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1 November 2014

It’s Good News Week

Tag(s): Marketing

It's good news week
Someone's dropped a bomb somewhere
Contaminating atmosphere
And blackening the sky

It's good news week
Someone's found a way to give
The rotting dead a will to live
Go on and never die

Have you heard the news
What did it say?
Who's won that race?
       What's the weather like today?
 Hedgehoppers Anonymous
It would seem that there’s never a shortage of bad news. The situation in Iraq and Syria gets worse all the time while the crisis in Ukraine caused one commentator to talk about “the summer of hate.” Another horseman of the Apocalypse is sweeping through West Africa and the World Health Organisation has warned that we have just 60 days to get Ebola under control. But despite all this terrible news the world has in fact never been so safe and is getting safer. The number of people killed in wars across the world every year has declined hugely since World War II and deaths from all forms of violence have never been so low in the history of mankind. While Ebola is a worrying threat other killer diseases have been largely tamed like tuberculosis and smallpox while malaria and Aids are being pushed back. Matt Ridley in the Times said, compared with any time in the past half century, the world as a whole today is “wealthier, healthier, happier, cleverer, cleaner, kinder, freer, safer, more peaceful and more equal”.

I wrote on this theme in my book The 20 Ps of Marketing as follows:
“President Bill Clinton said “Pessimism is an excuse for not trying and a guarantee to a personal failure.” Negativity is a Powerful force that good Marketing people seek to avoid and if possible eliminate. It can be useful to have a negative person around to validate ideas, but don’t put them in a position of authority over others. Lord Broers, former Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, once told me of a colleague he knew early in his long and distinguished career at IBM. If you had a great idea and then sought his views on the idea he would tell you all of the many ways why the idea would not work and also the countless times it had already been tried. Lord Broers, who is a keen sailor, likens such people to the lobsters that you catch on the keel of your boat which then slow you down.
 Writing this at a time of coming slowly out of a deep and painful recession I am reminded of an article I wrote in Marketing Magazine in December 1992, also a time of recession.
 “The other day in a meeting with a group of electrical retailers, I was asked how long I thought the recession would continue. “As long as we keep talking about it,” I replied.

 The recession has taken over from the weather as Britain’s favourite topic of conversation. How long will it continue? How deep will it go? When was it last as bad as this? What will the Government do about it?

 The sameness of these questions is particularly depressing. The weather is at least infinitely variable in Britain, which is why we take such perverse pleasure in discussing it. But the weather is a natural set of phenomena over which we have no control. The economy is at least partially the aggregate of a set of transactions over which all of us have significant influence.

 Marketing is sometimes defined as “meeting customer needs”, but it is very much more sophisticated than that. We need to eat, but we do not need to go out to a new fancy restaurant that was reviewed in the Times. A child needs to play but not to buy the latest Nintendo Gameboy. A business man needs to travel but not to fly first class. We all need to rest, but not to take an expensive holiday in Mauritius.

 The consumer’s decision to engage in these added value and therefore premium priced transactions is entirely voluntary, and will be largely shaped by his/her degree of confidence. The economy could be a tenth the size and still everyone’s basic needs could be comfortably accommodated.

 But who inspires this confidence? Do we rely wholly on the Government, or cannot we in business at least set out to share this responsibility? After all, as David Ogilvy implied in a different context, we are all consumers.

 Marketing sets the agenda in most companies. It is our role to define the vision, quantify the objectives and prepare the strategy to achieve these objectives. If you downsize your organization or, to use that other abominable euphemism, "de-hire”, then it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 When you reduce your Marketing investment you send very large smoke signals to your customers and your own workforce that you are not confident. Your customers will increase demands for discounts, and your sales people will become dispirited. You have then kick-started the negative spiral and will find it very slow and expensive to reverse.

"Ah," I hear you say, "that's all well and good, but the media will get in the way of my Positive upbeat message to the consumer”. Yes, the media does insist on seeing the glass as half empty not half full: we have 10% unemployment, not 90% employment.

 But we have influence. Why don’t you give up listening to the eternally depressing Today programme as you drive to the office and listen to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto instead? Reach the office in a good mood.

 Remember, every time you pass on a piece of bad economic news, you are making your personal contribution to the delay in recovery.”

 More than 20 years on I am comfortable with most of this though I see I fell into the trap of the half and half glass. (“Avoid clichés like the plague, boys. Like the plague”, as my old English teacher used to say.) I’ve gone back to the morning ritualistic masochism of the Today programme and I think I would say that Marketing is more about satisfying wants rather than needs, which is the whole point.”

This is taken from Chapter 17 on Positiveness in The 20 Ps of Marketing. If you have not yet got round to buying a copy there is a direct link to the publisher on the home page of this website.

Recently the editor of the Today programme admitted that there has been a fall in listening figures, especially among younger people, and blamed this on a surfeit of depressing foreign stories. To that I think you could add a surfeit of depressing domestic stories, like those about paedophiles or the BBC’s insistence on finding the cloud even when the silver lining is shining brightly through. Perhaps we’re not all quite as addicted to doom and gloom as newspapers and broadcasters think.

The OECD think tank has been reporting on global well-being since 1820. In that time GDP per head has gone up ten times and wages are very much higher. Huge advances have been made in public health and education. Literacy rates are close to 100% in most parts of the world and even in the poorer parts of Africa and Southeast Asia they’re generally over 60%. Life expectancy has advanced greatly. Half the countries in the world have some form of democracy, and liberty and human rights are much more widely respected. Good news!

Copyright David C Pearson 2014 All rights reserved

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