Prairie Dog

The World Would Be a Better Place if Everyone Were a Marketer.

Said no one ever. But not so fast. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something to this declaration.

To use an overused business phrase, let’s unpack it.

We would start with the world being a better place, but odds are we’d struggle to agree on much of anything.

Instead, let’s talk about what it really means to be a marketer. A true-to-the-discipline marketer. A Peter Drucker, Clay Christensen, Philip Kotler kind of marketer.

Mark Ritson, global brand consultant and acclaimed marketing professor, tells a story of how he used to begin his marketing class at MIT. He would open the first session by asking the students to repeat the words, “I am a tool. I am a tool. I am just a tool.” Ritson wasn’t just messing with these budding marketing gurus, he was planting an invaluable truth in their minds. That is, the first rule of marketing is market orientation.

Market orientation? Yes, market orientation. Not sales orientation, product orientation, expert orientation, or any other orientation. M-A-R-K-E-T orientation.

As Ritson established in those eager student minds, real marketing begins with the recognition that you are just a tool. The acceptance that you are not the audience. The humility of CMOs and their agencies acknowledging the power of ignorance. The embrace of listening to understand – of wanting to know what you don’t know.

When you embrace market orientation, you naturally work the marketing process. It begins with discovery, then moves to strategy, then to tactics. In other words, it begins with listening to understand, making a choice on how to act, and then taking the right actions.

Discovery led milk marketers to understand why milk drinkers really bought milk. Turns out it was because they needed it to enjoy peanut butter, cereal, and such – not for its nutritional value. It led our team at Prairie Dog to advise a major medical association that its constituents wanted advocacy – not continuing education. This led to a new business model, and a reversal from declining membership to substantial sustained growth.

Steve Jobs knew the value of market orientation. He spent many hours hanging out with computer nerds. Jeff Bezos understands it, too. He always left an empty chair in every Amazon meeting to make sure the team kept the customer in the room.

They took Drucker’s classic definition of marketing to heart: “Marketing is the whole business seen from the customer’s point of view.”

Listening. Understanding what matters. Making a connection. Looking before you leap, you might say. All good things. Things that define real marketing. Things that will make you a better marketer.

Things that just might make today’s world a better place, too.

Jerry Hobbs

Jerry Hobbs is a marketing strategist and the president of Prairie Dog, a national health care marketing group headquartered in Kansas City.