When marketing is about giving back something to the people

For a profit corporation, you can choose where your marketing investment would be allocated. Traditionally it just goes where the pubic attention is TV networks, radio, press, publications and the like. Nowadays a lot to search engines, social networks, games and other electronic mediums that take a significant space of time and interaction in our new everyday.

In an important way, marketing traditionally provides money that finance great stories and plays —in the form of commercials, and even movies— but it is also commonly ignored, that in essence, the marketing spend is one important portion of the giving back something to the people is intending to influence. Entertainment, freebies, information, recommendations, consulting and many other things are used to attract a public to the message, and improve the chances of nudging their choices to the ultimate end of generating a sale.

Marketing is also rapidly shifting domain. Every new trend or place where people get together —or where a message is prone to be better received— might be a new dwelling for an advertisement. Fundamentally, the marketing dollars will follow what the public will follow and the places they frequent. Only few, see marketing not as an expense, rather a possible transfer of benefits to their prospect customers, in exchange for attention, reputation, and sales. Making a conscious attempt to direct the benefits it produces so their customers get a higher portion of it.

In the current model, marketing expense stays in the media and the benefit to customers are limited. Sometimes, we only remember the drawbacks. Interruptions, noise, saturation of messages, sales push. Marketing doesn’t seem to benefit the end customer at all, except for… the occasional great message, TV spot, visual campaign, or branding that transcends the ordinary and becomes a piece of art in itself. The kind that move masses but doesn’t really intend to sell. Is just giving back something pleasurable to the public, more as a ‘thank you’ than as a ‘need to sell you this’. These examples are the exception in the millions of dollars expended in marketing every year, the rest becomes just noise, corporate dollars wastage and profit of media. Customers get really little out of it, and many will argue companies as well.

When marketing is thought through to give something back to the customers, in every exchange of attention, many new possibilities arise. Marketing doesn’t need to be only about “meeting your needs”, you being the customer. What if, as a company, the only marketing we do is one where our dollar is never going to be wasted, or just end in another corporation earnings report, but rather will benefit my customers Always (or most of the time).

For example in Tom’s shoes (toms.com), if you buy a shoe from them, they will give one away to someone who needs it. “One for One”, now also extended to prescription glasses and vision impaired causes. This company is usually seen as a charity with a for profit arm. I think we need to see their case as a profit company, that chooses to invest their marketing in causes that are important to some people who end up being their customers. For them, there is no other marketing than the causes they back and contribute in money or products. Some will say is the wolf dressed as the sheep, but with the alternative being just another business creating more marketing noise in the media, I quite welcome companies trying to make their “marketing” dollars give back something beyond just the pushy sales message, or the automated platform intruding your web privacy with creepy collection of information.

However, there is a stigma in the public domain in calling charity contributions “marketing”. Many will argue it doesn’t feel genuine when labelled that way, compared to other contributions without an interest of self promotion. But, with the opportunity available to them, many charity or non-profit organisations will like to compete with the media as the chosen destiny of the marketing dollars. Their case is simple, most of “media” marketing is wasted money where is very difficult to demonstrate tangible benefits. In contrast, charities can use that wastage to tangible causes and built a reputation for the enterprise in exchange. I argue the key — as in Tom’s case— is the deep involvement with the cause. Not just being a check or providing the money. Delivering to the charity cause something of quality would need to be treated as importantly as the main business of products or services, and involvement need to be genuine and all the way.

In this view of marketing dollars investment —and its possibilities— I depart quite clearly from deeply held positions. Like Milton Friedman’s one, where a corporation should not be engaged in any other activity that does not maximise its profit and leave any social/charity contributions effort to the government only, as their ultimate contribution (Tax dollars) only government is in legitimate position to distribute. Seen through the lens of a corporation that is not really maximizing their profits by investing in marketing that ends up in waste. Or, one that intends to commit to causes that governments have been notoriously unable to support. Friedman’s argument looks just like theory completely detached from the reality of a world more complex than what even government can handle.

Corporations, in committing themselves to give always back to their possible customers in their marketing investment, can open the door for a needed uplift in the charity model of operation, making it more sustainable and increasing their reach and possible impact quite dramatically. Is not going to substitute what we traditionally see as marketing, but will certainly add a layer of legitimacy to the usual claim of corporations of existing just to serve their customers.

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