The idea that marketing is something that companies do is so ingrained in the business mindset that its impossible to think otherwise. Yet, thats exactly what needs to happen.
Its true that many marketers enthusiastically avoid the traditional marketing label with energetic efforts to recalibrate their careers. No matter what you call it, pull the curtain back and marketing largely remains an activity or a function with the mission of engaging customers for the purpose of selling them a product or service.
And, theres the rub. Contrary to popular thought, the heartbeat of a business enterprise is neither making sales nor making money, although this is why many of us continue to think that is why businesses exist.
All of that is dead and for one reason: it doesnt work today. In fact, it hasnt for quite a while. Its exactly what occurs when a company such as General Motors is forced to recall nearly 1.37 million vehicles because of a defective ignition that reportedly caused 31 deaths, a flaw the company knew about for more than a decade, but kept under wraps. Why? Because it flew in the face of making sales and making money. All this led to the announcement that the newly minted CEO was, in effect, taking on the additional title of Chief Defect Correction Officer.
Steves dad got it right
Steve Jobs understood this better than just about anyone. He tells of how he came to appreciate perfection by watching his adoptive father, a skilled mechanic and handyman, build a bookcase and giving the back of the bookcase the same attention, care and finish as the front. This was why Jobs always showed us the inside of Apple products, not just the outside. It was all about excellence.
This is also what it takes to turn customers into marketers. It negates the need to keep pumping out new whiz-bang products every 90 days to beef up sales.
Its about taking customers seriously, bashing barriers of access and answering inquiries promptly to the customers satisfaction. Its about keeping promises and not making customers chase you. Its about meeting challenges with grace and transparency. Its about creating confidence and making a company believable.
Turning customers into marketers
The real marketing revolution rejects the idea that marketing is something companies do and embraces the view that the business of business is turning customers into marketers.
Why are Apple customers so loyal that theyll wait two years for the next iPhone, while other tech firms shout get ours now? Why is it that Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Wegmans customers are always ready to tell others where they shop? How often do Safeway, Kroger or Stop & Shop customers speak so passionately about where they buy groceries? Why do so many customers drive past a half-dozen other coffee shops to get to a Starbucks and then queue up in a slow moving line, all-the-while talking to people theyve never seen before as if theyre old friends?
Starbucks Founder Eric Schultz offers a clue to why this happens, when he states ever so boldly that the company isnt in the business of selling coffee. In fact, he goes so far as to say that there are plenty of places to get good coffee in Seattle (and elsewhere, we assume).
Its clear that Starbucks is at a different place. Each of the companys 170,000-plus employees worldwide has the mission of turning Starbucks customers into marketers for the company. This happens when theres consistency between customer expectation and customer experience. Theres no mistaking the fact that it works, since the number of stores keeps growing, as does Starbucks annual revenue.
Turning it around
Unlike Starbucks, Whole Foods and Apple customers, most companies are in full battle mode as they fight to make every sale, engaging in a never-ending struggle to make the numbers. While theres endless talk about it being a jungle out there, the situation is quite different today. The jungle is now inside the company, as everyone employees and companies alike angle for the top prize in the game of survivor. And in spite of all the claims that companies are customer-focused and customer-centric, the evidence suggests that such rhetoric is far more hype than reality.
So what can be done to turn customers into marketers?
1) Make embracing customers a companys reason for being. Marketing is not about selling more, states Kaila Colbin, a serial entrepreneur. It is about finding those people who resonate deeply with your brand and forging a joyful connection with them. It is about a meeting of the minds, the hearts, and, then and only then, the wallets.
Only when customers feel deeply that a company is serious about understanding them and is passionate about satisfying them do they become believers.
2) Make a commitment to excellence. Not only have most consumers come to accept watered down quality as a fact of life, they feel helpless to do anything but live with it. When we cant understand why we need to buy a new washer and dryer, the well-trained salesperson reminds us that the average washer and dryer have a life expectancy of about 10 years. I always thought it was longer, we say. But, wait a minute. Why is it that some European brands last for 20-years and longer? They may cost more, but their owners are active marketers, unafraid to recommend them to anyone who will listen.
It doesnt make any difference whether its a product or a service, excellence inspires confidence and thats the secret ingredient for turning customers into marketers.
3) Make doubt the long-term plan. Unfortunately, understanding customers is always a snapshot and only accurate for a moment. This why employees roll their eyes and share knowing glances with colleagues as the boss drones on with the vision. Because theyre constantly interacting with customers, they recognize the huge disconnect.
Even though its absolutely critical to get it right today, its naïve (or even disastrous) to believe that we will get it right tomorrow. Where will todays customer-marketers be tomorrow? What will they be thinking? What will they expect of us? Will we be ready? In the final analysis, doubt determines destiny.
Graham, of GrahamComm, is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, No Nonsense Marketing & Sales. Contact him at email@example.com, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.
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