Monday, February 27, 2006

Why Is Marketing So Threatening?

It's funny how marketing as a tool is threatening to some people. First they have a very superficial understanding of marketing and, as a result, view it as superficial.

It doesn’t help that many marketing people use it superficially. Maybe marketing has an image problem. ;-)

But it’s as though some people worry that, if they admit the existence of image and perception as a problem (though in a different dimension than reality), it will somehow divert energy away from real civic problem-solving, change and improvement.

The answer, as with many things, is both/and, not either/or.

Civic improvement is crucial, in every ingredient of “place” (cultural, natural and built). It’s more important than marketing…but while improvements may generate some short-term buzz, it’s been long proven that they don’t result in a change in image or perception.

It’s because the two areas are driven by two different forces.

Image and perception are often driven by word of mouth or consumer-generated marketing. The word of mouth is often fueled by prejudice, peer pressure or ignorance and intolerance. These powerful forces often have little basis in reality.

Take racial or gender discrimination. Do we really believe they were justified by reality and they were overcome because the reality changed? These powerful forces were grounded in image and perception. Both conditions have been greatly eradicated (but not completely) by the use of good marketing techniques…yes, the sit-ins were not just defiance, they were tools to leverage awareness. The foundation of feminism began in books and articles.

Nothing replaces the need for civic improvement and problem-solving. But left unchecked, forces that fuel a poor image or perception will outweigh the impact of those improvements and threaten investment, residence, corporate citizenship and the tax base crucial to funding the civic improvements themselves.

Image isn’t about hiding the negative and promoting the positive. It’s about the balance all along that spectrum. Marketing is a tool that works hand in hand with “reality” to better define a community’s image.

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