The best way to predict the future is to create it.

Peter Drucker

Your organization's marketing program should answer five key questions.

Life is a Circle — Marketing is about Life!

At age 4, success is not peeing in your pants.
At age 12, success is having friends.
At age 16, success is having a driver's license.
At age 20, success is having sex.
At age 35, success is having money.
At age 50, success is having money.
At age 60, success is having sex.
At age 70, success is having a driver's license.
At age 80, success is having friends.
At age 90, success is not peeing in your pants.

My brain is spinning. I know what I want to say, but I'm not sure how to organize the thoughts in a few words. I'll try. My motivation/inspiration for this article comes from multiple sources.

In the past few years, I've watched Arthur Andersen and Enron crash and burn. I've observed smart people who run successful companies spending literally hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on consulting firms to help them create a strategic plan, marketing innovation, or value-added proposition.

These experts from out of town talk in a language that we don't speak or hear. All of this in the name of a customer they've never met to be implemented by a front-line employee (often a trainee) who can't understand the language they're speaking and certainly doesn't have the education or experience to grasp the concept.

As I exercised this morning, I was reminiscing. My mind flashed back to Mr. Lucien (the grocery store owner/butcher), Delaune's Drug Store, the Fuller Brush Man, the milkman, Mr. Belanger (the postman), Mr. Dionne and his cleaners, and Mr. Evans, Mrs. Bourque, and Mr. Ozenne — each the owner of a grocery store within three blocks of each other (for those of you under 50, in the old days grocery stores were small and local and on one corner of each block in each town).

The final inspiration came from reflecting on two classics of business literature: “Marketing Myopia” by Theodore Levitt in The Harvard Business Review and “The Five Deadly Pricing Sins” by Peter Drucker, The Wall Street Journal, October 21, 1993. Now let me try to “spin” these inspirations/reflections into an article that makes sense for real people in the real world.

If you read and reflect on these, you'll probably agree with my simple interpretations. I believe in K.I.S.S. In today's evolving and diverse world, there are more Mikes, Mommas, Uncle Claudes, Mr. Luciens, and Mrs. Borques than there are Harvard MBAs (another reason to thank God every morning).

Based on these readings and my experiences, I believe that marketing is simply a process that profitably satisfies the customer's (prospect's) wants and needs.

As I interpret Dr. Levitt's outline, the marketing process involves answering five questions:

Who is the customer? What is their age, economic circumstances, life style, life stage, life condition, etc? Although you can niche customers to build process, products, and plans, you must ultimately deal with each customer as a unique “niche of one.”

What does the customer want and need? As you build your Marketing Plan, remember that everyone wants to feel important and have a positive buying experience. Don't forget speed, flexibility, no-hassle, friendly, and so forth.

What products/services do you offer to meet these wants and needs? As we move from a mass market to a niche of one that demands “mass customization,” remember that many of your products/services might be obsolete and need reinventing.

At what price will this product/service sell? This is the most important question. In his article, Dr. Drucker discusses Sin No. 1 (premium pricing) and Sin No. 2 (charging what the market will bear). He then focuses on Sin No. 3 (cost-driven pricing: adding up your costs and profit and forcing this on the customer). Before you say, “but this is the only thing that works,” Dr. Drucker responds, “customers don't see it as their job to ensure a profit for manufacturers.”

How can we deliver the product/service profitably at the desired price? In tomorrow's world, the customer (marketplace) will control setting the price.

Your job — in fact, your survival — will depend on innovating your processes to deliver it profitably “under” this price. You'll need to determine the most cost efficient and effective way to:

Prospect. Where do you find these types of customers?

Communicate. How and where do you get in touch with these folks?

Sell. Motivate them to buy

Service. Keep them happy

Renew your relations. Get them to buy more of your products/services over a longer period of time.

Compensate all stakeholders. Keep the system a win/win/win operation)
Manage and perpetuate the process.

