Small Business

The Battle to Strike a Moral Balance


By Christopher Kenton

MORE THAN MONEY. What seems harder to change is the attitudes and motivations in my own line of business, marketing, which bears a heavy responsibility for filling our brains from childhood with unattainable desires. It is accepted as a fundamental tenet of business that this is necessary for marketing to be effective, for businesses to succeed, and for the economy to churn onward, and there are certainly statistics to support that notion from a bottom-line perspective.

But what most people misunderstand about marketing is that it's not just about winning customers in the here and now. That mentality rewards behavior that focuses on short-term interests at the expense of sustainable value. The role of marketing is to increase the value of a business by increasing the lifetime value of each and every customer.

Marketing is about building relationships with customers -- building a community -- based on creating products that fulfill customers' needs. In most cases, the most efficient way to build business value is to focus on building relationships that can be sustained over more than one product lifecycle -- an approach that requires some sense of community values. The typical marketing approach of slashing and burning through prospects to meet short-term sales numbers is dramatically less efficient, and reflects a purely business mindset that views customers as dollar signs.

FINDING A BALANCE. Balancing values in business is a nice reflection of the challenge we face in balancing our work and personal lives, and it's one of the main reasons I work in marketing. Marketing is an extraordinarily powerful tool, one with the power to build sustainable value in businesses that understand the balancing effect of community values. But outside of retail, marketing hasn't even begun to approach its real potential. Most businesses have no idea what marketing can do for their business, and they let it flounder as the harmless domain for "creative types." But that's changing.

Enough companies understand the power of marketing that the landscape of business will inevitably change with Darwinian efficiency. There are new tools and new techniques on the horizon that have fascinating potential. But the impact of those tools, just like capitalism, depends on what we make of it. I spend a lot of time discovering and building those tools, so I can work with companies in a way that I believe will change the business landscape for the better. Maybe I'm just tilting at windmills, but it's one of the ways I try to keep things in balance.

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