People like to scoff at marketing these days. Even Daniel Pink -- the lawyer -- has deemed it an ignoble profession (he was (sort of) joking). Why? Because many people, including too many marketing professionals, think marketing is the art and science of tricking, manipulating and cajoling you into buying things that are inferior, unnecessary or too expensive.

At the same time, social media has (helped) moved marketing's cheese. Consumers now tell us what marketing should be -- as well they should. Consumers (including business and government consumers) are more sophisticated. They are constantly bombarded with messages and increasingly aware of the opinions and expertise of their peers, and the power of their words and dollars. The market now demands value, authenticity, transparency, integrity and superb service. As well it should.

Marketing, properly practiced, is the art of connecting the psyche of the market and the soul of the business. What does the business aspire to and why should the market care? Marketing no longer seeks to manipulate you; it wants to earn your respect.

Earning Respect By Exploring What Matters

Marketing is the constant exploration and expression of what matters -- to the marketer and to the marketee. It is by excavating and sharing that core that we pull on the viscera of both our market and our organization. Simon Sinek beautifully describes this in his TED talk.

What matters to the organization? This is only rarely obvious. A few standout businesses -- Zappos for example -- have an incredibly sharp focus on what matters. Zappos isn't about shoes; it’s about great customer service. Others are more subtle. Nike isn't about athletic gear; it’s about the aspirational athlete in all of us. Levi’s is about celebrating the American experience. Note that in each case, they have the products to back it up. I haven't bought a pair of shoes in a store since 2003. Nike gear is great looking and high performing. Levi’s are the denim standard.

How do these brands -- and yours -- get there? By plumbing the minds -- and yes, hearts -- of the organization and its products to understand and develop the meaning and the value that you aspire to bring to the market. This is an exploration of purpose. Why does the organization exist? Yes, we know about the profit motive, but people are not going to give you money so that you can make a profit. Nor will your employees go “the extra mile” for your profit -- even if they get to “share” a zillionth fraction of it. Really.

So -- what is your value and what is your unique perspective on that value? What do you believe in as an organization? We, the marketees, want to know. We'll let you know if it’s meaningful to us.

  • Apple believes that design is important. Many people resonate deeply with the idea that beauty and simplicity make us more powerful.
  • Levi’s believes that the American experience is rich and meaningful. And that resonates deeply with our pride and angst about America, reminding us that these aren't the only complicated times we've come through.
  • Chrysler believes that Detroit has automotive expertise in its veins -- reinforcing our belief that American craftsmanship remains powerful, honorable and hopeful.
  • Ben & Jerry's believes that you can have fun, run a business well and do good in the world, reminding us that just because we have mortgages doesn't mean we can't have fun and reflect our "youthful" values.
  • The boutique apple cider company I visited this weekend is about keeping heirloom apples in production and helping people to appreciate how wonderful they are. People flock.

The consumer doesn't care about you, your profit or your efficiency. The consumer cares about what the consumer cares about. Is your value proposition valuable to him? Do you believe what she does?

It’s not enough to have a value proposition. "High-quality ice cream" or "good cars" is not enough. A brand must have a point of view on that value. High-Quality, FUN ice cream that reminds you not to forget your ideals. The rebirth of American-crafted cars. Authentic blue jeans. This is what ignites the hearts and minds of the market -- and employees. Answering that means understanding the market -- what are the needs, wants, goals and desires of people? Where are they going? Where have they been? What do they see that you do not? What do you see that they do not? In what way is your mission meaningful to them?

So -- you think you have a mission statement? Not unless it’s part of every day's conversation at the company. Not unless reading it gives you -- and everyone else you work with -- a visceral excitement. Not unless it acts as a navigational north star of the entire company. Not unless when there's a hard decision to be made, it will surely be invoked.

Telling the Story

There is so much we want people to understand. The best way to engage people in more than a slogan is with story. The ultimate expression of good marketing is the story. The true art of the marketer is to understand what’s important and express them resonantly. Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit and public scorner of “marketing,” likes to show a photo of a Reddit fan -- with a Reddit tattoo.

Reddit Tatoo1.jpg

(Source: Flickr)

That's resonance. Of a sort. How we tell our story, the perspective and values it embodies, the media, the aesthetic we use, the way we choose to distribute it -- these matter. Each and everyone should be a reflection of values and perspective. You want to be successful in social marketing? Develop a story and assets around that story that your employees are proud (not ashamed) of.

Becoming the Story

So why does it matter? What is the meaning of meaning? With meaning, the company has a clear way forward under any circumstance. Some amount of debate over options is inevitable, but you have clear criteria for decision-making now and in the long term. Politics recedes to the background. The team gets it -- they are collaborative and engaged. The market gets it. They get why they should go with you instead of the other guy. Your team imbues the mission into your products and services. Your entire customer experience reflects your point of view.

In other words, you have a business building something the market wants, and it’s giving at least as much value as it’s taking from the community.

When you understand your mission, you can tell the story that evokes your point of view, and your market and your team feel it deeply. That’s marketing.

The best is yet to come.

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading: