Monday, April 23, 2001

Living in A Material World

I came across this article in the current edition (April 16, 2001) of FORTUNE magazine and thought it the perfect way to kick off an International Marketing discussion!

Geoffrey Colvin, in his article entitled “Living in A Material World” places the real issue of marketing right in front of your face, “the reality is that customer are not cyborgs but human beings, who haven’t evolved significantly in 20,000 years.”

To me this quote strikes at the very heart of the marketing conundrum, especially on an international basis, that is: the need to remember at all times that there is a human being on the receiving end of all marketing actions and to be successful, one must speak in a marketing dialect that matches that consumer.

The text talks about the obstacles created by “Self-Reference Criterion” and how such SRC can filter decision-making via “an unconscious reference to one’s own culture values, experiences, and knowledge as a basis” for those decisions. While sometimes SRC driven marketing can deliver success, Colvin notes that Ted Turner has “made himself a billionaire on the belief that most people are a lot like him” the simple truth is that even when we can “all see where we’re going” … “as human beings, we’re not there yet.”

I remember when I was just starting out in sales; I believed my job was to tell every customer everything I knew about the equipment they were considering. In this manner they would be making informed decisions and I would be doing my job to the fullest. Lucky for me, sheer enthusiasm (passion for the product) carried the day otherwise my commission checks wouldn’t have paid any bills. Eventually, I discovered that if I attempted to learn about where the customer was coming from, my presentations could be much more succinct and effective which when combined with passion made for great sales performances.

The key to marketing then is a true understanding, in terms used by the end consumer, of the needs and desires that a given product may or may not fill. From that understanding a bridge can be built to connect to the consumer and deliver the sale.

In spite of how many times we might be tempted to skip this vital understanding step in the belief that the whole world is changing and the whole world gets it (sound’y enough for you?) as Colvin writes, “major shifts in how we live never happen instantly or completely.” Marketing has more to do with the basics of being human than most any other organizational function (yes, even more than HR ;-)) certainly more than for which marketing is normally given credit.


Fortune, Apr 16, 2001 p80.Title: Living in a material world.
Author: Geoffrey Colvin

P. Cateora, J. Graham. "International Marketing." Irwin McGraw-Hill. 1999.

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