Marketers have a lot to answer for. At least that is what the Skinny Professor told me the other night. He’s right, at least about how marketing was executed in the past. Find ways to sell people more stuff that they didn’t need, that would need to be replaced because it was of low quality, to improve sales, market share and profit.
As a recovering marketer, I hate it that he’s right. So earlier this week when a new acquaintance told me that he has mixed feelings about branding, because he wasn’t a materialistic person, I understood exactly what he was getting at. Historically marketing has appealed to our self-interest and self-aggrandisement.
This morning I read an article in Strategy+Business about “The Power of the Post-Recession Consumer” (Spring 2011, Issue 62). The post-recession consumer is shifting from mindless consumption to mindful consumption. Although I disagree with the idea that this shift is driven by sudden consumer absorption with ethics, I do believe that this shift is happening.
Consumer interest in brand attributes such as exclusivity, arrogance, sensuousness and daringness were all down, while interest in kindness, empathy, friendliness and quality were all up. Personal savings levels in the US are up, as is an interest in quality, quality of life and simplicity. Thrift is the new byword.
So perhaps marketing could be practiced differently to support a different, anti-materialistic world. Marketing could lead the effort to develop products with longer lives, less obsolescence, better quality, durability. Marketing could lead the effort to help consumers choose products that better fit their needs, which reduces the churn of dissatisfaction. A marketer’s objective might be to sell less to fewer people, but to sell right. If a firm becomes positioned on quality and targets the right customer for its’ products, perhaps it can justify higher margins to offset lower quantity. Maybe we can help people see that they don’t need their stuff to express their creativity and individuality. Perhaps good marketing is about the opposite of materialism?
Or, maybe I’m wrong, and the future of marketing is doomed to be morally and ethically bankrupt.