The world used to be simpler. A business would open its doors. It would communicate a message to bring people in. If its product lived up to that promise, those people would become customers.
But with millions upon millions of businesses being founded in America over the last decade, people have had to be decisive about the messages they believe and the doors they ultimately enter. Today, people aren’t as open to being persuaded. A global study found that people wouldn’t care if 73% of all brands vanished. Another discovered only 20% of brands have any positive feedback at all. That’s a lower approval rating than any US President in modern times and yet companies continue to spend more each year than was spent on every US presidential campaign in history combined.
What is going on?
The truth is people no longer care what companies tell them. Why should they? People now have instant access to terabytes of impartial information before they make any decision to buy. With this new power, they can look through any codified message right into the company behind it. They can examine the supply chains, policies on societal and environmental impact, corporate governance, protections on consumer data and added-value contributions. Now, when a customer sees a billboard that says, “We Care,” they have the tools to find out if that business really does.
There’s no silver bullet to making people care, but there are clues from the past. How did companies market their products before mass messaging was the de facto solution? Before it was even an option? As Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
At the turn of the 20th century, a tire company released a restaurant review guide, encouraging motorists to travel the roads of France. Michelin knew creating a new reason to travel was the best way to sell tires. And today, it’s as famous for its ratings as it is for its rubber.
Shortly after, an American business created clean-water vending machines to tackle the growing health concerns around shared water supplies. It promoted the machine by manufacturing a new kind of disposable paper cup, eliminating the need for a shared glass. In 1919, that promotional paper cup was renamed “Dixie Cup.”
And in the late 1920s, a by-product of Ford’s floorboard production process led to the invention of charcoal briquettes. Instead of selling them through a different business, Henry Ford offered picnic kits with charcoal grills to customers, creating a positive link between Ford cars and outdoor living.
There is a powerful idea just underneath the surface in this pre-broadcast world–to create real value as a way to prove out the mission of the business, in other words, to develop products as marketing, rather than focusing only on the marketing of products.
Now more than ever, perceptions of companies are tied to the actions they take and the artifacts they create. Which begs the question: What can marketing become when products can speak for themselves?