Marketing Theory – Practice = Nowhere
There has been some excellent stuff on Futurelab, so the title of their recent post, Why Marketing Needs to Change, made me sit up.
The propositions in the #ChangeMarketing Manifesto, however, struck me as pretty obvious. Do marketers need to be told to “live up to the promises they make”, and “choose media and messages people embrace”? And consider this, from the introductory post:
In the coming years, CEOs that want sustainable growth need to make sure their business becomes customer-centric.
1. it’s still not obvious to everyone, and
2. people haven’t figured out how to do it
It’s a nice theory, customer-centric marketing. Of course, you have about a hundred different definitions of it, from focusing on customers rather than sales (wrong) to marketing based on detailed knowledge of the customer (better). But a theory doesn’t get you anywhere without a set of practices to make them work. Customer-centricism is particularly hard to put into practice. More than a decade after the appearance of Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, most companies don’t have a clue how to implement concepts like these.
Getting Beyond Theory
Companies often try to institute new practices by buying a system. In the 1990s businesses were sold on the idea of using CRM systems to achieve a customer-centric ideal. Enormous, complex, and expensive, these systems usually ended up decreasing a company’s ability to satisfy customers. At one point more than half of CRM initiatives were failures. It’s happening all over with marketing automation systems and online communities.
A system as a solution is bound to fail. A real system – a change in culture – is built from the bottom up, not imposed from the top down. It begins when you apply a new model to a small area of the business – maybe a new product line, or a single location – and rework the model until it succeeds. Only then do you figure out how to apply that in the company infrastructure. If you try to impose a complete system first, you start making compromises everywhere, and you lose big.
So, what’s the practice of customer-centric marketing? It’s the practice of building relationships with the customers (and to be fair, that’s the idea of Futurelab’s “live up to the promises we make”). But telling people to build relationships is like telling them to be customer-centric. Without setting up concrete practices, it’s going to fail.
Practice is What Counts
The core of customer-centric marketing is building a deeper and more trusting relationship with your customer. If you don’t have a clear set of practices to develop that relationship, (as opposed to learning what were the last 10 items they bought online), how can you
- better engage them?
- better profile them?
- better nurture them?
- better qualify them?
The way you develop this relationship is the way you put any major change into practice: you focus first on a specific challenge, not the whole business. You start a program to address that one challenge, and pilot it as far away as possible from the existing infrastructure. Got an office in the Pitcairn Islands? Go for it. In this setting, apart from the business core, you try new ideas and iterate quickly, until you’ve developed a new model. Then you use that model for other groups within the organization company to adopt
That’s the practice. It’s not the stuff of manifestos, but it works when you work it.