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What marketers can learn from philosophers

Sanchit Khera
10th Jun 2017
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The name of the game is to figure out how we think about certain things and experiences. Then it is to influence or to learn from these motivations that can inspire future generations of marketers to use them as ‘principles’ in their next strategy portfolio or marketing innovation. These principles are guided by fear, regret, joy, and happiness, or something as simple as ‘FoMo’. There are many reasons behind why we do what we do, and marketers are paid a lot of money to be on the cutting edge of just that – the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ we do as consumers, humans, and trend creators/followers.

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It is thus evident that philosophy plays a significant role in the marketing arena. Marketing is the study of human behavior, a field that overlaps with that of philosophy. Altruism, justified mortality, income inequality, etc. are all outcomes of deep philosophical thought. Even movies have deep philosophical motivations. Why do you think Ego created the universe and wanted to capture other universes in The Guardians of the Galaxy? There are some great concepts that marketers can learn from that can tremendously change the way they think about consumers and humanity in general.

Be it nihilism, where millennials simply indulge in what pleases them as creatures of comfort, or absurdism, where comedians will crack insane jokes to make people laugh for an hour long special, we are attracted to certain things and find them appealing. The great Friedrich Nietzsche once said that there are “...no rules for human life, no absolute values, no certainties on which to rely. If truth can be achieved at all, it can come only from an individual who purposefully disregards everything that is traditionally taken to be important.” We only derive value from objects that we hold dear. This is why an Apple product means something to an Apple owner and another to an outsider from that basis of meaning. It is also why so many brand marketers want to associate meaning to their products and are willing to invest time and money into crafting communications that benefit their brand to give it the fullest sense of meaning to consumers.

For example, a Betty Crocker cake has to contain certain essential elements that make the process more meaningful when housewives bake it from scratch for their loving husbands. The cake is simply a metaphor which is given meaning and purpose by a housewife who wants to make her husband happy. Marketed this way, sales went through the roof and Betty Crocker became a household brand in America.

Coming down to more recent or contemporary philosophers, we have Alain de Botton, who suggests that we require empathy and understanding to realise what our customers need. This, de Botton suggests, leads to the insight needed to innovate in marketing and product development. According to him, “Businesses need to give a tangible sense of the difference they are making.”

That difference or overall mission adds an empathetic touch to all marketing and connects at a deeper level with the consumers. When Elon Musk wanted to market a Tesla, he didn’t just talk about mileage and savings. Instead, he made it a point to talk about innovation, his own personal passion and purpose, as well as the multiple investments he had made to ensure that there were no problems in the arena of manufacturing and scale to create any future problems. Tesla eventually had the biggest one-day launch of all time in the history of marketing.

Philosophy, if really understood, empowers the marketer to make better decisions for the customers. Customers, in turn, understand that the marketing agency or corporate communications team has empathetically done their due diligence and thought about all the needs of the consumer from that point onwards. This deep understanding of consumer philosophy, corporate cultural philosophy and ethos, as well as the social philosophy perspective, when combined together delivers a potent mix of deep understanding about consumer behaviour.

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