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Framing the conversation

Among the first things I talk about in an introductory marketing class is the idea of voluntary mutual exchange for mutual benefit, without resort to coercion (force, including what one might term the “farming-the-government” form of rent-seeking) or deception (fraud).

If I want a 1964 DuPont Duco Fender Stratocaster and happen to have in my hot little hand the legendary Honus Wagner baseball card, and I happen across someone what has a Duco Strat and is hankering after a Honus Wagner card, we will make the exchange if each of us concludes we’ll be better off after we make the exchange than we are right now. Illustrating the phenomenon doesn’t strictly require collectible goodies (and I’m not making any claims about the relative market values of the Strat and the Honus Wagner): it works just as well in considering an exchange of driveway-shoveling for a periodic loaf of homemade Latvian sourdough rye, or goods for money, or services for money, or what have you.

The role of marketing in exchange is to help buyers and sellers find each other, and otherwise to facilitate exchange as needed and/or appropriate. In addition (or perhaps in greater specificity), marketing provides tools to help us make the case that what we’re offering is different from and better than any other alternative available to meet a customer need/want or to solve a customer problem. What makes an offering different and better varies from customer to customer and often from situation to situation. “Different and better” may mean “technologically superior” to one customer, “more reliable” to another, “more hip and trendy” to a third, and the more prosaic “cheaper” to still others.

That’s how I boil down marketing to what I see as its essence: voluntary mutual exchange for mutual benefit, and the means of making the case that one’s offering is different and better than competing offerings. The rest is detail. Fortunately for those of us who’ve chosen to labor in this particular vineyard, the details are almost infinite in their variety, and fascinating in their own right.

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