Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management textbooks have sold more than 20 million copies.
So when Kotler speaks or writes, it’s worth noting by those of us making a living as marketers or sales professionals.
This week, Kotler’s wrote this AMA opinion piece “Marketing Needs a Conscience.”
Are those of us involved in Marketing simply unprincipled? Should we feel bad about what we’re doing? Kotler aims his criticism at marketers who get people to want and spend more than they can afford. He blames us for creating “differentiation” among products and services that are essentially the same (why pay extra for fancy vodka – which is essentially the same as discount vodka? Marketing!). We’re “promoting a materialistic mindset.”
He’s got a point, there. It’s not a bad thing to give people what they want – I think that’s responsiveness. And I don’t think it’s our job to tell people that they’re wrong for wanting what they want. But the problem comes with our use of selling and marketing tools, techniques and skills that are quite powerful – when we use those tools without regard for their impact on people.
I teach state-of-the-art selling skills, and help businesses improve their marketing efforts. And I’ve learned that up-to-date selling and marketing skills, applied properly, get results. More sales, new clients, an improving bottom line.
Like Kotler, though, I’ve had to be clear with myself that the skills of modern marketing and selling are effective, whether they’re applied to legitimate products and services, or those that are perhaps not so legitimate. It’s important that we think before we apply these powerful skills, to make sure we like the person looking back at us when we glance at a mirror.
Take the lottery. One of the state lotteries found me on the web, and approached me about improving their marketing efforts. I could have done that. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that a lot of little kids’ lunch money was being spent on lotto tickets -- it’s my understanding that people who spend the most money buying lottery tickets are often those who can least afford the expenditure. Or in the words of Brent Kramer, an adjunct assistant professor at City University of New York, “Do we really want to support our public needs by relying on poorer families’ desire to gamble on getting rich?”
I walked away.
The same can be said for those of us working hard to play up minor differences between the services we offer, and those offered by our competitors. Some recent research, published in The Challenger Sale, says that sometimes, the thing that differentiates what we offer from our competitors is … us!
It’s not better features, more bells and whistles; it’s the trust and confidence that our prospective clients have in us, based on our track record, our experience, and our way of dealing with them – a way that says we care, that we won’t be satisfied until whatever we’re selling them is working for them.
So rather than seeking to make an argument that our service is different when in fact it’s similar to our competitors’, we might walk away from that, instead differentiating ourselves on the basis of who we are, and the trust we’re worthy of!