Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Interfering in the Lives of Others

In a casual discussion, someone accused marketers (and businesspeople in general) of “interfering” in the lives of other people.    It’s a phrase I’ve heard before, generally from people who are unable to elaborate on their slogan philosophies, but this particular fellow was able to build a convincing case.

His case was that people are generally bumbling through life, doing as they please – and what they are doing does not involve a given brand.   The maker of that brand must interfere in that person’s life, to cause them to make a change so that their life will include the brand and that they will purchase and consume it routinely – or for existing customers, to purchase and consume it more often than they were previously accustomed.

This is sound logic and undeniable truth.   In order to sell more, people must consume more – and in order for them to consume more, they must make some kind of change in the pattern of their lives.   A person who already engages in a behavior that requires the product and uses a different brand must be interfered with so that they purchase our brand instead.   A person who does not engage in a behavior that requires the product must be interfered with so that they purchase our product and our brand.

He did back off of the implication that this is necessarily a bad thing: engaging in certain behaviors (or discontinuing others) can be beneficial to the person, one product or brand may have advantages to the consumer over others he may be using.   So under those conditions, a marketer interferes in the lives of people in a way that leaves them better off than they were had they been left to their existing habits and routines.

There remains the question of how often interference is beneficial, but that degenerates into subjectivity and generalization.   One can easily evaluate if a specific brand had a benefit to a specific customer, but if you speak of products brands in general, some are beneficial and some are harmful, and each may be beneficial to some customers but not to others depending on the particulars of their situation.

And this is the point at which philosophy ends and practice begins: the individual marketer must consider the impact of his interference and assess whether it is beneficial.   It is not merely a matter of ethics, but one of practicality: it is only by delivering a genuine benefit that the brand can enjoy sustained sales and positive word-of-mouth from its customers.

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