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Kirk Loftin

The Why of Marketing

If there’s one universal truth about marketers, it’s this: we’re all trying to sell something. It might be a shiny new product, a service to a business, or a political candidate, but it’s all about sales, right? Not quite, because marketers need to understand it’s not just about selling something. Understanding what your audiences really want is vital to your success. 


Seth Godin’s book This is Marketing is a great primer for some basic concepts in marketing. He dives into the why of marketing much more than just the short-cut how of it. A lot of marketers want a to-do list they can follow, but without taking the time to truly dig in and understand the inner workings of marketing, success can never be maintained long-term. In the book, he goes into the “drill bit” idea:


“Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt famously said, ‘People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want a quarter-inch hole.’ The lesson is that the drill bit is merely a feature, a means to an end, but what people really want is the hole it makes. But that doesn’t go nearly far enough. No one wants a hole. What people want is the shelf that will go on the wall once they drill the hole. Actually, what they want is how they’ll feel once they see how uncluttered everything is, when they put their stuff on the shelf that went on the wall, now that there’s a quarter-inch hole. But wait… They also want the satisfaction of knowing they did it themselves. Or perhaps the increase in status they’ll get when their spouse admires the work. Or the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the bedroom isn’t a mess, and that it feels safe and clean. ‘People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want to feel safe and respected.’ Bingo.” - Seth Godin, “This is Marketing” (page 20-21). 


But you could even take this even further. Maybe people are after the fact that they saved money doing it themselves rather than paying a professional. Maybe it’s the feeling of satisfaction of checking off one more thing on their to-do list. People’s emotions and reasonings can be infinite, but they basic idea is that no matter what people want on the surface, there are certain emotional/logical undercurrents driving those surface-level wants. 


So, how do we use this is marketing? The first step is to actually think backwards. The ending solution to your customer or client’s problem is whatever you’re marketing. Whatever your product or service is, rather than “you need this product,” your message should say “you need the feeling you get after using this product.” You don’t say, “buy our planner.” You say, “help your productivity and organization by utilizing a clear-cut planner to keep your schedule straight in a single, easy-to-find place.” Or, be even more direct. “Our planner gives you the peace that comes with being organized, relieving your stress and helping you succeed.”


Marketers need to get away from the attitude that we merely sell things, but rather that we’re offering solutions to people’s problems. We’re providing a means to an end, a way to reach our audience’s goal of stress relief, organization, or feeling of accomplishment (or whatever else). We’re the ferry offering to take them across the river to get to the other side. We’re here to help, plain and simple, not be pushy salespeople. If you find success that way, you won’t keep clients. And if you try it and don’t find success, well, the last thing you want is for your clients to start calling you “Gil Gunderson.”

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