What’s the purpose of marketing in 2024?

By Guy Corbet, Fourteen Forty

Received wisdom tells us that businesses should do enough to stay in business, naturally enough.  It also tells us staying in business in itself is not enough.  Businesses and brands should also show leadership, pursuing a social purpose, so says the received wisdom.  It motivates workers and it mobilises customers.

That’s why it was so interesting to hear Kenyatte Nelson, Chief Membership & Customer Officer at the Co-op, at a recent conference. He said that “if I’m not clear about helping my customer meet their purpose, then there’s no purpose for being”. 

In other words, the most important thing is not the purpose of the brand but that brands should help customers meet their own personal purposes.  It is how brands do that which will determine their success or failure. 

That feels like a very mid-2020s assessment of where marketing is today.  It brings us back to basics.  The importance of understanding the customer, or prospect.  Feeling their pain points and frustrations and delivering a good or service which makes it easier for them to do what is important to them.

It often feels like marketing messages miss that goal and, in an attempt to appeal to some higher cause, can lose the customer as well.

The role of marketing and communications is to show customers that the brand understands their issues and can help address them.  And do so better than the competition.

Sometimes that’s not comfortable.  Part of Kenyatte Nelson’s job is to get people ready to buy the Co-op’s funeral services.  Not comfortable, but clear.  And that makes it straightforward, if not simple, to plan, test, learn and improve.

It means getting a clear understanding of the knotty issues that a business or brand is facing.  It means being able to talk to customers about what they want and need to hear, not to tell them how a crusading brand wants them to behave. Though those points may overlap.

In doing so, brands can show leadership, by demonstrating the clarity of their take on their customers’ issues.  Of course, there is some chicken and egg.  Very often consumers and the brands that serve them will have the same broader social goals and objectives in mind, making it easy for brands to show leadership. 

Or, as the French revolutionary leader, Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, put it in 1848: “There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them”.

Or put another way, by helping their customers deliver their purpose, perhaps management guru Peter Drucker was right in 1954 when he said: “There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer”.

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