Listen To Consumers, Not Marketing Gurus

Mark RitsonNovember 15, 20082 min

A variety of newspapers and trade magazines run a piece themed ‘Campaign of the Week’.

The format is probably familiar to you. A senior marketer names their favorite advertising campaign of the moment and explains why it works as a piece of marketing communications.

For example, I recently read a marketing director extol the virtues of the latest campaign for Levi’s. She was taken with the “incredibly haunting quality of the ad, noted that it “held my attention for the whole minute and concluded that the campaign would “engage people with the brand on an altogether different level than in previous campaigns”.

A marketer in another article found the ads for X-Box “clearly adult in tone and “deeply disturbing”.

The problem with these reviews is that they display a fundamental ignorance of the prime directive of marketing. The first stage in becoming a good marketer is to appreciate the difference between being a producer of products and a consumer of products. As a marketer your job is centered on connecting the latter to the former.

When marketers forget this essential dichotomy and start reviewing ads, products and prices as if they were consumers, they become marketing gurus, and there is no place for gurus in marketing. It is simply impossible to step into the shoes of a consumer for a few moments to review the quality of a marketing output.

When marketers do this they usually assume that the whole market is uniform and either the campaign works or it does not work. The complexity and variance of the actual market, with its different segments and response is ignored in favor of the ‘general consumer’.

Worse still, a marketing guru who begins to speak for the market rather than listen to it is potentially a barrier to the market. Too many marketing directors are happy to save money and time by allowing their opinion to replace the voice of the consumer.

The only correct method of evaluating any marketing effort is by talking to actual consumers. Data is the only voice marketers should make use of. Without appropriate data from the market the only correct response to any marketing question is silence. Because silence draws attention to what is not there.

The industry is replete with marketing gurus. Ad agencies ask potential employees for their favorite ad in the first-round interview. Marketing directors ask themselves whether consumers perceive a recent price rise as fair. Brand managers look at three different packaging styles and conclude that the first design best communicates the brand values they have already assumed will be the most attractive to their target market.

Too many times assumptions about the market become accepted fact within a firm and then form the basis for multi-million-dollar investments. Talking to customers is often painful and difficult, but it is the only voice that any true marketer will listen to or speak with.

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Mark Ritson


  • Jacco de Bruijn

    November 16, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Thank you, Mark, just like most of the content on this blog this is a very insightful article. It’s good that some people in the marketing field still realize our job is to connect consumers with relevant products. In this time where technology makes it easier to connect with people marketeers should open up, listen and regain consumer’s trust with a clear and honest response. Our company has created a video about some of the new priorities that marketers need to focus on to establish meaningful relationships: Check it out and let us know what you think.

  • Minter

    November 17, 2008 at 1:20 am

    So true. This is one of the fundamental opportunities that the web offers: multiple options available to listen to the consumer. In order for that “listening” to be effective, the brand must be prepared to hear everything and know how to react which, according to the company culture, may or may not be easy. But, it is not because it may be difficult, that it should not be done.

  • Brett Duncan

    November 17, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Wow, this one hurts.

    While I know everything you’ve listed is true and right and proven, there’s always something magnetic and alluring about being the “guru.” To be the guy that just knows in his gut what to do, how to do it, and who to do it to.

    But that is a facade, albeit a tempting one.

    Thanks for all the great quotes – I’ll be chewing on this one for a while.

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