Marketing is commonly seen in two ways.
Both are highly damaging to any business.
Well, let’s take a look at the two ways:
1. Most business people see marketing as an activity in which the products or services of the business are pumped out into the marketplace in the hope of attracting customers. To do this, businesses run ad campaigns, social media campaigns, have billboards, work on branding and basically try every way they can think of of getting out there into the Void in the hope of contacting and persuading the largest possible number of people to buy their products or services.
2. Most businesses see ‘marketing’ as a distinct activity: the first part is the business, producing and delivering something, collecting money, recording what it is doing and so on; then there is ‘marketing’, which is usually seen as a separate function to do with reaching out and promoting the first part.
It’s all actually backwards.
I’m going to try to explain what I mean.
The Conventional Sequence
The sequence for most businesses is that they come up with a product or service. It might be their own, or it might be someone else’s that they hope to sell and possibly deliver. They then get some resources together, including personnel, and make the product or prepare the service.
One of the early steps is of course to find people who will buy and use what is being made or prepared. To do this, a portion or the personnel or an amount of time is set aside to put out ads of some kind saying ‘Here we are, come and get this product or service, get it now now now.’
Often - more often than not - production continues, even when the number of people showing up wanting to buy the product or service is low and perhaps non-existent. More effort is put into reaching out. There is a nervous scramble as the business creator tries to match the costs of production with the sales figures. For many, this nervous scramble never ceases - this is what ‘being in business’ is like, for the majority of business people.
But this is a ‘product-centric’ model. It starts with an idea, which turns into a product or service, which turns into a massive amount of work reaching out to try to find people who will buy. It’s no wonder that businesses also place an incorrect focus on sales and money as a measure of success: there is always this battle between trying to get enough money in and trying to get enough product produced. The notion that a ‘sale’ isn’t actually an end goal at all eludes most.
Need Is Always There
What is the alternative?
The best way to explain this is to turn the above on its head.
1. The marketplace is jam-packed full of people who need a particular product or service at any given time. They may be desperate for whatever it is, or they may be only partially aware of their need, but at all times the world is swimming with the need for whatever it is that is being offered. Looking at tiny niches, the same principle applies. If a business provides 17th Century fireplace ornaments, there will be enough need out there in the environment to sustain that business at least for a while, especially if costing is done well. Once everyone in a small niche has acquired what they need, those people will have other associated needs which a clever business will capitalise upon. For example, once everyone has all the 17th Century fireplace ornaments that they could possibly need, there will be a need for maintaining the 17th Century fireplace around which they are placed; or a need for more 17th Century ornaments, and so on.
The broader the niche, the larger the initial product will last. A motorhome sales company’s marketplace numbers in the thousands; a pizza company’s marketplace numbers in the hundred of thousands; a general groceries store in the millions. The point is that the marketplace, large or small, is awash with demand for any individual product at any given time.
What is one doing when one ‘markets’ something, then?
All promotion, all advertising, all attempts to reach out into a marketplace to ‘sell’ something, are actually building channels along which an already existing need can find its way to fulfilment.
The need is always there.
The true purpose of marketing is to turn need into motion towards fulfilment.
2. So while it’s true that most businesses see ‘marketing’ as a distinct activity, in fact it is an all-embracing one: everything to do with a business must be creating channels. These channels at first funnel attention; then they funnel money; then they funnel the product or service; then they funnel satisfaction.
Or they should.
Outward versus Inward
Of course, what happens in practice is that a conventional business has a manufacturing component, which creates some kind of product; this is then prepared for delivery; a separate office tries to find enough customers to come in and get it. The ‘flow’ of the business is the wrong way, from a product outward to a potential customer. It should be building channels that flow inward, from the customer to the product.
This inward flow begins with directing the attention of someone who needs what you provide. That doesn’t mean ‘everyone’s attention’, only the attention of those who need what you provide. So marketing as an activity can breathe a sigh of relief right there: it isn’t trying to ‘letter box drop’ everyone on the planet, just those who are already interested.
In fact, instead of imagining customers’ letterboxes as static gaps through which to push as much material as possible in the hope of getting a conversion, think of them as vacuum-cleaners. A large number of these will be switched off - they are the customers who are not interested and who perhaps never will be. But some letterboxes will be actively sucking in air, looking for something to fill them.
The attention that you are seeking to direct is already active to some degree. A person may not give any outward sign that they have their ‘vacuum-cleaner’ switched on, but somewhere in their world the Hoover is humming.
