Marketing 101 - The Final Chapter

After about 100 columns, John Stanton is retiring. Will you take up his crusade against brand erosion and bean counters?

By John Stanton, (Retiring) Contributing Editor

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It was in 1997 that I wrote my first article for Food Processing. It was a pleasure and an honor to share my thoughts on food marketing with the readers of this magazine. Nine years later, I can honestly say it was a pleasure to write every article, and I still feel honored that anyone would take their valuable time to read my column.

During that time I covered just about every food marketing topic that seemed relevant. Now it seems to be time to let someone else wax on about how to get consumers to buy more and pay more for our great products.

There have been some themes I pounded on with regularity. One was the need for the marketing people to be the consumers' advocates in the company. I urged marketing departments to get closer to the consumer and to bring in more people who understand the consumer and fewer people who have MBAs but who don't shop for their own groceries. There has been too much effort to make our food companies more responsive to Wall Street than to Main Street. We can't expect the finance people to say, "What about our customer and the consumer?" It has to be marketing.

NOW WHAT DO WE DO?

We will miss John and his column, and we suspect many readers will, too. Now, who will be that "voice of the consumer," that person to rail against the bean counters and the MBAs? If you have a suitable background and can write passionately on marketing topics of interest to food processors, we'd like to hear from you. E-mail Editor Dave Fusaro at dfusaro@putman.net and tell me why you'd like to become the voice of Market View.

I railed at the industry for running from one fad to another, most of which were kept on life support by the people who invested corporate resources and who couldn't admit that it was a mistake. Low carb is a case in point. It never had a chance to grow beyond a niche market, and that should have been clear to everybody.

I put unbridled enthusiasm for "health products" into this category. Much the outsider with this position, I watch companies announce new entries into the world of healthy products only to find them missing from the shelf six months later. Convenience, taste and value have won the battle of the mind (and stomach) for years.

About once a year I urged the food industry to do a better job at marketing to the Hispanic consumer. They are our ideal customer. They eat at home, have multi-generational families and show loyalty to those who delight and respect them. I wrote often about the need to use strategy to win the marketing wars. I know many companies meet once in the spring to create a strategy for marketing and then put it on the shelf until next spring. Strategy must drive our decisions.

I urged the industry to explore all the new emerging channels of distribution, and not to rely on the same old ways to get to market. However, at the same time I repeatedly beseeched the industry to take care of the independent grocers, as they are the last bastion of defense against one or two chains dictating what you will make and how much you will charge.

Perhaps the one point I made most is what marketing really is. I said that marketing is not making people buy what you want to sell but making what people want to buy. By this definition, marketing is not a department or a group of people; it is a way of running a company. It is a philosophy that dominates every decision in the organization, whether it relates to operations, finance or R&D.

I also tried to offer not only my opinions but to provide the opinions of others. By my count, no one was quoted more in my nine years of writing than Peter Drucker. So I will include him one last time. He said, "The aim of marketing is to know your customers so well that when your prospects are presented with your products, it fits them (their needs) so exactly it sells itself."

I reluctantly give up this column, because I have truly looked forward to not only writing them but hearing from you each month. While most of my letters were very complimentary, a few of you let me know when you thought I was way off track. This discourse is what I think is missing in many of the meeting rooms and planning sessions.

My own experience in the food business leads me to believe sycophants are one of the leading reasons we have such high failure rates of new products. Nobody will speak up. In my opinion this is not their fault but the fault of management, which fails to provide a forum for all opinions where the best idea goes forward - not always just the boss' idea.

I have had the opportunity to work with a number of editors and every one has been respectful of my opinions. Never once in nine years did they censure any point I wanted to make, which in some cases was blasphemous of convention and the opinions of the editors. To the contrary, their editorial insights only made my articles better. I thank all of them.

While I won't be writing this column anymore, I will be reading just as regularly as I do today. I hope you will as well.



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