Many years ago I read Theodore Levitt’s The Marketing Imagination. In the book, the renowned marketing professor said there was no such thing as a commodity, only people who think like commodities. Suddenly, a light went on in the corner of my mind. After that, as a matter of principle, I stopped using the “C” word. This served me well as a branded coffee marketer. Differentiation is the name of the marketing game. Distinction in service, image and promise is what makes one brand jump from store shelves into shopping carts while another brand collects dust. Marketing is the creator and curator of that disparity.
The consumer packaged goods industry, at one time the mecca of marketers, has long given way to the goods and services of the exciting information age. Marketers of food, health and beauty aids, and laundry detergents became so hung up with image differentiation that they overlooked the inherent value of the product, and private labels picked up the slack. The focus of innovation within high-tech and new-age companies is the product itself; once these companies carve out product differentiation, they call on marketing for the sizzle that sells the steak. Then they walk the talk all the way from their shipping dock to post-sales and service.
Walking the talk of unique advantages and customer engagement in every function of a corporation is a differentiator in itself. In today’s world of business, this happens to be the distinction that separates winners from losers. Promising service is easy. Airlines, cable providers, telecommunication firms, and credit card companies promise customer service every day. Few deliver it. We are in a day and age where brilliant marketing can no longer “sell ice cubes to Eskimos.” Yet, marketing is every bit as important today as it was fifty years ago.
Customer insight is the precursor to product innovation within the high tech and information age sectors. Successful companies don’t stumble upon insight. Inquisitive marketers burrow for it and conceptualize it. Then they act upon it. That can mean re-designing the traditional marketing department to include an infrastructure for social media, and a chief content officer position. Great marketing becomes the cultural glue that binds every department and every employee to the vision – always has, always will.