How marketing works

by User Not Found | July 04, 2011

Sometimes it is worth getting back to basics. Why do we as marketers do what we do? Marketing is all about creating value based on intangible assets. People pay more than your brand is actually worth because they value something in addition to the product itself.

Does “value” sound a bit too rational for you? Yeah, me too. But that’s the clever bit about marketing. We create value and nobody recognizes that it is valuable. They think it is enjoyable, interesting, inspiring, compelling or shareable. Maybe a better word is rewarding. Marketers create rewarding experiences that encourage people to pay more for a product.

In some cases all this means is that we need to enhance perceptions of the value of what is already there. So marketing puts relevant and differentiating elements of the product experience under a virtual magnifying glass. This helps focus people’s attention on the good aspects of the experience and provides a point of comparison that favors the advertised brand.

In other cases, marketing creates additional and related experiences that improve the brand’s value to its customers. For example, take video advertising in all its myriad forms. By providing entertaining and engaging content, we “pay” people for their attention. In exchange, we get to convey positive ideas and feelings that accrue to the brand. A positive experience not only adds to people’s conscious appreciation of the brand, it also creates a non-conscious emotional halo, one that will predispose people to think positively about the brand in response to an appropriate cue.

Some argue that this type of marketing creates “false” value. I do not agree. Provided people feel the extended brand experience is rewarding and are willing to pay for it, then the value exchange is fair. It is when marketing seeks to fundamentally misrepresent what is being sold that false value is created. Instead of drawing attention to an inherent feature of the brand, this type of marketing seeks to over-claim or distort. It may work in the short term but rarely results in repeat purchase.

Last, marketing is responsible for spreading the word, for letting people know what the brand stands for. If you know what aspects of the total brand experience make it valuable to people this is relatively simple. If you don’t, then it can seem a daunting and all encompassing task.

So does this post create any value for you? Please let me know.


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  1. Paul Johnson, March 14, 2017
    I saw an advertisement online for a hooded sweatshirt in which the hood had a few inflatable cushions that the wearer could fill with air and pull the hood over their heads for a comfortable cushion.  At first I thought, and even made a text comment that I wish I'd had one of those in college when I rode the city bus back and forth from my house to the campus every day.  Then it occurred to me that I did have something just like that during those times, an old bath towel that I carried in my bag and folded up to rest my head on for the journey.  It cost me nothing, I didn't have to order it online and wait for it to arrive, and when I was finished using it, I could just toss it into my bag until I needed it again.  I'd say that this was a very good example of marketing, and I'm asking you please to respond with your opinion as to whether or not you agree.
  2. Robert Bain, July 29, 2011
    Rory Sutherland touches on these same points in this Radio 4 programme about the language of persuasion, and the nature of value in advertising:
  3. Nigel, July 11, 2011
    Thanks for the comments.
    Erik, delighted that you might get welcomed back in the church!
    Matt, I will have to think about your comment. I love the reference to "standing on a virtual chair shouting" but I am not sure about the distinction made between online and off. Food for thought.
    Hans, I totally agree that the problem originates from the top. If the strategy is to create a brand that resonates then then the whole organization needs to be aligned to that end. That's a tough call if you do not have control over the whole and are charged only with "window dressing."
  4. Hans Ahlborg, July 09, 2011
    Hello Nigel,
    I really liked the post and it is quite interesting to see both Matts and Eriks comments that are not really positive to marketing or more precisely advertising... Been in the trade for +20 yrs on all sides incl research and my take is that alot of marketing people are sadly incompetent at marketing but it is not their fault that the brand may falter or the efforts spent are not done properly... it is a CEO/Board problem where they do not truly understand what marketing and brandbuilding are for a creature... it is a true 365 degree approach including all perspective of a company's actions from Social Responsibility via how Customer Service act and warranties are managed to how the advertising strategies are executed... No large corporation will ever be perfect but more or less good at it... Apple may be a very strong brand with loyal fans but also a company with poor attitude when it come to their short comings as for the antenna problems with iPhone 4 where the CEO tell the customers that you hold the phone incorrect... 

    Well marketing is to be good at understand your customers, the context and eco-system you operate in and deliver beliveable communication that will enhance the brand/product/service... find that balance that resonate a bit extra so we will be perceived as the leader we want to be!
  5. Matt, July 06, 2011
    Sure, but can you measure it? 

    Just kidding. Far too many people in marketing don't really understand the central tennets of marketing. If they did, they would try to add value at every turn instead of standing on a virtual chair shouting about how great they are. 

    The strange thing we have now is this: traditional advertising added value. Ads on TV and in newspapers underwrote the content. Even if the ad was irrelevant, the act of buying the ad created relevance. 

    The Internet has changed that. Internet ads (websites, Facebook pages, YouTube, etc) don't add value by underwriting content. They are just there, not really adding value. 

    Which is twice as bad. 

  6. Erik du Plessis, July 05, 2011
    And then they feel good because of our brand and this releases dopamine in their brains and they buy our brand again because it makes them feel good.

    And we do research to identify opportunties whereby we can make people feel good by enriching their lives.

    And we then advertise to tell people how using our brand will make them feel good and we explain to them how this will make them feel better and if they allready know we tell them more about how using it will make them feel better, and we tell it to them in a way that they will find entertaining and stirring their emotions and making them feel better while watching our advertisement.

    And then we do research to find out whether the ad will make people feel good, and if not why is the ad not making people feel better about the brand when we know that the brand should make them feel better!

    And we (marketers) all feel better because we are contributing to the well being of society. We would know that if it was not for people like us that were concerned about enriching peoples lives through the brands we provide to make them feel good we would still have been riding on horses.

    And we would not be saying: don't tell my mother I am in advertising, she believes I play a piano in a whorehouse!

    She will be proud of what I do.

    And I will be proud of what my son does when he is art directing because he is enriching peoples lives rather than just making arty advertising.

    In fact - they might even welcome me back in church again.

    Briliant post Nigel - you hit it on the head with this simple one!!!!

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