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Getting Back to Marketing Basics

by Alf Nucifora

A confluence of recent events leads me to some observations that diverge from the "how-to" instructions that this column normally communicates. Call them philosophical droppings, if you will.

The First Event
I had the good fortune to stay off-the-road for the last two weeks. In addition to getting reacquainted with home and office, I took the time to watch TV for more than the weather and the sports scores. I found myself both seduced and enthralled by two particularly powerful presentations, both incidentally on PBS. The first was a series by art critic and social historian Robert Hughes on Australia ("Beyond the Fatal Shore"). The other was by Bill Moyers and dealt with "death" ("On Our Own Terms"), a particularly pertinent subject for an aging Baby Boomer, like myself, where every unexpected twinge and pain calls to mind hypochondriacal thoughts of impending disability or death.

Both programs represented the pinnacle of quality... empowering, illuminating, capable of evoking laughter and/or tears with hair-trigger ease.

I also suffered the self-imposed misfortune of tuning into the MTV Video Music Awards. Here we had a celebration of the boorish, the demeaning and the crude. Lazy performances, delivered in an environment where the cheap thrill is a ready substitute for the professionalism that the medium should demand.

It's not just a generational thing. I can enjoy Scream 3 just as much as the mall teenager. For me, it's an issue of quality and the need not to take advantage of the viewer or the customer. Appreciating and marketing quality is not an elitist concept. Quality is not some ephemeral, gradually-fading-from-relevance attribute to be doled out in small doses to the discerning few. People still clamor for it irrespective of age, race or socio-economic background, and incidentally, they'll pay a premium price for it.

The Second Event
A recent bout of sickness has forced me to a number of doctors' offices, a debilitating process in itself, in these days of managed healthcare. The problem was not the getting of the appointment (once an aggravation, now an annoyance born of resignation). Nor was it the quality of the healthcare itself. There is, after all, a pill for every ailment. The frustration lay in seeking the answers; in the failure to have the medical practitioner spend more than the obligatory ten minutes in providing the explanation; in assuaging the fear and coping with the unknown. In short, getting a straight answer. Doctors, dentists and the rest of the body-mechanic class, are still noble beings in this writer's mind. But in their greed to maximize the value of the minute, to squeeze in one more patient, to eke out one last dollar, they've lost the ability to listen, and have become bad marketers in the process. That's why their worst days, revenue-wise, still lie ahead.

The Third Event
I'm currently renovating a house, a task that matches the appeal of an infected root canal... constant, throbbing pain culminating in an expensive bill for services rendered. Of seven contractors called to bid on the project, only two had the courtesy to respond. Landscapers won't return repeated calls. Builders attempt to gouge with stratospheric bids and when the deal is cut, and the contract sealed, the vendor/supplier/tradesperson ignores the agreed-upon completion and delivery dates, with don't-care insouciance.

The irony is that I'm happy to pick up the tab. It's not a matter of price, it's simply a matter of courtesy, responsiveness and honesty... all those things, incidentally, they talk about on Sunday from the church pulpit.

There's no mystery to marketing. How many times must we repeat the refrain that good marketing is nothing more than common sense? Strip away the jargon, step back from the trend of the day and ultimately, marketing is nothing more than understanding the aspirations and needs of the customer and communicating and delivering the product with a value proposition that makes sense for both the buyer and seller. My needs and aspirations were simple. I wanted to lounge in front of the television set and be served a quality viewing meal that, at the least, entertained and at most, uplifted. I wanted a medical practitioner who would take more than five minutes to listen and diagnose the hidden concern in addition to the surface ailment. I wanted an architect/builder/landscaper who would enter a partnership based on the harmony of promises fulfilled, rather than performance based on threat, intimidation and constant browbeating.

"Don't Give Up" is the moral of the story. In these IPO-dripping times of fast-buck zillionaires, there is still room for a quality product, honestly made, ethically communicated and professionally delivered. These are the best of times. Any moron can make money nowadays. Wait till the economic tides turn; that's when the marketing basics will reappear on the radar screen... protecting the quality and integrity of the product, returning the call promptly, treating the customer with the respect that he/she deserves. In the meantime, if you're doing all three, don't give up. Your day will come.

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