Paul Simon vs Backstreet Boys

I remember a while back, when all my thoughts and beliefs were coming together in the vision that would become Good Empire, I was having an argument with someone about marketing.

This person was very clever, especially with words, and about six wines behind me, so I wasn’t able to express myself properly, and I remember blurting out “marketing isn’t just asking people what they want and giving it to them!”

“That’s precisely what marketing is,” she informed me. “That is literally the text-book meaning of marketing.”

“Well… it shouldn’t be!” I stammered.

I woke up the next morning, really frustrated that I couldn’t articulate what I believed, so I sat down and started modelling what I believed.

But first I looked up about three hundred descriptions of what marketing was, according to every manner of marketing expert. 

And what I came up with was this:

Marketing is the connection between the offering and the people.

The offering is more than just what you do, it is also what you stand for. 

Therefore the people (traditionally referred to as the market) are the people who want what you do, but also want to be part of what you stand for.

I drew those things on an X and Y axis, with Offering on the X, and People on the Y. And both the offering and the people were either fixed or variable. 

You either know what you wanted to offer, or you’re open to changing it. You either know exactly who you want to market to, or you’re open to that too. 

Now, old school sales sat in the Fixed/Fixed quadrant. You had a product, you wanted to sell it to this person. Both fixed. If you’re lucky, they wanted and needed your product, otherwise you would do your darndest to convince them they did. Not great.

So along comes magnanimous marketing, saying “we want to know what YOU want. Tell us, and we’ll give it to you.” Fixed people, but variable offering. Customer-driven. Data-driven. 

Sounds good right?

Except all you get is Backstreet Boys. 

In the opposite quadrant, you get Paul Simon. Bob Dylan. Joni Mitchell.

This is my offering. This is what I have for the world. I don’t know who is going to want it, and I don’t actually mind, I’m just going to put it out there.

Fixed offering. Variable people. 

That’s how you change the world. 

That’s a good brand that stands for something. 

In this world of obsession with data and optimisation, maybe it’s worth considering what you want to stand for, what you have to offer the world, before asking everyone what they want.

Maybe the best kind of marketing is when what you stand for is fixed, but what you do is variable.

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