Changing the Language and Culture of Marketing

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From "campaigns" to "conversions" to "heroes," marketing culture is about a religious war to acquire new customers and win new market share. But just like most wars, once the customer is "won" the marketing troops leave for another campaign.

“Many marketers use terms that sound a lot like what a military unit would use to describe a plan of attack,” John Foley wrote for the Huffington Post in June 2015. “But that's no way to talk about a relationship, which is what marketers should really be after. In fact, it's terms like these might make you think they've been taught to treat their customers like the enemy. No wonder people are so cynical about advertising and public relations.”

Traditional marketers have the mindset of the heroic adventurer who goes out into the enemy territory of the marketplace, defeats the competitor with a brilliant campaign and brings back lots of new customers as booty. Once these new customers are captured, they are left for someone else to look after, because the marketer’s job is done. They will rest for a while and then start a new campaign in order to gain more new customers.

“But in the age of social media, modern marketers will find that 'capturing the market' just isn't enough,” Foley writes. “Through social media, customers are having conversations with or without the participation of the company. Once the conversation is started, people ask the same questions about a company and its products and services as they do about another person. Do I share the company's values, do I trust them, and do I enjoy spending time with the product or service? Today people are very outspoken about these relationships. External conversations have given rise to consumer activism which, in the best case scenario, results in brand loyalists or, in worst-case scenarios, results in reputational hits, boycotts or class-action suits.”

In many business models, not only are current customers neglected, they are exploited by being overcharged and underserviced, while new customers are wooed with false promises. “Companies are adept at chasing new customers while watching the churn,” Keith Pearce of Genesys states. “Why else would they spend around $500B on advertising and acquiring new customers, $50B on Customer Relationship Management spend, and just $9B on the call centre (Ovum)? They offer new customers price incentives, free service, unlimited this and that, while often leaving existing customers on the receiving end of poor customer service — and so the churn continues.”

Go to the homepage of a typical organization and you will get an immediate sense of how they value their current customers. The page will likely be dominated by messages and offers for potential customers, with a tiny “sign in” button for their current customers. This is despite the fact that for many of these organizations, 90 percent or more of the visitors will be current customers. Why is that? Because the current job of marketing is to run campaigns to get new customers. The future role of marketing will be to deepen relationships with current customers. That culture change needs to start right now.

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About the author

Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. He is widely regarded as the worldwide authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.