The Harsh (Yet Happy) Truth About Marketing

Back when I owned XLO, I wrote a manual for our dealers and their staff to help them make more sales. Included in it was a thing called "The One Minute Sales Trainer," which was a list of 10 rules that, if salesmen would remember them and put them into effect, would increase their sales dramatically.

tice_clock.jpgThe very first of those rules was that "Salesmen don't sell things; customers BUY them," and the proof of it can be seen in one simple fact: Although the salesman is always willing to make the sale, the sale doesn't always happen, and it's always the customer who makes the decision.

After that first rule came nine more, with the very most important of all being the last one; number ten: "There is only ONE sales technique that works: FIND OUT WHAT YOUR CUSTOMER WANTS, AND GIVE IT TO HIM. Sales made any other way aren't sales at all, they're just good luck."

So what does any of this have to do with audio? And how can it possibly have any importance for you?

That's easy: You're the customer, and in every single case, for every single thing you buy including audio, it's you who decides what you want; what you want it to be like and look like; what it's got to do and, for music or an audio product, how it's got to sound in order to get you to willingly part with that much money. And that, finally, gets us to the point of this article: marketing.

For as long as I can remember, the word "marketing" has been used by some people, particularly on the internet, as a put-down or a curse. To say that something is "all marketing hype" has come, along with those other words "snake oil" and "voodoo," to be just about as derogatory as you can get. It implies not just that the product has no value at all, either intrinsically or in use, but that anyone who sells it is some kind of cynical crook, out for nothing but to make a buck at any cost, and that anyone who buys it is at least incautious and may even be gullible or an outright fool.

In fact, though, none of those things is true, and instead of exposing some truth about the product or those who sell or buy it, to use the word marketing in that way really does nothing more than to expose the user's utter lack of understanding of what marketing actually is.

Marketing is the science of finding out what people want to buy and of presenting it to them in the way that they want to buy it. It goes back exactly to that 10th rule I mentioned above.

A company's marketing department -- if the company's big enough to have one, or its owners or management team, if it's not -- has as its primary duty to figure out what products the market they serve wants to buy; what those products need to do; how well they need to do it; what features and appearance they need to have; how they should be packaged, and what how they should be priced in order for customers to actually lay out the money to buy them and make it worthwhile for the company to take the risk of making them or keeping them in stock.

Then, because that old saying about "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door" isn't necessarily true, even under the best of circumstances, and will certainly not be true if potential customers don't know about your "mousetrap" and don't know where to buy it, it's the marketing department's job to figure out the appropriate channels of distribution and how to promote the company's products; where to promote them; for what kind of an advertising budget; spent in what media; in what increments; over what period of time. And all of that has to happen before even the first customer gets the first pitch from the first salesman. If you're that customer, it's the salesman who will actually make the sale to you, but it's marketing -- that supposedly hateful and deceptive practice -- that will make sure that the product is something that you want to buy; let you know about it; and make it available to you.

Notice that I said that the marketing department "... will make sure that the product is something that you want to buy..." Does that mean that the marketer's job is to make the customer want to buy it? To somehow, maybe even by bullying and falsehood, change the customer's mind and "force" him to buy something that he wouldn't otherwise want? Not at all:

Think about broccoli. If you don't like broccoli, and a restaurant you go to insists that you eat it, how successful do you think they're going to be? Even if they lie to you and tell you that it's really your favorite food, just disguised to look like broccoli? Do you really think that you'll eat more than a single bite? And do you think that, after being lied to and poisoned, you're going to pay the bill? Or that you'll ever go back to that restaurant again? Or that you won't warn your friends against ever going there?

Regardless of what some people may think, the overwhelming majority of businesses are neither foolish nor out to screw anybody. They understand that the products they offer must be what people want or that nobody's going to buy them. And they also understand that they actually have to deliver what they offer or that word will quickly get out and nobody will ever buy from them again.

So what's with all this stuff we hear about "marketing," and "snake oil" and "voodoo"? Although there probably are some charlatans among the people who offer products to us, people find out and they don't last for long. Even when a product of questionable merit, like the various "magic" clocks that were briefly big sellers in the '90s comes along, people eventually either find out or just lose interest and -- if they don't have any real performance to sustain them -- they eventually just go away.

And even with products like those clocks or any of the other things that come along and go away, I can't be certain that there was ever any intent to deceive. It seems much more likely that their "inventors" or "discoverers" may, themselves, have suffered the dread "placebo effect" or, more likely, the truth that "every mother's baby is beautiful" and brought those things to market because they really believed them to work. We are, after all, a community of enthusiasts, and most of the inventors and discoverers come from our very own ranks.

If there is a marketing problem, I think it's not one of too much "hype" or deception, but that not enough marketing was done to find out if the products involved would actually be things that the public would want to buy; that would "deliver the goods"; and that a viable business could be built on.

That's what marketing is for.

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