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Britton Manasco specializes in customer-focused initiatives that build business credibility and strengthen sales growth. His articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review; The New York Times; Sales and Marketing Management; CIO Magazine; 1to1 Magazine; and many other media outlets.
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December 27, 2005

Marketing Malpractice?

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Posted by Britton

"People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill," wrote Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt, apprising us of our "myopia" and unleashing a whole new school of new paradigm thinking. "They want a quarter-inch hole!" Citing the old master, Clayton Christensen (of Harvard Business School), Scott Cook (of Intuit) and Taddy Hall (of the Advertising Research Foundation), encourage us to rethink marketing yet again. right

As they see it, we have become wedded to marketing dogma that revolves around demographic segmentation. We see our customers through the prisms of age, gender, race, income, geography and lifestyle. We think in terms of averages. "The problem is that customers don't conform their desires to match those of the average consumer in their demographic segment," they write in a recent piece in the Harvard Business Review called "Marketing Malpractice."

Instead, they argue we should see our customers in terms of the "jobs" they are trying to get done. "When people find themselves needing to get a job done, they essentially hire products to do that job for them. The marketer's task is therefore to understand what jobs periodically arise in customers' lives for which they might hire products the company could make. If a marketer can understand the job, design a product and associated experiences in purchase and use to do that job, and deliver it in a way that reinforces its intended use, then when customers find themselves needing to get that job done, they will hire that product."

The job, not the customer, should be the "fundamental unit of analysis for the the marketer," they contend. The authors cite Procter and Gamble's Swiffer, which was designed to do the job of cleaning floors, and Pierre Omidyar's eBay, which was designed to sell personal items. Neither solution was designed for a particular demographic or psychographic.

They speculate that marketers focus on customers for historical reasons -- harking back to a time when the overlap between customer demographics and the job itself were more closely aligned. Even Scott Cook's Intuit developed a Quicken Financial Planner product in the mid-1990s only to discover that it had enormous market share in a relatively unimpressive market (and eventually pulled it). "[W]hile the demographics suggested that lots of families needed a financial plan, constructing one actually wasn't a job that most people were trying to do," they note.

Interestingly, the authors find, "Job defined markets are generally much larger than product category-defined markets. Marketers who are stuck in the mental trap that equates market size with product categories don't understand whom they are competing against from the customer's point of view."

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (1) | Category:


COMMENTS

1. Fred on February 10, 2006 11:18 PM writes...

Okay, enough is enough. This great revelation could have come from any clerk in a hardware or auto parts store.

The vast majority of people who go to such stores are there because they have a problem to solve. The extent to which we solve those problems, and the manner in which we do so, is the primary determiner of our success. Yes, one can and should build on that, but that is not possible without the foundation of knowledge, experience, and products/services necessary to solve the customers' problems.

Years ago, a software vendor summed up her business as follows: "We sell solutions." Still the best mission statement I've ever heard.

As Don Cherry would say, it's not rocket surgery.

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2. Paula Thornton on February 24, 2006 12:09 AM writes...

Fred said: "Yes, one can and should build on that, but that is not possible without the foundation of knowledge, experience, and products/services necessary to solve the customers' problems."

It's not quite apparent from your comments Fred as to which side of the street you're standing on. Knowledge, experiences and products/services? These sound like things for which you attribute to professionals.

The challenge being postulated is that the professionals are failing, profusely. Something that I remind my medical doctors of constantly (of all professions, they seem to need this reminder the most), I have the most experience with my body and how it behaves -- not them. Knowledge and experience are attributes that have to be assigned to the individuals for whom we design.

Owners guides, documentation, directions? These are the crutches of designs that haven't been optimized for the inherent purpose of the individual. Am I suggesting they are not needed? No. But having once been a professional who created such 'crutches', I forged my way into the positions I stand for today in defending the inherent needs of individuals, because of the heartache and effort that I had to invest to write my way around the flaws of the designs which I knew in no way met the needs of the tasks that people would want to accomplish.

What's being suggested here is a focus on working from an existing 'context' (or 'energy for free' from a new science perspective)...not creating a new one intended to 'transport' someone to somewhere they weren't planning on going in the first place.

