Why We Need Human-Centered Marketing

(Episode 1 of 2 with Mark Schaefer)

Why We Need Human-Centered Marketing

Mark Schaefer is a globally-recognized author, speaker, podcaster, and business consultant who blogs at Grow, one of the top five marketing blogs in the world. He teaches graduate marketing classes at Rutgers University. Mark has written eight bestselling books, and his newest book is called Cumulative Advantage. Mark has many global clients including Pfizer, Cisco, Dell, Adidas, and the US Air Force. He’s been a keynote speaker at prestigious events all over the world. He’s also appeared as a guest on CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and CBS News. 

Today, we’re going to talk about one of Mark’s books, Marketing Rebellion, and the need for human-centered marketing.

Why We Need Human-Centered Marketing

Mark was recently on a Zoom call with a client and an agency that’s working with them. He was on mute during the call, but they could see his face was getting more and more disturbed because they were proposing spamming customers. “The first thing we need to do in our marketing is to stop doing what people hate. We need to treat each other like human beings and treat our customers like we would like to be treated,” Mark said.

Those old strategies used to work, so many people still lean toward them today, but they aren’t working well anymore, and eventually, they’re going to go away. Our customers won’t put up with it; if we do something that annoys or interrupts our customers, the customers will rebel and they’ll win. So we have to adapt to a more human, customer-centric model.

If we want to keep our customers and get ahead of the curve, we need to market in a new way, a way that respects our customers, their lives, their time, and their privacy. This is why Apple is updating its privacy features and why Google is trying to figure out how to protect its customers in regard to third-party cookies. These companies are trying to position themselves with the right side of the rebellion; they want to be on the customers’ side. They don’t want to be who the customers are rebelling against.

This is the time for traditional marketers to be humbled and listen to the newer people who may be more in tune with what the customers want and how to better market to them.

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Treating Our Customers as Humans

Mark greatly admires Seth Godin, an author, and former dot com business executive, but he disagrees with something Seth said in his book This is Marketing. In that book, Seth says that marketing is about changing and manipulating people. Mark thinks that maybe this was true in the 1970s, 80s, or even 90s, but customers are different than people were back then.

We have the world at our fingertips. We have the accumulated knowledge of the human race in the palm of our hands. Customers can make really good decisions by looking at reviews or seeing testimonials; they can go down the rabbit hole on any product out there. 

Mark said, “Marketing is not about trying to manipulate people. It’s about coming alongside them at their point of need and saying, ‘You know what, we respect you. We respect your intelligence. We respect your privacy. What can we do to help you?’” 

We should be asking “How can we help you save money? Make money? Have a more healthy life? A more entertaining life?” It doesn’t matter what we are selling, the role of our company should be to help them in whatever our field is. We shouldn’t view them as just the people who give us money. We should treat them as human beings who have real lives and real problems.

Helping them may not be enough. We talk a lot about passion marketing on this show because it is such a relevant topic. Our customers have so many options to choose from, so we have to show them why they should choose us by building our products and services around the things they are most passionate about. If we don’t, we will never become a priority or differentiate ourselves from a sea of good options.

Being In vs. Being Part of the Community

To be a successful brand today, we can’t just be in a community, we have to be part of a community. Being in a community is donating money to a charity for example. Being part of a community is something more.

For example, a few months ago, an ice storm hit the US, impacting many places not accustomed to that kind of weather. In Texas, many people lost their power and their heating. There was one furniture store that didn’t lose its power. They told people to come to their store if they were cold. They brought in food, set up a play area for children, and had more than 500 people sleeping overnight on the mattresses in their store.

That store was part of the community. They asked, “How do we act like human beings? How do we act like friends?” If our friend is cold, we say come warm yourself. If our friend is hungry, we say come and let me feed you. 

“In this era right now where so many people are suffering, there are so many unmet and underserved needs, we have this opportunity to not only be memorable but to be legendary. I can guarantee you there’s no one in the city of Houston that will ever buy furniture from anyone again, other than Mattress Mack. . . . You’re just acting like a human being. You don’t have to be a marketing wizard, you just have to be a good person,” Mark said.

The companies that get down in the trenches, roll up their sleeves and become part of the community will thrive. The companies that are wed to the old ways and advertising agencies’ scripts are going to become irrelevant.

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this change. There was a video on YouTube called “Every COVID-19 Commercial Is Exactly The Same”. It has taken the ads from many large companies and edited them together to show that they all had essentially the same script. 

These companies that couldn’t break through the old ways became laughing stocks, but the companies that act as part of the community and do things that mean something to their customers will become legendary.

The End of Control

In Mark’s book, he discusses some research done by McKinsey. Over 10 years, they looked at 200,000 customer journeys across 90 different industries and found that two-thirds of our marketing is occurring without us. A brand used to be what it told us. Customers didn’t have a choice. They didn’t have the internet or social media. If they wanted to learn about a company, they had to engage with their ads.

Now a brand is what people are telling each other. They’re in control. They’re defining the message based on their experience. We don’t have a choice. We have to understand how we get invited to that conversation.

Mark got sick with COVID-19 at the end of March 2020. His business crashed to almost zero. He had to pivot and work in different ways. He had to connect to the opportunities and needs that were present right then. He stopped his marketing and asked himself, “How do I help people? How do I help my community?”

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Mark is a teacher, so he started teaching how to handle things like anxiety, disorientation, and uncertainty in his blog posts. The traffic on his website doubled, so he turned those blog posts into an ebook and gave it away for free. He turned that into a speech to inspire people at leadership meetings. In June, July, and August of 2020, Mark had record-breaking months because he let the people’s needs control his business.

We shouldn’t try to control our brand or our messaging. We need to come alongside our customers and listen to their needs. They have to invite us to that conversation.

Just like in a marriage, we can’t trick someone into loving us. We can’t trick someone into marrying us. If we trick someone, even if we’re successful, it’s not going to work long-term. Our goal is the long-term, lifetime valuable relationship with that customer. If we trick someone into marrying us, how well is that marriage going to work out? How happy is that marriage going to be? 

We can’t change our customers just like we can’t change our spouses. A marriage only works well if there is respect, love, and understanding. We must do the same thing with our customers. We must accept them and love them for the unique person they are.

A chef needs many different spices in a kitchen to make many different kinds of food. If their only option was cinnamon, their food would be pretty boring. Some foods call for cayenne pepper or oregano. Each spice brings value to the kitchen just like each unique person brings value to our life.

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Mark for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

1. Customers won’t put up with annoying or manipulative marketing anymore. We need to shift to a human-centered approach.

2. We must treat our customers as humans, think about their needs, and build our brand around their passions.

3. To be part of the community, we need to serve our customers during the good and the bad times. We need to treat them like friends.

4. Two-thirds of our marketing is happening without us. Customers control our messaging, especially with the internet. We need to listen to them and join the conversation, but not control it. Now a brand is what people are telling each other. They’re in control. 

5. We can’t trick our customers into loving us. Like a marriage, long-term relationships with customers will only work when there is respect, love, and understanding.

Connect with Mark

To learn more about or connect with Mark:

-Connect on LinkedIn

Visit his website at BusinessesGrow.com 

-Check out his book Marketing Rebellion

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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