Can Marketing Save the World?

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Last weekend I had an interesting experience.  On Friday and in part Saturday I participated in the International Marketing Congress in Ghent.  On Monday, I was at TEDxBrussels, which by now has become the biggest TEDx in the world.  The two events couldn’t have been more different.

On Friday, IMC marketers were struggling on how to make their initiatives more relevant to their customers.  Here, most speakers stuck to safe ground and repeated the same old same old.  On Monday, TED-sters were challenging themselves and the audience on how they could save the world.  Several speakers launched daring prepositions, which sparked debate and even disagreement.

So in the past few days I had this thought.  What if – when considering their relevance – marketers upped their ambition levels.  What if they stopped talking about content marketing, social media and Chief Friendship Officers (?!) and started asking themselves how they could actually change the world?  Make it better?

This doesn’t need to happen on a global scale.  Even though it would take only 3 % of the world’s advertising budget to give schooling to all kids in the developing world and 5% would wipe out AIDS.   

It can happen in many small ways.  What if every marketing initiative actually made the world a slightly better place?  Made customer’s life easier?  Did something useful for society?  Helped colleagues in the business to do a better job?

There are hundreds of ways marketing funds could be used to add to the lives of those it targets, instead of intruding on them in a pointless effort of mass-manipulation.  

The good news is that this doesn’t have conflict with the need for marketing to generate a measurable ROI.  On the contrary, customer economics have shown for a while that the intrusion and quick profit game is ending.  Instead, shareholder value is created by being relevant, being engaging and building a reputation among an ever more loyal customer franchise.  Actually doing something these customers consider worthwhile, is probably a good place to start.

So have a look at everything that you have planned for 2011 and ask yourself, how do your marketing initiatives change the world?