by: Diane Dowling
Senior Vice President & Chief Financial Officer
Washington, DC Office
In this election week, I have had an interesting confluence of thoughts about markets, who drives them, and how they shape our future. On Monday night, the eve of the election, I was doing what most parents do – waiting for my child to finish her extracurricular activities. Waiting is not always a bad thing as it gives us time to think, read, or interact with others when normally our days are crammed with demands. I took time to read that night, and found an interesting article in my alumni magazine from Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Philip Kotler, the distinguished and well-published Professor of International Marketing, was highlighted due to a new book called Marketing 3.0: From Products to Customers to the Human Spirit. Now Kotler is definitely a product-focused marketing expert, and we are service-driven, but many times there are parallels. This particular book defines the third revolution of the business world. Where the first was the Industrial Revolution and the second was the technology revolution, each shaping the world into the future, the third is driven by consumers’ “anxieties to make the globalized world a better place” and fed by “cheap computers and mobile phones, low-cost Internet access and open-source software” fostering a “’values-driven,’ networked world in which collaboration is easy and ubiquitous.” The pressure is on businesses and marketers to understand the values of their buyers and to “integrate the right values into every aspect of their business, and then market that mission to their audience.” Hold that thought.
Tuesday’s election was promoted as a challenge to the Democrats with the opportunity for the Republicans to take back the country. As I was preparing to vote, yes finishing my homework at the last minute on election day, my daughter asked, “What’s the difference between a Republican and a Democrat?” I explained, “Republicans believe the markets – consumer buying habits, for example – will drive the direction we head, for instance reducing gas consumption by buying cars which go farther per mile. Democrats believe the government has to lead the people and create rules and programs that will drive the direction we head.” So after the election, we learned how the voters decided we should head – a Republican concept by the way – and as a nation, we swung back to the Republicans. From a marketing perspective, an election is perfect Kotler material. How many of the candidates won because their values were more aligned with the markets? How many won because they were better able to “market that mission to their audience?” (And how much did the press influence us along the way?)
Skip forward to Wednesday night, when I became aware of a different way of looking at the values-driven marketplace. I attended a PTA-sponsored presentation by the U.S. Attorney’s office about “Gangs and Gang-recruitment in Your Neighborhood.” We were provided with a well-prepared presentation on criminal gangs, their colors, their attire, their signs, and so forth. According to the presenter, we live in a “pro-gang culture” that demonstrates its acceptance and support of gangs through popular music, attire, and mimicking of gang behavior. What attracts people to gangs? The big take-away from this meeting was that gangs provide what people are lacking at home – a sense of belonging, security, and family. How important is this message? The basic human values, basic human needs are driving children to choose gangs. And for me, the swirl of the week’s activities led me to recognize, “If you don’t provide what people are looking for, someone else will!” is more than a concern for business.
So where do all these thoughts lead us? Will the market drive the direction your firm is headed? There are values important to your customer base, basic human values as well as values related to improving the world. Is your company fully understanding these values, providing for them, and marketing to them? Is someone else or will someone else if you don’t?
On Monday, in my alumni publications, I also read about people – even children – who are doing great things to solve small parts of society’s ills and scientists who are doing great things to help solve humanity’s ills. And they are doing it because it is needed – call that market-driven if you must, call it values-driven if you wish. As a parent, it is just reassuring to see the future has so much potential.