Isn't Marketing About Selling More?

I am at interesting marketing trends conference in London today, hosted by In fact, I was speaking on a 'green' panel at the conference. My role: to communicate the service paradigm, and its connection to sustainability, to an audience who are used to being paid money by clients to sell more products (I am generalizing). I am here to talk about looking beyond the product, or even behind the product, to the systemic challenges and opportunities for innovation — through the supply chain to the business model (the system). Here's some examples where this thinking is needed: John Grant responded to an audience comment on a brand of Scotch Whiskey made and bottled in Scotland (to claim its authenticity) and shipped to China bearing the weight of glass bottles. Wouldn't it make more sense to bottle it in China (or make it in China dare I even say it)? His point was that sooner or later consumers will be uncomfortable with carbon tag connected to this kind of systemic insanity. In fact, one day, Scotch Whiskey shipped to China will be a stupid idea — no? In the same conversation, I cited that U.S. import taxes on alcohol have all but disappeared, but import alcohol still generates a 20-30% higher margin (don't quote me on that exact percentage), so manufacturers get it produced offshore then imported back into the U.S. to sell again at an import premium! Consumers think they are getting a premium alcohol and are happy to pay more for it. Systemic insanity again. The tone for our debate was brilliantly established with these examples. We were talking systems and business models, and less about "What can I do about this green thing?", which is the question I keep getting asked by marketers lately. John also discussed the recent statistics from a Marketing Week survey carried out by YouGov in the UK that lists the most environmentally friendly and unfriendly companies perceived by consumers. Four out of the top five most perceived offenders are all airlines. So, Branson is racing to come up with a 'clean fuel' for the airline industry and there's suddenlty momentum on cracking the science. But no one is discussing the front end of this ie, how transportation, or mobility, in an era of climate change, needs rethinking systemically — do we need to fly at all for some journeys, how flying connects to other mobility options, how we get to and from airports, what is the most efficient flight path/journey we should take, how can we use communications effectively to change behaviours and challenge the business travel obsession etc. All this in the same week that New York City announced all Yellow Taxis will be Hybrid tech vehicles, phased in over the next five years. Good news, yes, but what about looking at the system of transportation as a whole in the city. The Yellow Taxis are actually a brilliant mechanism for moving around the city, second to the subway system of course which is better unless you are home late or heading to the airport. What if a city took all private cars (not freight) out of it, centrally, and relied on integration of cabs and subways to move around. That would be a systematic change and a true product service system. (Just a thought!).

I love this example too that came up in discussion on our panel. John has been working with a mobile phone provider in the U.K., redesigning the network service package for consumers in ways that make sense for all. So, he's suggesting that if you ask consumers to sign-up for a four year commitment with a provider, the provider will commit to not spending your dollars/pounds on marketing to keep you from churning, thereby reducing production, energy, resources and landfill. It's a smarter decision for all — less cost, better customer relationships, less shite in our lives, more customization possible Smart thinkers are looking systemically at consumption, like this, and finding there are many, many opportunities for innovation that benefit all. I am starting to think about 'green marketing' (using the conference semantic), as "selling better/selling smarter". Actually, I'm not thinking green marketing at all, because I think this is beyond marketing to business redesign and innovation. To smarter, better solutions for all.

One big question, which not only underpinned the 'green' session but also lingered throughout the day, was "Isn't marketing about selling more?". In other words, how do we sell less for more in our current economic paradigm? Where can we find ways to fulfil consumers needs and desires in non-material ways? What are the new models of business and capitalism? No one quite has the answers yet, though interesting discussion led to observations around food consumption — namely that people are more and more interested in the provenance of their product, buying locally, re-connecting to the producers and to communities of others opting for the same choices as them. So, there is growing desire to feel good about what you purchase and how you purchase it, in place of the purchase itself taking on so much meaning. The challenge is how you demonstrate the status of these choices, which are often intangible, to others.

Another example I'd like to draw on from the day, from Nico Banaie, which is relevant to selling less, is what is happening in the newspaper publishing industry and their ad sales model. Namely a transformation from editorial print publishing to self-authored/organising digital publishing models. A shift from product to service, and dematerialization. The Guardian has successfully transformed its positioning from a newspaper publisher to "The World's Leading Liberal Voice", embracing the digital revolution and disrupting the whole publishing business model. Guardian Soulmates alone is generating considerable revenue for them - second to the ad sales in the paper. And their model is reaching global audiences never before possible. The debate whether print news will survive the digital revolution has been around forever, but there is something to learn from the seamless shift The Guardian has made. Instead of trying to out-beat its competitors by innovating within the current business model, The Guardian is creating new ones — free to do so under its guiding philosophy. Take away the printed beast, the product, and The Guardian is a powerful brand and business model.

The product world has much to learn from the digital transformation that has been going on over the last 10 years. If the sustainability agenda were to tap into the way digital thinkers and shapers transform and create (there were lots of smart, smart digital thinkers at the conference), I think we could be up for some brilliant systemic innovation and be heading toward better solutions and selling smart for all.

[Written by Tamara Giltsoff]

Tags: London