Products and services are simply appendages to the path on which an individual has dedicated their precious time to. They are the 'experts' of their intent; we are the defenders of clearing the path and lending support for them in that quest. Succesful products and services are subservient to and subjected to the directives of the individual.

Such will, nor never can be the case for any effort in which such individuals are referred to throughout the design process as 'user' or to their intents as 'problems'.

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3. Paula Thornton on February 24, 2006 12:15 AM writes...

Fred said: "Yes, one can and should build on that, but that is not possible without the foundation of knowledge, experience, and products/services necessary to solve the customers' problems."

It's not quite apparent from your comments Fred as to which side of the street you're standing on. Knowledge, experiences and products/services? These sound like things for which you attribute to professionals.

The challenge being postulated is that the professionals are failing, profusely. Something that I remind my medical doctors of constantly (of all professions, they seem to need this reminder the most), I have the most experience with my body and how it behaves -- not them. Knowledge and experience are attributes that have to be assigned to the individuals for whom we design.

Owners guides, documentation, directions? These are the crutches of designs that haven't been optimized for the inherent purpose of the individual. Am I suggesting they are not needed? No. But having once been a professional who created such 'crutches', I forged my way into the positions I stand for today in defending the inherent needs of individuals, because of the heartache and effort that I had to invest to write my way around the flaws of the designs which I knew in no way met the needs of the tasks that people would want to accomplish.

What's being suggested here is a focus on working from an existing 'context' (or 'energy for free' from a new science perspective)...not creating a new one intended to 'transport' someone to somewhere they weren't planning on going in the first place.

Products and services are simply appendages to the path on which an individual has dedicated their precious time. They are the 'experts' of their intent; we are the defenders of clearing the path and lending support for them in that quest. Succesful products and services are subservient to and subjected to the directives of the individual.

Such will nor never can be the case for any effort in which such individuals are referred to throughout the design process as 'user' or to their intents as 'problems'.

Permalink to Comment

4. Fred on March 2, 2006 08:43 AM writes...

Well, Paula, there's intent, and then there's meaning. It's a collaborative effort.

Consider the idiot light. There's one on the dashboard of your car the intent of which is to alert you to a flaw in the car's electrical system, which is fine except that some "professional" decided to convey that intent by using the ideogram of a battery. So you walk up to the counter and tell the nice person, "My battery light's on. I need a new battery."

What's your intent?

It's not your fault that you were misled by an ideogram, but it's all the info you've got, so you're going with it.

Should the nice person behind the counter take your words at face value? You are the "expert" of your intent, after all, and your clearly stated intent is to buy a battery. And you made it clear above that the service you have requested is subservient to and subjected to your directives.

Is that really what you want?

I don't think so. I think that your intent is to fix your car, whatever is wrong, be it alternator, wiring, or even battery. *That* is the meaning that I derive from your message. I am able to derive that meaning because I have seen people be misled by that idiot light a hundred times before, and I have tested their cars a hundred times before, and I have seen the failure of other components cause that idiot light to come on maybe fifty times before. It's called knowledge and expreience, and if you will allow me to do so, I will use it to support you in your quest.

So what it is, Paula, is that while you are the sole determiner of your intent, it is I who give meaning to said intent. I can do so in one of three ways. I can discuss the issue(s) with you until we agree my meaning matches your intent, or I can simply take what you say at face value, give you what I heard you say you wanted, then blame you when things go wrong. And if I'm the person who chose that ideogram for the charging system light, I can guess at your intent and hope for the best. Personally, I prefer the first approach, but I have worked where the latter two were the culture of the day; it was not pretty.

This is real-world stuff, Paula. It's about me standing across from you on the other side of the counter and helping you get your work done, whatever said work might be. And if the folks in the ivory tower of design or marketing or "headquarters" don't understand that the job is to help people get their work done out here in the real world, then it doesn't matter how much experience or knowledge there is, because most of it is going to be wasted spinning wheels.

Does that help explain my intent just a bit better? (8-)

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Marketing Malpractice from slgeorge's Blog
There’s an insightful article called Marketing Malpractise: The Cause and the Cure in December’s Harvard Business Review. It discusses where market segmentation is failing and how purposeful products offer a solution. It’s thesis is t... [Read More]

Tracked on March 19, 2006 02:09 PM

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