Dec. 21, 2004
Today's consumers want made-for-me solutions, not spam-style promises.

For me, the worst thing about spam isn't its obtrusiveness -- RATES WILL NEVER BE THIS LOW AGAIN! -- or its myopic focus on mortgages, body parts and porn -- ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH TO SATISFY HER? -- or even its relentless hype -- WORST WEEK FOR VIRUSES EVER! PROTECT YOURSELF WITH SUPER-DUPER PC PLUS! -- but is, instead, its dumber-than-dirt assumption that old-fashioned, throw-it-against-the-wall marketing still works. Customers today -- whether consumer or B-to-B -- are more sophisticated than ever, with fundamentally different perceptions of themselves and their roles in society. What's more, they demand that you and your marketing reflect those self-perceptions back. Three societal/psychological shifts are responsible: From Ellis Island to Islands of Diversity: It's clich to note that we live in an increasingly multicultural society. Yet more important than demographic statistics and bilingual packaging, is how changing perception of ethnic identity have changed the very nature of customer expectations. Once upon a time people came to the U.S., had their names mangled at Ellis Island and emerged with a common cultural identity: as Americans. Ethnic backgrounds were forgotten, hidden or suppressed. This blurring of differences made the marketer's job easier; advertising and sales of everything from cars to soap could be pitched at single market with presumably common desires. No more. Over the last half-century customers have concluded that one-size-fits-all solutions -- any color Model T you want, as long as it's black -- aren't acceptable. The triumph of civil rights has meant that ethnic groups and individuals once resigned to assimilation or segregation can now celebrate their diversity -- and so can everyone else. This clamor for recognition of individual preference has moved well beyond ethnicity, creating customers who demand that everything different about them be accommodated in your product or packaging. From Career and Mommy Tracks to Multi-tracking and Multi-tasking: Forty years ago, women were treated as an afterthought in the workforce; today, though the glass ceiling still exists, women have more opportunity -- and power -- than ever before. More important is the gradual disappearance of what used to be known as the Career/Mommy Track decision; women who were once told they had to choose between job and family have refused to forsake one for the other -- and have been joined by more and more men unwilling to trade their personal lives for 16-hour days at the office. Customers now insist that we recognize the multi-track, multi-tasking nature of their lives. The same customer may be a VP of Purchasing on a Thursday morning, a soccer coach that night, a member of the IT steering committee on Friday morning, a volunteer at a homeless shelter on Saturday afternoon and a member of an M&A team on Monday morning. How you market to that individual depends not only on what you have to offer or even what he or she needs, but when, where and in what context your message will be received. The To-Do List Customer: Another huge shift in consumer psychology has to do with the increasingly electronic management of projects and To-Do lists by PDAs and software. This widespread emphasis on prioritization and tasks has resulted in the creation of harried, overworked customers who increasingly view your product in the simplest of terms: Will this purchase/investment add TO my to task list, or will it subtract several To-Do's FROM it? Only those total solutions that actually reduce customer workload and anxiety will get a hearing -- unless you believe that MARKETING FROM YOUR HOME REALLY WORKS! MAKE $5000 PER DAY IN YOUR SPARE TIME... John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm.

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