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What Every Marketer Can Learn From Target

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Stop! Stop and think about one thing. Remember! Remember that house in the neighborhood that all of the kids loved to visit? Remember? It was the fun place where everyone wanted to "hang out." Think about it. I will come back to that house.

Target as a retail operation has the perfect name. It defined its target and hit the bullseye. I want to make it clear that I have no professional affiliation with Target, and never have had one. And I have no financial interest in Target whatsoever. But as a marketing professional, I do have personal and professional interest in Target. In fact, I am in awe of it.

Stop and Remember

Target made me stop and remember what marketing really is all about. Yes, I said, "stop," and "remember."

Stop? We are nonstop. We don't have time to stop. If we stop, our competition passes us! And remember what? We change buzzwords every other week. We are trying to just keep up. Who has time to look back to remember anything? No wonder we forget to "stop," and "remember" just what we are really trying to do.


I have never been privy to any of Target's strategy meetings or planning sessions. All I can do is daydream as to what went on. If I were a betting man, I would say that they "dumbed" it down to the basics. They decided to "keep it simple, stupid."

The Core and Beauty of Marketing Is Basic

In the chaos of all of Target's strategy meetings and planning sessions, someone at Target said, "Stop." And, he or she got everyone to remember that the core and beauty of marketing is basic. And that is something we marketing professionals consistently seem to lose sight of while juggling all of our marketing balls in our hectic circuses.

I appreciate the value of qualitative and quantitative research. I rely on competitive analysis. I employ and rely on the tools of our trade, and I focus on a lot of data. And, they are important. What we all in marketing also tend to do is make the mistake of losing focus of the basics of marketing. Target did not.

What is the core of marketing? It is really quite simple and basic. The core is not competitive analysis or quantitative research. It is people.

We are dealing with people... human beings... human nature. And, as complex as humans are, human nature is really basic on one level: relationships. Relationships develop because of a chemistry of personalities. Think about it. It is that simple.

Think about your relationships. There is a very basic and simple methodology that guides us to categorize our relationships. One category includes the people you love and like (those you gravitate toward), and the other category includes the people with whom you simply associate, rely on, or... sorry to say, but yes... use (those you engage when you need them).

Simple, basic, innate human nature causes humans to automatically categorize our relationships based on that basic methodology. Also, just as basic as that is, we base in which category people fall on one basic thing, personality. People can float between the two categories, but they will go in one category or the other depending on the personality chemistry at that point in time. As complex as human nature is, it is also just that primal and basic. The same holds true in our wonderful world of marketing.

Our jobs are extremely complex, yet the foundation of marketing is basic. That is what Target stopped to remember. And, the lesson that Target learned is what we all need to remember.

We use terms such as brand strategy and brand equity. I think Target looked at it in more basic terms. It stuck with the basics of human nature and developed a personality. And, to the envy of many retailers, that personality got Target into the "love/like" category of its customers. Ask consumers about Target, you will hear a lot of them say, "I love Target." Now that is brand strategy!

Regardless of our marketing mix, our product lifecycle, our CRM data, and our competitive analysis, our real job as marketing professionals is always to "stop" and "remember" the basics.

We have to decide only a few simple things to keep us focused. The most important is in which category do we want the market to place us.

The Devil Wears Prada

If you are marketing Prada, are you going for the "love/like" category? Or, are you going for a "devilish" strategy of positioning the product where consumers "use" the Prada brand as an expensive trophy?

What about a tire manufacturer? I do not care what anyone in the tire manufacturing business says about branding. Tires are not going to be in the "love/like" category. Tires are bought because we rely on them... we use them. So for a tire manufacturer, the basics involve creating a personality that exudes reliability.

If you are Abercrombie and Fitch, is your relationship with your customers one of "love/like," or is it a relationship where the consumer "relies" on you to make him or her feel more attractive or popular when he or she proudly displays your logo? Those are simple questions. And, as a marketer, depending on the brand, it is also simple to decide whether you want to move from one category to the other. Just change personalities.

I know... I know. It is not that simple. But, what is simple is that we have to constantly stop and remember the basics of our profession—relationships and human nature—if we want to achieve our goals.

The House That Target Built

Remember at the beginning of this piece, when I asked you to stop and remember the house in the neighborhood that all of the kids loved to visit? What was it about that house? It was not the house. It was that household's collective personality that made the kids in the neighborhood love to visit that house.

In the retail arena, that house is Target. And, it is simply because Target stopped and remembered the basics of marketing. It stopped and remembered what it was really trying to do. And so it created a home with a personality that "kids" love to visit.


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Todd Terrell has over 20 years of marketing management experience in the environmental services, B2B, political, hospitality, retail, and manufacturing arenas.

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  • by Anna Schulze Wed Feb 20, 2008 via web

    This is an article about nothing. As a member of the "I love Target" club I was expecting to at least read something about how they turned their business around and what was the strategy involved in becoming a much-loved brand. No such luck here.

  • by Vijay Thu Apr 30, 2009 via web

    Thanks Anna, this was helpful to think about.

  • by Vijay Thu Apr 30, 2009 via web

    I mean Todd. Sorry.

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