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The Secrets of Successful Business Part Ten: A Simple Programme (or Marketing Stood On Its Head)

Marketing is commonly seen in two ways.

Both are highly damaging to any business.

Radical statement?

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?