This review originally appeared on the WebMarketCental blog in July 2008.
In writing Marketing That Matters, authors Chip Conley and Eric Friedenwald-Fishman, not content merely to provide an above-average book on marketing strategy, instead wrote an impressive book on marketing strategy—with a point of view.
The book combines guidance on marketing strategy and tactics with a “socially responsible” orientation. The result is best described as an avocado of a book: a solid core of marketing strategy surrounded by a thick layer of politically liberal messaging. As with an avocado, some readers will find this outer layer delightfully tasty, while others will consider it disgusting green mush.
“Socially responsible” has become a charged term. It perhaps shouldn’t be; first off, who would want to run a “socially irresponsible” business? (According to the authors, Wal-Mart executives, of course.) Second, many of the management practices that the authors attribute to social responsibility—minimizing energy use, creating a positive work environment for employees, purchasing from local suppliers when possible—would simply be called good business by most entrepreneurs and managers. Keeping energy costs under control and employees happy is good for the bottom line, regardless of broader societal or political ramifications.
But, social responsibility or irresponsibility aside, the authors do provide an excellent treatise on marketing strategy. Some examples:
– Getting it: “Marketing is about creating relationships…people don’t want to be marketed to—they want to build a relationship with…New-school marketing is based upon satisfying needs. Pushing product doesn’t work anymore, especially in the era of the Internet, when savvy customers can connect with each other and trade stories about your product—and your company—and can easily find alternative choices.” This is precisely the message of The Cluetrain Manifesto, and it’s always refreshing to read authors who get this.
– Strategy starts with customer understanding: “Strategic marketing is acquiring a deep understanding of the needs and desires of your existing and potential customers and designing your business (products, services, delivery mechanisms, customer experience, branding, outreach, etc.) to meet and exceed their needs and desires. When energy bar leader Clif Bar developed the Luna bar, the core idea for creating the product—active women need an energy bar and have different nutritional needs than men—was a demonstration of the pure definition of strategic marketing. The strategic marketing decision to design an energy bar specifically for active women then led to many other strategic and tactical choices, regarding product design, branding and packaging, product distribution, community partnerships, and, ultimately, promotional and sales strategies.”
– Affinity matters: “Consider gathering your leadership team in a room and looking at…a particularly compelling customer experience that can be articulated to the world. Ask each person to talk to two loyal customers about how they describe the company, brand, product, or service to their friends. See what’s consistent in their messaging and start to build a story that you can use in all of your communications with the world: on your Web site, in your brochures, in your press releases, in your company orientation with new employees…In Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands, Kevin Roberts asks a provocative question: ‘How do you get intimate with customers without being invasive or insincere?’ This is such a refreshing question in today’s world of commoditized brands, where everything feels standardized, distant, and lacking in personal touch. Get this question right and you’ll build a fiercely loyal customer base.” The challenge of aligning your definition of affinity with that of your customer has been addressed here before.
– Build a community: “Building a community of believers is one of the best pieces of marketing advice we can give to any businessperson…According to consulting giant McKinsey & Company (a company which does virtually no advertising, by the way; the company has an almost 100% referral and reputation-based business), about two-thirds of all economic activity in the U.S. is influenced by people’s shared opinions about a product, brand or service…What if you had to tell your story nine times before your best friend acknowledged what you were saying? For one, you’d probably pick a new best friend. But that’s a good way of looking at the inherent flaws in traditional advertising. Conventional wisdom suggests that it take nine impressions for a potential customer to retain the information in an ad. One good story from a friend far outweighs the potential of nine expensive ads…The Internet is the perfect medium for furthering the conversation between companies and their most enthusiastic customers. Check out any marketing-savvy…company’s eb site and we bet you’ll find many ways to engage with the community that orbits around that company or brand.”
There is much, much more lucid and valuable strategic advice on topics such as branding, customer-centricity, empowering employees to spread your brand message, the role of emotion in decision making, and the importance of capturing and properly utilizing marketing metrics.
Again, however, these morsels of strategic marketing wisdom are drenched here in copious amounts of social responsibility sauce which won’t appeal to all tastes. For example:
– Would you really want to work with people who have no sense of humor (or worse, no sense period)? “We’ve seen SRBs (socially responsible businesses) with poor marketing campaigns that came about as a result of choosing process over impact. What we mean by this is that they were so tied to their do’s (always include all the facts and details, spend your advertising dollars only in publications that support your politics and point of view, only market products and services that are critical to human survival, etc.) and don’ts (never print in full color, never use humor in your marketing, etc.) that they forgot to ask, ‘Does this marketing approach have an impact on our customer?'”
– Strange watercoolers. “In media stories, comments on blogs, and discussions at office watercoolers, it’s not uncommon to read or hear comments like ‘Why wouldn’t you pay twenty-five cents more per pound to know that farmers are making a living, that your food is healthy, and that yhour tomato didn’t contribute to global warming by flying across the world?’ All good questions.” First, such conversations are far less common in most of the country that the authors may realize. And second, many readers are likely to feel that anyone who seriously believes that flying tomatoes cause global warming really needs to be reading Bjorn Lomborg, not Conley and Friedenwald-Fishman.
– Government good, markets bad. Considering that marketing is the subject of the book, the authors are at times bizarrely anti-markets. “In fact, when we think of companies taking a stand, we usually think of industry-funded campaigns or individual company-sponsored ads, in which business voice has been used to fight health-care reform, limit tougher air and water quality standards, fight living wage laws…or limit liability for products such as guns.”
Again, the authors seem to ignore the likelihood that many business people (the audience for this book) legitimately believe that more competition and less regulation is a better path to reducing health care costs and improving quality than a government takeover and exclusion of the private sector would be; that environmental standards should pass reasonable cost/benefits analysis before implementation; that raising costs on small business owners and reducing employment opportunities for entry level and marginally skilled workers isn’t a great idea; and that we’re better off without laws designed to enrich trial lawyers while making self defense more difficult and expensive.
– Confusing community involvement with controversy. The authors advise putting “philanthropy at the center of your value/values proposition,” and highlight companies that support causes such as finding a cure for breast cancer, helping women escape the international sex trade, and keeping kids safe—all worthy and non-controversial causes.
But when the authors praise the work of groups like the Sierra Club, they are going to alienate readers who place affordable food for developing nations, American jobs, and relief for families from record-high gas prices above enriching thugocratic Middle Eastern despots and avoiding any inconvenience to Alaskan caribou. Even the writers’ own local newspaper has picked up on the folly of substituting biofuels for petroleum, noting that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Conley and Friedenwald-Fishman are from San Francisco, and their city’s offbeat, left-of-center leanings are clearly on display here. While this book is likely to sell well in a line from Los Angeles to Seattle, its prospects anywhere to the right of the left coast—geographically or politically—are less clear. Perhaps the authors don’t care. But it does seem incongruous to write a book about marketing (which is the art of persuasion) while being so enamored with government regulation (pure brute force).
It’s unfortunate that the authors have chosen to imply that anyone who believes strongly in supporting philanthropic causes or sensible environmental protection must also be enamored with gun control and socialized healthcare. In placing so much emphasis on controversial political positions, the book needlessly alienates (at least) half of its potential audience. If your political leanings are left of center, you’ll like (most of) this book. But if not, you’ll have decide if getting to the solid core of worthwhile marketing strategy here is worth the effort of mentally scraping away the thick coating of green mush.