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Who Does Your Marketing Serve?

by Matthew Grant  |  
September 27, 2012

What if people were willing to pay you for the privilege of receiving your marketing materials?

A while back, I spoke with Laura Fitton about the idea of "useful" marketing, and we thought that, if you could actually get people to pay you for your marketing, that that would be a leading indicator of just how useful people found it.

I was reminded of this thought experiment when speaking with IBM's Yuchun Lee for this week's episode of Marketing Smarts. Yuchun believes that marketers can and should harness the power of technology to increase the relevance of their communications, with the ideal being a level of relevance that feels to the consumer like a service.

"Every email that you send to a client," he said, "shouldn't be about trying to sell and promote something. It should be about adding value. It should be about service. We call this marketing so good... it feels like a service."

A Copernican Shift

Copernicus famously revolutionized the way humans viewed the solar system by demonstrating that the sun, not Earth, was at its center.

Thinking about your marketing in terms of usefulness or as a service attempts to accomplish the same thing because it forces you to view your marketing from the perspective of the customer and not simply as "an augmenting function of the sales function," as Yuchun put it.

In other words, that kind of Copernican shift encourages you to ask  of every bit of marketing (your website, your emails, your Twitter and Facebook feeds, your ebooks, your infographics, your blog, etc.), "What does this do for my customer? How does this help them? How can they use this?"

Double Talk or the Way of the Future?

Putting it that way, of course, makes this idea seem reasonable. We all want to be "customer-centric" and what better way to demonstrate our commitment to this ideal than to create marketing materials that aren't "for us" but are "for them"?

That being said, though, whether we have this service mentality or not, we are, at the end of the day, really creating this stuff for own ends. The proof of that pudding is this: If "marketing as a service" made customers happy but didn't have any impact on sales, we would pull the plug, right?

For this reason, I fear that there is an air of double talk about this concept. Marketers know that people are leery of marketing and will filter out marketing messages whenever they can. Calling it a service then amounts to little more than an attempt to elude these filters by convincing people that your marketing is actually something else.

At the same time, according to Yuchun, research suggests that the use of service-type messages—highly personalized recommendations based on past purchase behavior, for example—can lift response rates and that people respond favorably to increased relevance, viewing relevant marketing as helpful (e.g., as a service) rather than intrusive promotional or marketing-y.

So, what do you think? Double talk or way of the future?

Or is your opinion more like, "If it works, who cares?"

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My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.

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  • by Ilana Rabinowitz Fri Sep 28, 2012 via blog

    Both kinds of marketing are important. There is the inspirational, educational, helpful content that creates loyalty and for which we have a hard time deciphering ROI. There is also the highly relevant, targeted content that aims to sell. The permission for that revenue generating content is often earned through the first type of content. But, they are distinct types of messages. The problem arises when businesses confuse them.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Mon Oct 1, 2012 via blog

    I agree that they are distinct and companies make a mistake when they confuse them, but, if I understood Yuchun correctly, then he said the research has shown that the "service-oriented" marketing actually lifts the performance of all marketing in the mix. An interesting finding, if true!

  • by Michael O'Daniel Mon Oct 8, 2012 via blog

    I know from experience that positioning your organization as a resource to its customers and prospects pays dividends. Sometimes we went the extra mile and referred prospects to another company that either had something we didn't have, or could better serve their needs. Call it the karmic theory of marketing.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Mon Oct 8, 2012 via blog

    I like your "karmic theory of marketing." People definitely like and respect it when they feel that your goal is to help them FIRST.

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