When I worked summers for my Uncle Claude's Wholesale Grocery, I delivered to Mr. Lucien. He was a Cajun, old (in my mind's eye) and mean (at least to delivery boys). I'd walk in with his order and he'd say, “Put it in the corner, BOY!”

I was 15 and like every other 15-year old, I was struggling with myself: My image and how I fit into society. I was doing a man's work and getting paid a man's minimum wage (50 cents an hour, if my memory is correct). I wasn't yet a man; but I certainly wasn't a boy.

When Mr. Lucien would call me a boy, the hair on my neck would stand up. I'd leave mad, but I'd never confront Mr. Lucien because he was the customer (and customers were always right). What's more, my boss, Uncle Claude, was meaner than Mr. Lucien. That was the way things were in those days — this was the culture.

In yesterday's world, I was a delivery boy. The customer was my boss. To stay in business, Uncle Claude had to meet the customer's wants and needs profitably. I did this for him at minimum wage (because that's what the market would pay).

Other examples from the past are just as important. Mr. Dionne delivered our dry cleaning on a bike. Mr. Belanger delivered our mail on foot. Mr. Disch delivered Mamma's groceries by bike or truck. Delaune's brought us prescriptions. The Fuller Brush man brought his wares to the front door and let Mamma update her cleaning utensils and enjoy some adult conversation. Delivery was important because cars were rare and often used by Daddy at work. We lived at home, so that's where the action was.

These other stores added value to their customers' lives by providing convenience, trust, and relationships. When Mamma needed something and couldn't wait for delivery, she outsourced the process by telling me, “Boy, run to the store and get some corn.” The process was efficient: I went in, picked up the corn, showed it at the counter (the first optical scan) and Mr. Evans wrote it on Mamma's tab. We paid when we had money.

Fast-forward 50 years. Cut through all the B.S., political correctness, education, sophistication, technology, consultant talk, and legalese to understand one thing: The customer still rules! We've come full circle; what goes around, comes around. The customer is actually more in charge today than they were 50 years ago.

In yesterday's world, our options were limited. I could choose from Mr. Bourque's store (four houses up the street), Mr. Evans' store (one house down the street), or Mr. Ozenne's (three blocks away, but close to Mamma's house — and she always gave me a treat when I stopped there).

Today we have a global economy, the most competitive marketplace in history, and the Internet that lets us obtain all the information we need on everything, and to shop anywhere in the world.

With all this change, what do we want?

We want what we want, and we want it now, at a price we are willing to pay, with no hassle. We want to feel important. We want to deal with people we can trust. We want a positive buying experience.

We want what I was: Polite, efficient, and effective delivery boys and girls. Because tomorrow's world will be politically correct, we won't use the term. But the functions will be the same.

If you don't believe me, look at two success stories. Sam Walton and Bill Gates succeeded by knowing who their customers are, understanding their wants and needs, providing products and services to meet these wants and needs, setting a price that the market was willing to pay (not what it will bear), and finally — and most importantly — delivering at a profit.

We've come full circle: Life is a circle, and marketing is about life!

Before you spend big bucks on Harvard MBAs, do yourself a favor: Go talk one-on-one and heart-to-heart with your customers and the delivery people who work for you! If you and they can't figure out what's needed or can't do it, then open up your wallet and bring in the heavy hitters. One other word of advice: Don't send them to talk to the Mr. Luciens of the world; it won't be a positive experience for either side.

Since I preach innovation and watch businesses feel better about larger expenses, I'm going to try this “out of the box” approach. This article has a price. If it makes you think, smile, or in some other way brings value to your business/life, you must pay the price.

It took me about an hour to write this. As a consultant, I charge about $100 to $150 an hour when I dictate the price and I accept what my clients and I agree to when they set the price (more often than not). If you liked this article, please send a contribution to my favorite charity at this address:

Desire Street Ministries
Attn: Danny Wuerffel
P.O. Box 5587
Destin, FL 32540

If you liked this article and you use national consultants, convert my rate to theirs and send much more. Thank you for your generous contribution!

Copyright (2001 / Revised 2008) Michael G. Manes
All rights reserved

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