The key thing to keep in mind at all times as you read this is that if the vacuum cleaner isn’t switched on, that person isn’t a prospect for your product.
Example: you offer credit card services to small businesses. Of the entire population of your nearest city, very many people will have no need of your services whatsoever - their vacuums are ‘off’. There will be a significant proportion of people, though, who are humming. They might not realise it, the hum might be weak, they might be doing something else at the time, but their vacuum is ‘on’. You don’t have to spend thousands or waste months trying to convert people who weren’t interested in the first place - you just have to find those people whose vacuums are already ‘on’.
How do you do that?
By following a natural law.
If their vacuums are on, there will be subtle signs. The power of that vacuum, however weak, will have affected their behaviour in small ways. They may have searched for ‘credit card facilities’ on Google; they may have joined business forums to do with such things. They may have ‘liked’ ads about such facilities. They may have also explored associated businesses, different ways of offering credit, or tried to find ways around the problem. Put yourself in their shoes: what would you do if you needed credit card facilities for your business? Where would you go? How would that need affect your behaviour, if only slightly?
The very end of your ‘marketing channel’ needs to appear in those places. A well-positioned ad, or a forum comment, or a free gift placed in a news feed - these things are not trying to persuade, but simply to appear. People with a strong enough need will click on them.
But the tip of a channel is shallow. What you need to do quickly after that is deepen that channel. When a person clicks on something , he or she needs to be taken to a ‘marketing mirror’, as we covered earlier. An individual needs to see himself or herself looking back out of the screen. That need, which may at first have been weak, needs to be amplified. The product is that the person’s need is made strong enough to prompt further motion.
Then all the components of a further channel need to be there: obvious questions answered, uncertainties reduced, need clarified, solution delineated, things explained, choices simplified, mechanics smoothed out so that the person flows like water towards fulfilment. Fulfilment is not the point where they make a purchase - buying your product is simply one of the mechanical steps which needs to be smoothed out.
So a programme for a business, any business, would look like this:
0) Explore the field by stepping into your prospect’s shoes: where would he or she begin to look for an answer to his or her specific needs?
1) Place a comment or small ad or free gift in those places. The first link you place must lead to an accurate and commanding customer template, pointing at the core vacuum or need that that prospect is experiencing. The prospect has to see himself or herself almost completely and almost immediately. (Magic point: if they don’t see themselves, they were not a prospect, or not yet. You are in charge of what your ideal prospect looks like.)
2) Wherever you then lead your prospect, you must magnify that basic need by pointing out the dangers of it growing worse, using, where applicable, testimony from a happy customer. Use a comparative image of failure to increase vacuum size, which then prompts action. (Magic note: if the magnification fails, they were not a prospect, or not yet. They may come back later, if you have been creative enough.)
3) Once the person becomes a customer, further develop the channel by providing a way of contacting other, already-existing and satisfied customers through forums or in group pages. Your job hasn’t ended with a sale - your product is fulfilment, when the customer has his or her need satisfied.
4) Your business has to be alive, real and moving, using a wider narrative which moves things along, presenting the business as part of a larger story. That’s because creating an empty building which just sits there, like a website which is never renewed or a shop which has no one in it drives prospects and even existing customers away. The most basic need of any prospect or customer is the need for Life.
The loss you may feel in expending so much energy and finance trying to ‘convert’ people en masse to using your product or service is a symptom that you are viewing and using marketing incorrectly. So what if thousands of people walk past your stall every day without even stopping to look? They were never prospects anyway.
Only those who do stop and look are prospects. Your task is to make sure that you have strong channels in place to make sure that they can travel the distance from just looking to fulfilment. And if they don’t? Their need was not powerful enough - yet.
Strong, deep channels which preserve and hold attention and deepen need.
One way of thinking about your business is to imagine that it is a hospital. There are many people who have no need to visit a hospital. They will walk right past one and pay no attention, and quite rightly, if they are fit and well. But you have to build a strong hospital full of wards and beds and expert personnel, ready to welcome anyone who walks toward your door. When they set foot inside, they must be serviced swiftly and efficiently and with great care until you have cured them of their need.
The same applies whether you are selling insurance, pizzas, books, cars, televisions, phones, food, coffee or anything.
Forget the non-prospects. Stop wasting time, energy and money trying to contact and ‘convert’ them. Focus instead on building professional channels so that those who need you can find you and make rapid progress to total absence of need.
Next: Key Principles