Marketing Fantasy, Feelings, and Fun

One of my favorite articles in grad school was Theodore Levitt’s Marketing Myopia. The article explains that businesses often focus on selling and the needs of the seller; in other words we must move this product. Levitt notes that this misses the point of marketing which is to concentrate on the needs of the buyer. Switching focus from selling product to meeting buyers’ needs changes the way we approach products and services.

The often cited example from Levitt’s article talks about railroads and the decline of train travel.Due to a limited market viewwe moved people by train andbusinesses failed to adapt to the changing needs of the buyer or traveller. Those behind the railroads were in trouble not because the need for passenger transportation had declined or even because that need had been filled by car, airplanes, and other modes of transport. Rather, the industry was failing because those behind it assumed they were in the railroad business rather than the transportation business. They were railroad-oriented instead of transportation-oriented, product-oriented instead of customer-oriented.

In our community, we can see businesses taking a customer-oriented approach to their business. I spoke with Beth Gallup from The Guide’s Hut on the products they sell. The Guide’s Hut, founded in 1997, provides a variety of goods such as bikes, skis and backcountry gear, clothing, water bottles and more. In asking about their approach to product mix, Beth explained that The Guide’s Hut reason d’etre is to ‘Help People Play Outside. Drawing parallels to Levitt’s strategy, The Guide’s Hut sees its purpose as solving a person’s need/desire to play outside and provides them the tools and product to get there.

This focus led The Guide’s Hut to create Fernie Bike Guides, a company that offers guided rides, skill-building workshops and private coaching experiences. Experience marketing has had its own vein of research in the marketing literature since the mid-1980s as buying became less about products and more about service. We have now become consumers who are active and pleasure seeking; looking for ‘fantasy, feelings, and fun.’ We are seeking personalized experiences created through active participation. Fernie Bike Guides gives the consumer that experience while also capturing Levitt’s instruction of focusing on the consumer rather than selling a specific product.

Marketing is shifting and businesses that embrace the shift will win over customers. Selling has transformed from a goods-based product focus,movingto offerings, and finally evolving to experiences. Looking at a product based example we have seen the focus change from selling a feature or attribute, to selling a benefit, to selling a solution. The social media interaction has also shifted our marketing focus. Marketers used to develop promotions to speak at the consumer whereas they are now having dialogues with the consumer through various mediums like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and SnapChat (just to name a few). Thus good marketers are getting the consumer to be active participants by creating marketing content using hashtags and starting discussions. Have you checked out #ferniestoke lately? It is a great promotion piece for Fernie anda way for everyone to share their Fernie experience.

It is the beginning of a new year, a time to build plans, look out over the year, and set goals to succeed. I encourage you to think about your focus. Are you thinking about the products you sell or the experience of your customer? Are you railroad oriented or meeting transportation needs? With a little practice, you can achieve your long-term goals and avoid the marketing myopia.