Transforming from Product-Based to People-Based Marketing

Product vs. people-based marketing

Historically, it seems the most important P of marketing has always been “Product.” The marketer begins with a product or service that needs to be sold and targets the most desirable audiences. The same exercise is conducted for every product line, often without regard for what others are doing. This broad-stroke, top-down approach can result in a disjointed experience, because the desirable audience will often overlap across multiple products and will be deluged by competing offers.

Product-based Marketing: uncoordinated messaging driven by product priorities

product-based marketing framework

Conversely, a people-based marketing approach takes a bottom-up tack. Assignment of the right message and offer is driven by individual-level explicit and implicit cues about which product or service would be the best match for a given consumer. A people-based marketing organization has agreed upon an enterprise-level approach to selecting and prioritizing products against audiences. To guard against diluting the impact of its messaging by promoting multiple unrelated offers, the organization focuses its efforts on choosing the single messaging strategy that will resonate the most across products, media, and channels to maximize business impact.

People-based Marketing: customers’ and prospects’ fit, interests, and behaviors will guide messaging

people-based marketing framework

While simple in theory, becoming a people-based enterprise is anything but easy. Success requires not only transforming marketing programs but transforming an entire organization to overcome its product-first bias. In truth, most companies are far from ready to fully tackle this challenge. But for the few who are, such a transformation can create a considerable competitive advantage.

Organizational mindset dictates how far you can go

Of all the requirements for a people-based marketing organization, the most difficult is organizational alignment. Unlike technologies, tools, and capabilities, collaboration and cooperation across products and channels can’t be bought. Without alignment, a company will be challenged to realize the full benefit of its investments.

To know if you’re ready, conduct an honest assessment of your organizational mindset. Every marketing organization has a distinct personality that is typically reflective of its leader’s orientation. These personalities range from the Operators who are focused on flawless execution to the Innovators who are driven to transform the customer experience. Between those are the Optimizers who are dedicated to maximizing the impact of current product campaigns. 

Personality types; assessing the organizational mindset

types of marketers in an organization

While it’s tempting to conclude that all marketing organizations should aspire to be Innovators, the right answer is heavily dependent on the state of a business. For example, in the case of a mature business looking for steady returns at a minimal level of effort, an Operator-driven approach could be the best fit. Businesses that are in a state of flux or recently experienced significant change will benefit more from an Optimizer’s perspective, where partial gains from a people-based marketing approach can be realized.

The most regrettable scenario is a marketing organization that should be taking significant action, but instead falls back on the simpler, less disruptive path of making tweaks and tucks to its current programs. While these marketers could drive returns, they will be marginal at best (commensurate with their minimal level of effort). Substantial improvement requires not just a shift or a step, but a leap forward. Those who are ready and willing to tackle a transformation to a true people-based marketing model, and reap its benefits, will require the Innovator’s perspective.

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