Monday, August 12, 2013


I quit one of my jobs today. It wasn't a bad job, as ghostwriting gigs go: the clients are pleasant, knowledgeable people; the money decent and always paid promptly. But I just couldn't do it anymore. Here's why:

It's no secret that the world's best brands are successful because they do a great job of meeting their customers' needs. That's Marketing 101, right there. But what isn't so well understood is that human needs are incredibly complex. They have both tangible and intangible components.

That's why when winter rolls around and you go coat shopping, you're not just looking for a coat that's warm, weatherproof, and affordable. You want a coat that's stylish as your community of choice defines stylish, so you can feel good about yourself and your place in society.

My now-former clients do a great job educating business leaders about the complexities of human need and teaching them how to best meet as many of those needs as possible in the retail setting. Better, more comprehensive customer service leads to more sales, greater organizational profitability, increased market all sounds good, right?

Except for one little thing. 

I have become increasingly convinced that having too many of our needs - of both the tangible and intangible variety - met by retailers is disastrous. It's a catastrophe on the individual level, and collectively, for our society as a whole, it's a cluster-fuck of truly epic proportions.

People who can buy everything - everything from apples to aspirations, eggs to esteem, chocolate to confidence - are people who don't need to do anything. We don't need to make, manufacture, discover, or create. It all comes from the store. When all of our needs are met for us, we don't even have to think.

People who don't think make bad decisions. When we're not thinking, we make decisions that actually go against our own self-interest and the well-being of the communities we live in. Look around your circle of family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Look at society at large - especially as it's presented to us on the news.

Do you see a lot of good decision making going on?

The other day, I was down at a little local grocery store in my neighborhood. A young couple stopped in. They were in search of hamburger patties.

"We don't sell the pre-made patties," the proprietor told them, "But we do have the meat - we grind it fresh every morning!"

The young woman shuddered, and the young man slid a comforting arm around her shoulders. "No thank you," he said. "We'll just get some someplace else."

That young couple had a twenty mile drive ahead of them, in any direction, before they'd find a store that sold pre-made hamburger patties.  There was high quality, freshly ground beef right in front of them. But they were willing to travel a significant distance (and I don't know what gas costs where you are, but it starts at $4/gallon up here) to find hamburger patties already made for them.


I believe that the narratives we've been given by marketers - stories about what we need and who were are - hold some, if not all, of the answer to that question.

One of the most pervasive marketing messages, delivered daily in dozens of different ways, is "You shouldn't have to work so hard." It's a message that helped spur the public enthusiasm for electricity, with countless labor-saving devices that promised to free women from a lifetime of drudgery at the washboard or slinging sad irons. Decades later, we've internalized the message so completely that no one wants to do anything - even if the task is no more taxing than shaping a few ounces of ground meat into a patty.

This type of thinking is destroying us. I don't want to contribute to the problem. I want to help solve it. We can take our lives and our futures back from the marketers. We just have to remember how to meet our needs without the assistance of retailers.

No comments:

Post a Comment