Most of us give unthinking acceptance to the idea that we should give the market what it wants, instead of what we think they should have. I propose to you this can be disastrous. Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” In business school I was taught that marketing and sales are opposite activities. Sales people say, “Here is what I have—this is why it’s good.” Marketing people say, “Tell me what you need–I’ll get it for you.” We falsely believe the customer is always right. We create polls, surveys, top ten lists, focus groups and other market feedback mechanisms—none of which has a consistent history of success.
In 1955, John F. Kennedy published his best seller, Profiles in Courage. The core message was that elected officials would do better to pursue what they believe to be right, over what their constituency wanted. JFK understood the role of innovation in politics as manufacturers should understand innovation in marketing.
Why should any manufacturer in our (or any) industry introduce a product no one requested? Thank you for asking.
- The introduction of new unknown products defines innovation—a desirable quality.
- The manufacturer knows about new capabilities in manufacturing that clients could not possibly know to request. Knowledge is not only power, it is at the core of marketing.
- Manufacturers are in tune with government requirements that mandate new products or current products made differently. Again, the marketplace is often unaware of this.
- Manufacturers often see solutions and improvements from other companies/industries/countries. A local market is less likely to know about these improvements.
- Because manufacturers understand our internal costs, delivery options and other elements of production, we can offer more efficient economies of scale or lead times unanticipated by the market.
- Manufacturers have full-time staff exploring new colors/sizes/capacities/materials and other improvements. The marketplace merely sees new products as serendipity.
The burden is not on the market to describe the future. It is on the manufacturers to anticipate the future and prepare for it.
On one occasion, our company needed a new tradeshow booth. We manufacture decorative surfaces. I asked the booth designer to choose among our products and use them in the design of the new booth. She chose older patterns she had used on other projects in the past. When she showed her design I explained the need to show the future not the past. She said, “Don’t expect me to know what will be popular next year. You tell me what is good.” She understood and asked what was new in the line and redesigned using the newer products. We were both more pleased with the results.
When our company exhibits at a tradeshow, the first and most common question from designers is, “So, show me what’s new.” When our sales team features our products on sales calls, our clients ask the same question. The market does not seem to want to tell us what they need/want. They presume an expertise on our part, and expect us to guide their design. Form may follow function but manufacturer innovation creates both.
We do a disservice to the design community when we expect them to design ex nihilo. Theirs should be the task of assembling that which responsible and innovative manufacturers create.
We will be better servants to our clients when we lessen our ear to the rail approach to marketing. Marketing has traditionally been a reactive activity. Instead we should engage in anti-marketing marketing. Leadership should trump reactive marketing.
When I began with my current employer in 1993, I often asked, “Who will buy this weird stuff?” After two decades I see the wisdom in design leadership. Our company has not ignored the demands of the marketplace but we never cease to offer that which our clients could not know to ask.
Henry Ford was the father of anti-marketing marketing.
This article on marketing was contributed by Tony Damiano, president at ABET, Inc. We encourage anyone who wants to contribute to our newsletters to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Content Manager—WoodIQ, FinishingIQ, CountertopIQ