As we find ourselves in the aftermath of the housing bubble, as well as the financial crisis and the economic downturn that followed, it is important that we as marketers examine our role in what has happened and learn from any mistakes we may have made. This type of critical self-analysis can be difficult, but if we want to grow from our experiences and make ourselves better marketers, it is a vital exercise.
All of the causes and contributing factors of the housing bubble, crisis and downturn can be debated ad nauseam, but I think one thing is clear: people engaged in financial activities, such as obtaining mortgages, selling and buying financial instruments, etc. that they either did not or did not want to fully understand. And despite warnings of the contrary, many of these people held an irrational opinion that the markets would somehow fail to follow the pattern of ups and downs that they always have in the past. Some may have acted out of greed, some out of fear and some just because it seemed like the prudent thing to do at the time.
I believe that most marketers (not all, but that’s another topic) acted and continue to act ethically and honestly, and based on that opinion I started thinking of what lessons could be gleaned from the events over the last few years. As I sat to reflect, I kept coming back to a common theme: the Marketing Mix (Product, Price, Place and Promotion). This invaluable tool/structure that marketers have come to rely upon hasn’t necessarily failed us, but instead we have failed to properly utilize it. And in fact, I think we are continuing down that road even today.
If you look at the amount of focus placed on Product, Price, Place and Promotion, you quickly see that the majority has been placed upon Promotion while Product, Price and Place have seen little attention. Why? The simple answer may be because in many ways Promotion is the easiest to execute, especially in the digital age, and many times the most exciting. Product, Price and Place are just as important components in the mix, however, so I will address all four and discuss some lessons we can learn.
“Marketing” seems to mean different things to different people. Some think of Ron Popeil and late-night infomercials, while others may think of the circulars and coupons they get in their Sunday paper. Many also think of the spam in their inboxes and the junk mail the mailman delivers every day. In reality all these views are correct, but marketing is much, much more.
Marketing involves selling products and services, but that doesn’t mean marketing is limited to sales activities. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “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.” Sounds impressive, but what does that really mean? This definition is chocked full of information, so let’s break down each component of the definition.
I was browsing around Wikipedia (yeah I know, John Moss is a nerd), and came across the brand entry, where I was struck that local brands are still differentiated from global brands. Are they still teaching this in business schools? If so, a good dose of the real world is needed.
As a marketer I am amazed that people still fail to consider the effects of technology and communications on brands, and that this position persists on a site thought to epitomize “Web 2.0″ is shocking. Does anyone really believe that a brand in one market has no exposure in another? Is there anything such as a local brand? I would argue that if your brand is limited by geography and that your brand fails to add value to your products when consumers are contemplating a purchase, regardless of distance, you really aren’t doing your job as a marketer. The very tools that have made product research and development, promotion, price competition and distribution (also known as “place”) easier for marketers have also made the concept of a local brand archaic. Call it a lesson in the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Today’s marketer has to consider many things that have made the world smaller. Here are just a few examples:
- Yelp: Offers business and service reviews. With just a few keystrokes, a consumer can find out everything about your brand and the products you market, find out what others have said about your brand or even share their own experience with your brand. Exciting or scary, depending on your view of your brand and whether it’s ready for prime time.
- Google: Again, with just a few keystrokes, a consumer can find out all about your brand. And with the way Google’s algorithms work, consumers don’t even need to be looking for your brand specifically. Even if you are marketing a small, “local” brand, you may find it alongside a larger brand with more marketing muscle behind it. For example if you are marketing a locally owned pet shop in a small town, your brand has as much of a chance of showing up in a visitor’s search results if your site is targeted to the search terms the visitor is looking for and your site is optimized for search.
- Ebay. No matter where you are or where you saturate your brand’s promotion most, your products can be sold worldwide. Therefore, the need for a strong brand is the most evident on a site like Ebay.com. And if you don’t sell your products on Ebay yourself, don’t think they aren’t selling there. Do a quick search and see who is selling your products at what price and what your competitors are doing. You may not be ready to set up an Ebay Store yet, but you need a strong brand to make the job of those intermediaries who are selling your products easier. They may be ultimately selling your products, but they are buying your products in the meantime.
There are tons of examples I could go through, but in the end I just don’t think there is such a thing as a local brand any more when you truly consider what a brand is in the world we live in. Yes, there may be some business names that resonate with a certain area, but given the growth of technology and communication, and the resulting shrinking of the world, these examples are becoming harder to find.