My Opinion of What Marketing is About

I found out at the last minute that I had homework for my first Marketing 5000 class which starts in a few minutes. I wasn’t sure how to turn it in (the class is online) so I’ll make it a blog post. Enjoy!

When I was working on an undergraduate degree, I was a participant in Student Government. I wanted to get better at what I was trying to accomplish so I bought and read the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. A friend of mine was over at my house visiting and saw the book on my desk. He exclaimed, in a horrified tone, “You shouldn’t read that! It tells you how to manipulate people!” My answer was, paraphrasing, “I don’t think manipulation is the right word. I remember reading in the book you should give compliments to the person you are attempting to influence, but they should be sincere compliments – you should look for something you genuinely admire about the person or the strategy won’t work. Also it says that business deals should benefit both parties.”

I’m aware that some businesses take a “churn and burn” attitude toward their customers. For example there is a retail store I’ve worked for briefly that does not care if the service in the store is horrible because they can always get in new customers by aggressive coupon marketing. At least that appears to be the attitude held by those in charge – I don’t have a statement saying so from them, I’m surmising it by the way the company is run. Their treatment of employees is similar: the equipment, such as lockers and cash registers is always breaking down, the toilets frequently back up and the bathroom stinks almost perpetually. Some of the managers are verbally abusive and don’t give bathroom breaks or answer new employee’s questions about how to do things without an accompanying put-down. As a result of things like that the turnover rate of employees is high which in turn creates even worse service for the customers. I’ve worked at other retail stores that have as part of their “basic beliefs” or “mission statements” goals like “respect for the individual” and “enhancing the quality of life in our community”. In both places the statements of beliefs and philosophy were distributed to all and posted in prominent locations. These businesses are seeking repeat business from customers and want to retain good employees while still trying to meet the challenges of staying profitable.

Dale Carnegie’s urging to make business deals that benefit all involved parties is an example of what is referred to as marketing concept in our textbook “Marketing” by authors William M. Pride and O.C. Ferrell. Marketing concept aims to meet the organization’s goals and the needs of customers through a management philosophy that involves not only the marketing department but all departments and activities of the organization (13-14). In light of this explanation of marketing concept, it’s not too surprising to me that the same company that is willing to treat employees poorly also does not mind treating customers poorly. My Mom and Dad passed on to me the teaching they got from their employer Boeing that other employees are to be considered as “internal customers”.

A business can sometimes legally choose to attempt to meet its customer’s needs while disregarding the long-term welfare of society. For example if a business moves manufacturing to another country to avoid environmental regulations or reduce labor costs, in the short term their profits will go up but society will suffer. We are seeing the effects right now in the coronavirus pandemic of having so many of our needed supplies come from far away. If a company can manufacture goods so cheaply that it’s cost effective to ship them thousands of miles, that might work until there is some kind of crisis that exposes the weaknesses of such practices.

In my opinion, here are some other examples that I’d like business leaders to think about:

  • Can our employees afford to buy the products? If they can afford them, they can use them and tell customers about them.
  • If the people in the target market don’t have jobs any more, can they afford to buy the products?
  • If we force our workers and the community to accept unhealthy conditions, will we always have a healthy and productive workforce to draw from?
  • If I try to take unfair advantage of the providers of goods and services, am I ok with that store or that vendor going out of business? For example, if you nickel and dime your webmaster to death until they have to get another job to stay solvent, will you care if you have to pay to get a whole new web site because you can’t find anyone reasonable to maintain the old one?

We could probably all go on and on with examples! If there is not enough public outrage or their government refuses to hold them accountable, businesses can get away with unsustainable practices for a long time.

In our textbook there is a case study about New Belgium Brewing on pages 26-27. NBB not only put thought into the quality of the product, they think of their employees, the community and the environment as stakeholders whose well-being is important. It’s part of their brand to care for all the stakeholders and they are still profitable and growing. A marketing concept is intended to benefit both profits and the full range of stakeholders.

I can’t afford to do all my shopping at Whole Foods, but I do shop there sometimes when I need something that other stores don’t have. Once I was trying to buy suet for making wild bird food cakes. The butcher at Whole Foods told me they did not sell suet. Since they do some of the meat cutting there in the store, I asked the butcher if I could buy a quantity of fat trimmings to experiment with. He told me I could have them for free and he’d save me some and to come back tomorrow. I did and got a nice big package of fat which helped feed a lot of birds. This employee did not know if I would buy anything from Whole Foods or not, but knew it was in keeping with their brand to provide that service. Whole Foods also donated a quantity of unused plastic containers to Litzinger Road Ecology Center where I am a volunteer. We used some of the containers as suet molds. With actions such as these, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to all stakeholders while reinforcing their brand.

Some consumers probably think of a brand as a name of a product or a logo, but a brand can also include things like sounds, colors, pictures, experiences, environments and actions. A marketing concept can help a business select actions that are good for profits and also for society.

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