Who’s “getting” modern marketing?

keyboard cat
This is about “getting it.”

Everyone in the marketing world wants to be someone who “gets it.”  It’s one of the highest compliments we casually bestow on our peers.  Oh, he’s brilliant.  He totally gets it. I’d hire her in a second; she really gets it. No one ever really says what it is but, believe me, you want it.  You want it in spades.

“Getting it” is the secret code for having a firm understanding of operating within the new media environment, more specifically, the digital channel.  In my experience, that’s usually where the conversation ends. No one ever specifies what “it” is.  The obvious conclusion is that those who “get it” know-it-when-they-see-it; those that don’t are left to wonder if there isn’t a YouTube video they missed somewhere along the line.

This post is my attempt to unravel what “getting it” truly means.

A Brief Definition of Marketing

Traditionally, marketing is about manufacturing demand.  The art of making people desire a product they may or may not know exists.  Doing so is an uncertain mix between art and science – a secret sauce that combines the math of reach, the empathy of planning, the creativity of storytelling, and the art of design. Mix it all together and you have the witch’s brew that we call marketing.  Little bit of magic, lot of bit of grossness.  Still, it’s potent and gets the job done.

McCann Worldgroup likes to break it down in a nifty chart they call “The McCann Demand Chain.”


As you can see, it works impressively well on stick figures.

Much of the struggle within the marketing community has been determining how to apply and expand the techniques of demand generation for the digital space.  None of this is wrongheaded in the slightest; demand generation remains as important as ever. Too often, though, the laser focus on figuring out “demand generation”  obscures an equally important, but newly emerged function of marketing: needs fulfillment.

Consumers Have Needs Too

A good portion of marketing conversations are inevitably focused on ourselves.  Our need to meet quarterly goals or achieve communication objectives.  Our need to adhere to budgets and timelines.  We often forget that consumer have needs too – fiscal needs, product needs, utility needs, community needs, emotional needs and more.

Over the years, marketing learned to do a great job satisfying emotional needs — specifically the need for meaning.  For the most part, the other needs were left to the other departments.  After all, the marketing dept isn’t in charge of designing and bringing the product itself to market.  But now that marketers find themselves in the software and social engineering business (and that’s truly what digital marketing often is), we are increasingly responsible for ensuring the consumer’s other needs are met as well.

Consumers need to engage with information and content on the go.  Consumers need simple and elegant methods for sharing things with their friends.  They require opportunities to connect and interact with brands on their own time, across a variety of mediums. They need intuitive interfaces that avoid confusion and make technology disappear.

If these needs aren’t met, consumers simply go elsewhere.  How often have you given up on a website, brand or store simply because it wasn’t easy or obvious how to find what you were looking for?  How often have you radically changed your behavior to take advantage of a simpler or streamlined experience?  (If you’ve ever used iTunes, Kindle, Seamless Web, Hulu, or the Google then you know exactly what I’m talking about – but this doesn’t just apply to digital properties.  Think about the supermarkets in your area, for example.)  How many digital properties that didn’t exist two years ago have you come to rely on as a source of information or social connection?

But utility alone isn’t enough.  Daniel Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind,” observed that “[i]t’s no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience… that’s merely functional.  Today it’s economically crucial… to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.”

Time to Retool Our Mindset

I realize this is a stretch for many less progressive marketing departments.  We don’t have precise ways to measure or compensate executives for the amount of beauty, function and meaning they bring to a Brand.  Many marketing departments aren’t really thinking about expanding functional relationships with consumers – they don’t’ feel it’s their job or their purview.  But it is.

The Brands, agencies and individuals who truly “get it” are those that can recognize and operate across both aspects of the marketing spectrum.  It is the job of the marketer to build and maintain relationships with consumers – and digital is expanding our toolset (and our responsibility) as far as we can imagine.