Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Marketing Wisdom from the 18th Century

The accelerating trend to consumer control won’t be a big surprise to most of you now. Sisomo and technology are radically changing the balance between producers and consumers, so the surprising thing is that we were ever surprised by it at all. I’ve always loved to sell, and I’m constantly reminding Saatchi & Saatchi people that advertising is about selling stuff. Once you understand that simple fact a whole lot else falls into place. Anyone who has ever sold anything successfully over a period of years has got to know in their gut from day one that the consumer is boss. You can’t make it work any other way. Try to flog shabby products or half-hearted brands and you get nowhere. Treat the people you are selling to with no respect and you get punished. Act as though you have more important things on your mind and they’ll walk. David Ogilvy once famously said, “The consumer isn’t a moron, she’s your wife”. Today we’d add your colleague, your boss, your friend, your analyst, your judge, your governor, etc. The idea is important. Never, ever believe that you know better. I was reminded recently that this is not an idea born in the 20th century. It’s been with us for a long time. The reminder came in Tim Blanning’s great history of Europe, The Pursuit of Glory, and this statement:

“Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interests of the producer ought to be attended to, only in so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.”

We only matter as producers in so far as we promote the interests of consumers. When was that consumer-is-boss-like statement made? 1776, in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Smart people have always believed the consumer-is-boss. Our challenge is to act on it, and transform belief into action.