In My Opinion: Chris Pitt: Searching for marketing’s soul

MARKETING, as a process and a function, has many definitions. Some of these are not printable before the watershed, often emanating from those with accountancy qualifications who confuse it with advertising and often combine it with the word, ‘budget’.

The Wikipedia definition focuses on the process of marketing, ‘communicating the value of a product or service to a customer, for the purpose of selling that product or service’. I prefer this to ‘advertising’ and ‘budget’, but I think it lacks the soul of marketing, which, to me, is empathy.

If marketing’s promise to a business is to generate fresh insight and communicate with passion and intelligence, then the Wikipedia definition does not deliver, but empathy does. I have always believed that empathy is at the heart of the most successful marketing departments and marketers; people who are more vocational in their art (and science) of delivering great marketing, than just great managers of process or people.

During my career, I have at times been a middle-aged lady buying clothes, a young man buying his first house and a distraught father wondering what to do in the wreckage of his burgled home.

All these people were using or choosing a financial services product. But I work in an industry whose products are a means to an end and, to be truly successful, in it you need to be able to empathise.

To understand the world from the perspective of another, not the macro world or the world of segments or brands, but the real world…

* The lady buying clothes is not bothered about the interest rate or even the colour of the credit card she is using; that mattered (a little) when she filled in the application form. What matters now is that it works as a means of payment, that she gets the clothes she has spent the last three hours on her weary legs choosing.

* The man saving for the home needs to speak to a person who is as excited as he is, be confident in his choice and that he can get to his goal as quickly as possible.

* The father needs someone to help, someone who knows how he is feeling and can take some of the pain away. He does not want a detailed discussion about ‘exclusion clauses’.

Being able to see the world from the perspective of another allows the vocational marketer to move from industry to industry; to understand what tipple appeals on Friday at 6pm when the office worker approaches the bar or what matters when choosing a laptop for your teenage daughter.

In the process of doing business and the commercial reality and industry norms we all face on a daily basis, empathy is often the victim. Even for marketers, it can get lost in the creative development process, management of budgets or risks and the assessment of campaign results.

It is the marketers’ job, through delivering fresh insight and communicating with passion and intelligence, to keep reminding ourselves, and the organisations within which we operate, who we are here to serve; to jog the corporate memory on the environment in which our customers are living their lives, how this influences the products and services we sell and what they think of us.

Chris Pitt is marketing director at Tesco Bank and chair of The Marketing Society Scotland. He is speaking at a Marketing Society Scotland dinner on Thursday to celebrate St Andrew’s Day; for ticket details click here.

Pic: VisMedia.