In Part 1, I talked about the “evil” marketers who create frivolous problems in order to sell unnecessary solutions, as highlighted by a Forbes article focused on the fitness industry. However, there is a difference between “creating” a problem and “forecasting” a need. Marketers should be able to identify needs that people don’t know they have YET, thus informing people of the need and the solution before people identify the need on their own. As long as the product or service adds value to a person’s life, I wouldn’t consider this to be “evil” marketing, as discussed in Part 1.
I think fire is a great example of forecasting a need. The ancient man who discovered fire probably stumbled upon this need accidentally, but he helped his fellow cave-dwellers solve problems that they didn’t even know existed. For example, the heat from fire can be used to cook food, which kills harmful bacteria, which decreases the likelihood of food-borne illness and the undesirable effects of food-borne illness. Early humans did not know they needed to cook their food to achieve more desirable results when eating, but the person who showed them the benefits of fire helped illuminate a need, and solve a real problem. He wasn’t trying to dupe his peers into giving him something in exchange for fire they didn’t need, he was trying to give them a “product” that would provide benefits like warmth, sterilization, power, etc. At the time, humans knew they needed some of these benefits, like warmth, but they didn’t know about the “product” of fire to provide these benefits. Before “forecasting” became popular, I think a lot of these product benefits were discovered by accident, but then disseminated with purpose. Now, marketers make a habit of trying to forecast the next big need, and then create a solution to meet this need before the market realizes the need themselves. Today, this is usually called “innovating”, and falls under the “research and development” category after the initial discovery.
The problem is that now that our society has evolved beyond meeting the basic needs of survival, forecasting the next big need becomes much more complex. Instead of finding solutions to feed people to make their bodies function, we must now find a way to make them enjoy the feeding process. But, it’s not just about the taste of the food anymore, it’s about the other sensory experiences, and the emotions that those sensory experiences invoke. Thus, marketers are trying to find the next emotional need that is related to food. This is where it gets dicey, because it’s hard to define valuable needs at an emotional level. Part 1 of these posts suggests that solutions are not valuable if they don’t meet a need, but in our current world, “needs” are subjective. People “need” to have a high self-esteem, which is often tied to how the world views their appearance. Thus, the fitness industry has come up with “solutions” to meet the “needs” associated with high self-esteem as defined by the world’s view of a person’s appearance. The lines start to blur between offering knowledge of valuable solutions and “selling” through shady “marketing” activities.
These types of discussions provide a glimpse into why the cynics think marketing is “evil” or “hype”. It’s become extremely difficult to decipher and define true needs and problems for which actual solutions are needed. While the Forbes article focuses on the fitness industry and its’ shortcomings, these issues can be seen across all industries and marketing activities. While these issues are difficult to navigate, I feel that we as marketers must do our best to forecast needs and provide solutions to our customers, rather than creating problems and selling “solutions” that exist solely to make money. I believe we’ll improve our bottom line and our world by adhering to the more noble ideals of marketing.