Traditional marketers have seen their role as one to persuade others. The idea was, that they would create a product, explain all of its benefits and tell people why they needed it. It was the idea that whatever they had created was perfect and that people had not yet understood how perfect that new product was. The chosen strategy was to help people see this.
Naturally, traditional marketers did know that it was more effective to define who the target audience is and to focus their efforts on this audience. There is also no question that most of them have had an ethical and well-meaning approach.
What they didn’t see is how the existing culture used the idea of authority and competence. The process of marketing and selling was built on the belief that the customer wasn’t able to know by himself what he needed. It followed the idea that people seek someone who tells them what to do. Marketers transformed this idea for themselves by assuming that they could define what customers want.
For centuries, people accepted to follow leaders promising them protection. It lead to serfdom in the late antiquity and early middle ages, fiefdom or not too long ago, industrialism. The principle was simple: one person, for example, the lord or the industrialist, had the authority to tell their vassals or workers what they would receive. While society has evolved and let go of these past systems, the way authority is being used hasn’t changed that much.
It shows most clearly in the ways some leaders describe their idea of authority: “when I tell an employee to do something, I expect him to do it” or “the one who pays decides”.
It doesn’t work anymore. Neither in leadership nor in marketing.
People want to be seen. And part of that means that they don’t want others to decide for them anymore. The wish to decide by themselves goes beyond the idea of buying or not buying a product. It includes the wish that their needs are to be recognized not defined.
Seeking to serve people, to offer them something that serves their needs, requires modern marketers to hold a different type of tension. The tension has changed from “recognize my authority” to “consider my product”.
It is still appearing. Early adopters see it.
Culture is shifting slowly.