This week’s post was inspired by two separate, and completely unrelated conversations, one with the Skinny Professor, and one with a new friend, the Woodworker. So let’s start at the beginning.
The Skinny Professor and I were on one our our marathon phone conversations, talking about a recent post of mine on the subject of deserving, when he mentioned his disallusionment with business. He feels like business, especially marketing, objectives are to manipulate us into buying things we don’t really need. While I conceded his point that many businesses do manipulate people into buying more than they need, I’m not sure that that is sustainable. Nor am I sure that that is good marketing. Personally, I believe that if a customer doesn’t need it, I shouldn’t manipulate her into buying it. But I felt like my response to him was a bit lame.
Then I read an analysis of a case study in the Harvard Business Review (May 09) by James Borg. Borg believes that there is a difference between persuasion and manipulation. That difference is intent. Persuasion is about meeting the needs of both parties which develops a long term relationship, while manipulation is about meeting your own needs at the expense of those of the other party. Typically relationships based on manipulation fail over the long term.
A few days later, I was talking to the Woodworker about one of his particularly difficult clients. I told him the story of a woman for whom I once did consulting work. I was billing her significant dollars, spending a lot of time providing her with advice, but she didn’t seem to do anything about it. She essentially wanted someone to tell her she was doing the right thing. I felt I wasn’t adding any value for her, even though she was willing to pay me a lot of money. So I politely and gently fired her. There was a lot of benefit for me to stay in the consulting relationship, and not a lot of benefit for her.
Which makes me wonder if marketers and strategists need to rethink the idea of marketing. Maybe selling more shouldn’t always be the objective. Maybe selling to the right person, at the right time, with the right reasons can be a powerful persuasive tool. If we do that well, there may be room to increase price and margins for delivering exactly the right product to the right person.
There has been a lot of talk about “de-marketing”, dumping customers who are not profitable. Perhaps we should re-think de-marketing. Rather than de-market to the unprofitable customer, should we de-market to those who don’t really benefit from our products? Does this provide a more sustainable and ethical basis for business? What do you think?