Last night I was catching up on the news of the day and some talking heads on CNN were going on about Trump (not a new topic, to be fair). The subject at hand was the old chestnut of his apparent comfort with lying anytime it served his personal agenda. This in itself did not seem like new news. Nor did it seem to be particularly startling because it is just what it seems he does. Even his most ardent supporters seem to accept that is part of his personal “style”. And then IT happened.
“He is, at heart, a marketing man and that is what marketing people do. They create stories which need no basis in reality (AKA lies) if it serves their purposes”. Say what? The journalist espousing this POV, denigrating all marketing people, seemed very self-assured in his knowledge of all things marketing.
In full disclosure, my college degree is a B. Comm, with a specialty in marketing. So, as you can imagine, this cut to my core. I felt morally evisorated and I hoped my daughters never saw the CNN piece where it indicated that their dad might well be a liar for hire. It was not the Trump comparison that shattered my world. It was the very notion that good marketing people would just lie to sell their brands seemed so wrong, in so many ways.
Obviously, as in all walks of life, there are people who will do whatever it takes to “win”. Money, power, or fear can do that to some people. But, most people follow a moral compass, which sees them treating others, as they would wish to be treated themselves. Honest, fair, trustworthy, and offering fair value are personal currencies, which bring their own rewards.
But there it was, a new world definition of marketing people was being presented as people who lie knowingly and willingly to sell more stuff.
What happened to the belief that marketing is primarily about creating relationships between consumers and brands, based on matching the consumers’ needs to the real qualities that particular brands offer? In my mind, marketing people have the task of first understanding what consumers want and then developing brand offerings that align with those consumer wants. These wants could be functional, emotional, or some combination therein, but in all cases they are real and cannot be swayed just because someone “puts lipstick on their pig”.
Furthermore, all good marketing people know, understand, and accept that the most important ingredient they can offer their fan base is TRUST. Trust is what people buy. They trust that brand X will deliver benefits A, B, and C consistently and that brand X can be purchased for a fair price, in relation to what it provides to them. In no case that I know of, is trust created or retained where the basis for the intended relationship is founded on a lie. Life simply doesn’t work that way.
And most great agency clients are great marketing people. They know that you can only sell crap once, unless the audience is asking to buy crap, and that anyone who buys crap will write that brand off for the future. In fact, it is worse than that, because in this heady world of social media bad news travel more quickly and to the furthest points of people’s socialsphere than ever before. Our client marketing people know this and they behave accordingly.
So, if you believe in the core values of marketing, it is time to start taking back the high ground of what it means to be a marketing person. We need to do more than take a knee at the brand status meetings. We need to make sure we are being the role models we know we should be. We need to put our relationship with our key audiences at the forefront of all of our thinking. And all decisions need to be evaluated in terms of their ability to build trust versus undermine it.
A special thanks goes out to CNN and The Donald for this important reminder.