  • Governments also seemed to have a perfect monopoly for the market of "providing a better world for everyone". After all, this has been their purpose of existence all along. So as a business owner you thought: "I don't know what a better world for my customers mean. I don't know how to ask about it. I don't know how to provide it. Even if I did, isn't that what the government is for?"
  • Except governments are locked to the mentality of "providing a better world for everyone on this side of the fence only." Whereas the biggest problems plaguing the humankind today are of a global nature. Governments are limited by their localized approach to meet the need for a better world. The European Union is the best effort to date, of governments to overcome this limitation. Even then, it is a very slow moving effort when you realize how far away we are from the final version: a global government that can address global problems effectively. Multi-national corporations have a much better market positioning in that regard to serve the customers in need of a better world. This might be the final mantle to be assumed by the corporation, the dominant institution of our day, in order to truly ascend to the throne.
But if you cannot provide that mythical better world for everyone, does that mean all hope is lost?

Far from it.

A Better World for You
Forget about everyone. All our problems have stemmed from trying to please the collective at the expense of the individual. This is why there always has been someone wronged, someone hurt, someone disenfranchised, someone unhappy. While unsatisfied customers may be acceptable for government monopolies, a private sector enterprise cannot afford that. What, then, the entrepreneur needs to do is to start from the individual level and work their way up.

By focusing on the individual's definition of a better world, the need for compromise is largely reduced. Technology - particularly the internet - makes it possible to drill down to the level of the individual in order to extract that definition. Two issues need to be addressed at this point: how to create and deliver the actual value, and what incentive there is at all for doing all this. I will start with the latter.

The incentive is that because advertising is broken, and showmanship is no longer enough to engage people. A dialogue is what brands need to engage customers, and there is no dialogue if you do not have anything meaningful to say. The elephant in the room is the brands' thinly veiled apathy to the human condition that their customers so keenly feel in their lives. It is no longer enough to say that you care. Now, people demand that you prove it.

Another incentive is that it actually sells. I have tried explaining above what an underserved market that is, the market for a better world, for various reasons. Tapping into that market has proved to be profitable for many brands in different industries.

And finally: how to create and deliver the value.
  • You cannot make everything right for every single individual. That is the same as a better world for everyone, which obviously does not work.
  • What you can do, however, is to empower the individual, so they may create their own better worlds. The rise of the individual's power has been observed and mentioned many times as one of the main trends of our time. You do not want to be at the wrong side of that trend.
  • Do not try to just spoonfeed a better world, allow people to collaborate with your brand. As I said in my previous post, coffee brands helping farmer communities is no longer enough. It is time they let their customers help directly. Apply the same idea to your own industry and your own CSR/marketing initiatives.
  • Reward your customers for doing the right thing. Reduce the barriers, give incentives, make it easier for them to do the right thing.
  • Enough with the Swiss approach. Drop the apathy. Take a side. Be a brand that openly supports gay marriage. Be a brand that speaks against capital punishment. Lobby for the interests of your customers, not just your own. Why not segment your market based on political views? Why not build a brand image around doing the right thing, championing the right values?
  • Think global. Taking ownership of global problems is not a burden, it is an opportunity. In fact, grab them while you can! Differentiate yourself with how you make the world a better place.
In this way, it may be possible for brands to escape the downward spiral of traditional advertising, and to have messages that are fundamentally relevant to their customers.

This is my vision for a better world, and I am very interested in hearing what you think of it. Please share your comments here, or email me at "taykad-at-hotmail-dot-com"

1 comment:

Ajdin said...

Hello Taylan,

Very interesting blog you posted here. I like it..
Recently I started blogging as well, would you be interested in mutual linking to each others blogs?