All Marketing Generalizations are False...

Tom Asacker ...(Including This One)!

"Mass marketing is dead." "Never discount your product or service." "The customer is always right." Pick up almost any popular marketing book and you're bound to read some absolutist rhetoric. Should you believe in and adopt their words of wisdom? Of course not. There are no absolutes in marketing. Marketing is NOT an objective process, like a physical science where you try to influence the behavior of chemicals in a beaker. Marketing is a subjective blend of art and science, where you're trying to influence people's feelings.

As a marketer, you are dealing with the perceptions and behavior of intelligent, curious, socially influenced human beings. Not pool balls or atomic particles. So stop looking at marketing as chemistry, physics or mathematics, and begin seeing it for what it really is: a study in social psychology, with the goal being to attract and socially influence your audience to do business with you. With this understanding, you will then be aware of the absurdity of absolutist thinking when applying marketing methods.

There are three primary responses by consumers to your various marketing methods (attempts at social influence): compliance, identification and internalization. Compliance is the one we observe most frequently today. It describes consumer behavior that is motivated by a desire to gain reward: frequent flier miles, coupons, points, discounts, special deals, etc. Consumers typically jump around to get the best deal or to accumulate rewards, with little regard for the companies offering them. The problem with the exclusive use of this technique is that even simple organisms respond to rewards. Remove the reward and the rats will stop running through the maze.

Identification is stronger. It is a response to influence brought about by consumers wanting to be like the influencer. This is different than compliance in that the consumer does eventually come to believe in the opinions and values of the influencer, although they don't believe in them very strongly. Witness the slide of Nike with the retirement of Michael Jordan. Yea, he's back, but it's not the same. We all wanted to be like Mike in his heyday, and we were willing to buy into Nike's value system and pay a premium for it. But it's Iverson's heyday now. We no longer feel compelled to purchase the "Like-Mike" brand. There is nothing intrinsically satisfying about owning Nike footwear that keeps us coming back for more.

This brings us to the most permanent and deeply rooted response to marketing: internalization. The motivation to internalize a particular belief about a product or company is the desire to be right. If the person who provides the influence is perceived as trustworthy and smart, we accept the advocated belief and eventually integrate it into our value system. Once it is part of our own system, it becomes independent of its source and is very resistant to change. For example, if we come to believe, through conversations with our trusted peers, that Harley Davidson makes the very best motorcycle on the road, we too will become loyal, lifetime HOG members.

To develop a strong brand, you will probably make use of all three forms of influence. You may need to employ mass marketing, discounting, broadcast email, direct mail, etc. simply to get people to become aware of and respond to you in the first place. And even though compliance and identification are more temporary than internalization, there are circumstances that can increase their permanence. For example, permanence can result if consumers discover something special about your company or product that makes it worthwhile for them to continue their behavior even after the original form of influence (e.g. the discount or advertisement) is no longer forthcoming.

So remember that marketing is a social science, not a physical one. There are no absolutes. Things change. New products and services are being introduced daily. New marketing methods are being tested and employed. Media influence, economic fluctuations, lifestyle and demographic changes—all affect perception over time. And this changes people's feelings. And since you are in the feelings business, your marketing should change as well.


Tom Asacker is an author, corporate advisor and public speaker with a unique specialization - advancing business relationships by helping companies transition from "economically driven" to "emotionally driven". His philosophies are outlined in his highly acclaimed book Sandbox Wisdom and its sequel "The Four Sides of Sandbox Wisdom.

Print page