Sunday, November 11, 2012

Market Thy Neighbours as Thyself

friendly shop owner
Marketing can be a friendly activity (Courtesy of {eclaire})

Sometimes, I wonder why the world of marketing has to be so competitive.

Many marketing strategies reek of a "command and conquer" mentality. We're constantly told to "benchmark" against our competitors, "target" or "ambush" our customers, offer "value" pricing, and "position" ourselves such that we have an "advantage" over other similar businesses.

Does it always have to be "us-versus-them"? Why not "us-together"?

There are several ways for us to make marketing a more hospitable activity. And perhaps make more money too. We can move the game from competition to collaboration (or co-opetition if you wish). From singular to plural. Win-lose to win-win.

The basic premise behind this idea is that consumers are tired of being marketed to. They are weary and wary of brilliant ads, slick salespeople, and endless promotions. With so many offers shouting at them, consumers are shutting their eyes, ears and wallets.

To regain their trust, a more convivial atmosphere would help. This is where "Neighbourly Marketing" could come in.

In a neighbourly world, businesses do not hurt but help each other. They spend time talking to their customers and interacting with them. They know the names of their customer's fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. They also recommend other products and services which their customers can consider.

The thing is that this isn't new. In fact, it harkens back to the medieval days of villages, town squares, and kampongs (in the South East Asian context).

Donning my rose-tinted lenses, such a utopian society would see proprietors putting up posters, brochures and standees of "friendly" businesses. At the end of a customer transaction, they could suggest that customers try out that new restaurant at the end of the line which has great salads, or that hairdresser trained in Japan, or dresses from that "girl with the pony tail".

Beyond recommending each other, neighbourly businesses could also undertake joint activities to promote the entire chain of associate businesses. This can be either physical (for those in close proximity) or virtual (website, Facebook group, Twitter, Pinterest board).

Cross selling each other would also be an outcome of neighbourliness. Here, show that shop down the row this receipt and he'll give you 20% off.

For such an idea to work, however, trust, transparency and authenticity needs to be thickly wedded into the relationship. Ideally, friendship and camaraderie needs to be forged in an environment where the professional meets the social. Some degree of altruism also needs to be present.

Are partnership contracts needed then?

Well, I personally prefer not to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s in such a relationship. The whole idea of neighbourly marketing is to encourage businesses to lower their defences and not protect themselves through legal means.

Neighbourly marketing can provide a calming balm to soothe frayed nerves jangled by "shout-till-you're-hoarse" advertising and the endless brain-racking publicity stunts designed to generate headlines. It can shift the attention of businesses from killing to helping each other (well, at least those in complementary businesses).

More importantly, neighbourly marketing can provide that gentle nudge to customers to serendipitously consider other products and services without too much hardsell. Done properly, it can form the foundation to a gentler and more benign way of conducting business.

Am I being overly naive in thinking this way? What do you think?
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