Lynn Serafinn talks about our dysfunctional relationship with marketing, and how a change in our definition of marketing can restore its vital social function.
This week, many people in the western world are on spring break. As I write this, I’m actually at my daughter’s house, cat-sitting while she and her family enjoy some much-needed time away. After I post this article to my blog, I’m also shutting down this computer and staying away from technology until next Tuesday, if I can help it. But before I turn of the PC and chill out with the cats, I wanted to share a few thoughts that have been running around in my head this week about the nature of marketing.
Most people think marketing is all about selling. Especially during the holidays (like now), we see endless adverts trying to get us to buy lots of ‘stuff’. But I believe marketing has nothing to do with selling. I believe marketing is a lot simpler–and a lot more integral to our quality of life–than most of us believe.
Let’s strip down the very definition of marketing to its bare bones. What if we took out all the emotion, assumptions and social conditioning of our day-to-day experiences with marketing? What if we stopped using our judgements about how it is actually done, and simply looked at marketing in terms of its vital social function?
Marketing has a “vital social function”?’ you ask.
Well…yes. No matter how ‘icky’ modern advertising might seem to us, marketing is really important. To make my point, I’d like to offer a new angst-free definition of marketing:
Marketing is the act of communicating
that we have something of value to share.
No mention of selling or anything else. Marketing is simply an act of communication. Furthermore, without it, society cannot flourish. We humans need ‘stuff’. Without stuff, we are cold, hungry, bored and homeless. If we don’t know where to get our stuff, our quality of life suffers. So, if a business has something of genuine value to offer, it does no good to anyone if they keep it all to themselves. Marketing circulates information about things that can make life better. Defined this way, marketing is not only important–it’s beautiful.
If the primary aim of marketing is to sell, our definition changes radically. Selling is the act of exchange of goods for currency. It doesn’t really have an intrinsic connection to the way I am defining marketing. But ‘old school’ advertising meshed ‘marketing’ and ‘selling’ so pervasively, that many people see them as one and the same.
When the primary purpose of marketing becomes sales conversion, it corrupts the quality of our communication. This is how the ‘7 Deadly Sins’ of marketing arise (Disconnection, Persuasion, Invasion, Distraction, Deception, Scarcity and Competition). When the aim of marketing is to communicate genuine value for the purpose of truly improving the quality of life of others (and not just giving them more expensive toys to play with), it becomes a ‘grace-full’ art, full of the 7 Graces (Connection, Inspiration, Invitation, Directness, Transparency, Abundance and Collaboration).
This distorted view of marketing has cause many of us to develop a variety of ‘dysfunctional’ relationship with it.
Dysfunctional Relationship with Marketing #1: Passive
A passive relationship is when we allow ourselves to be abused and walked-upon. In the mid to late 20th Century, most ‘consumers’ had a ‘passive’ relationship with marketing. They would absorb marketing messages through radio, television or print media with very little control over them. While perhaps an extreme analogy, a passive relationship with marketing is a kind of mental ‘rape’ where the consumer just ‘lies down and takes it’.
Available technologies had a lot to do with why this passive relationship arose. Prior to the digital age, radio and television were one-way communication media. The audience had no way of talking back. There were also no remote controls or recording devices. This meant our media experiences were more or less ‘locked in’. If you wanted to see a TV programme, you had to sit and watch all the way through it. No one went across the room to flick through the channels during commercial breaks, and there was no way to fast-forward. In early TV of the 1950s and early 60s, adverts were even woven into the fabric of the shows themselves, making it virtually impossible for the audience to escape, ignore or avoid them.
The passive consumer is powerless to the mental and emotional manipulation of unscrupulous marketers. They make less conscious decisions about their spending, tending to buy what they recognise from advertising. In the era of the passive consumer, people tended to associate big advertising budgets with ‘more reliable’ and ‘trustworthy’ brands, which (of course) is not necessarily true.
Dysfunctional Relationship with Marketing #2: Aggressive
Given how powerless people felt in the ‘passive’ relationship with marketing, it’s no surprise that many people would become reactionary and angry. Enter the aggressive relationship with marketing, where people hate, hate, hate the very idea of marketing altogether, equating it with dishonesty and exploitation.
But aggression is not a very useful perspective either, as it invalidates the usefulness and social function of marketing altogether. If business owners adopt this attitude, it can reap disastrous results because they will not ‘love’ marketing enough to do it. Without marketing, there can be no communication. And without communication, they will go out of business.
Dysfunctional Relationship with Marketing #3: Resistant
There’s a third type of dysfunctional relationship with marketing I call the ‘resistant’ relationship. The resistant relationship is when we think we’re ‘outsmarting’ marketing. The habitual channel surfer is a classic example of the resistant relationship with marketing. As channel surfers, we delude ourselves into believing we are not being affected by marketing. But actually, we are like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, or like kids with our hands over our ears saying, ‘La, la, la, la. I can’t hear you….’
But this is a lie. We CAN hear everything. Furthermore, the more we say, ‘I can’t hear you’, the LOUDER the marketers become. The more we channel surf, the more advertisers try to think of ways to keep our attention focused through shouting, humour, special effects and interactivity. Clearly, resisting advertising hasn’t worked. It’s only resulted in marketing getting louder and more irritating.
The Co-creative Relationship with Marketing
Today we have a unique opportunity to restore marketing to is original social function. The new communication technologies of social media provide us with the ability to feed back into the system and establish a co-creative relationship with marketing.
This co-creative relationship begins when businesses and consumer engage in a dialogue about what they hold to be valuable, and what they need to attain those values. Blogging, social media and other media platforms like YouTube, LiveStream and webinars make this dialogue possible. Ironically, advances in technology have brought us closer to the way we used to relate to each other in the ‘old days’ when consumers were in direct contact with the business owners of their local vicinity. The main difference is that we are no longer limited by geographical proximity.
A co-creative relationship with marketing means that both the business and the consumer take responsibility for upholding the true purpose of marketing–to be a way of communicating about products, services and information that could be of real value to the public.
Whether or not we choose to exchange money for these things should be determined solely upon whether or not they actually DO have value–for us. In a co-creative relationship, the consumer does not buy things because the marketers told them they need it; they buy things because they have told the businesses what they need.
Throughout these first two decades of the Internet, many businesses have been trying to adapt old-school marketing methods for the cyber landscape. But you CANNOT use the old school marketing methods within the new communication world of Web 2.0 and beyond, primarily because the relationship between the marketer and the consumer is fundamentally different. It’s high time we put the nail in the coffin of the past century of (horrid!) television adverts that trick and cajole people by whatever means possible to remember a brand of buy something that is not actually needed. We need to create an entirely different way of marketing that has nothing to do with selling, and everything to do with communication.
So let’s get back to talking. Let’s talk about value. Let’s share ideas. Let’s share our expertise and our ‘stuff’. Of course we’ll have to rethink our business models (another discussion for another day) but let’s at least start by changing our definition of marketing.
So, let the dialogue begin.
Have a great spring break.
~ Lynn Serafinn
29 March 2013
P.S.: I do hope you’ll leave a comment below, so we can start a dialogue together!
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The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing.
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically, by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media.
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LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the top 20 of the Top 100 marketing authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, a budding social enterprise whose aim is to help grow a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs who want to serve both people and planet through innovative, ethical, independent enterprise.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)