Marketing is Service


The best marketing begins with an understanding of the human psyche. Despite proclamations of individuality, people are surprisingly similar in how they react to stimuli. My friend, legendary Herschell Gordon Lewis*, taught me that there are five emotional triggers that motivate people to part with their money: Fear, greed, guilt, exclusivity, and approval.

Marketers can use these triggers to manipulate or motivate. Manipulation occurs when emotions are used to make people buy things they do not need or really want. Motivation is when the triggers are used to encourage people to buy things that solve their problems. Both create an environment where money changes hands and sales increase but only one has long-term benefits.

If one-time sales by hit-&-run shoppers are enough for your company, motivation and manipulation works equally well. If you want to build a foundation that will serve your company for years to come, never manipulate people into buying a product or service they don’t need. Doing so replaces all goodwill with the memory of manipulation and wasted money. A better approach is to invest your resources in creating solutions and educating people about why they need them.

When Ballard Designs offered me the opportunity to help the company grow, I started on the service side. The first thing I did was learn about their customer needs, employee challenges, operational systems, and internal processes. I’m sure that my actions seemed counter-intuitive to the people working with me. After all, corporate growth is all about sales, isn’t it?

After a few months the sales started to come and they kept coming. We had high double digit growth year after year. Equally important, we had the foundation in place to consistently deliver on the promise. My experience as Chief Operating Officer made me a better consultant because it showed me the importance of having a great team. It was a privilege to work with my wonderful teammates. Our commitment to provide a better shopping experience changed Ballard Designs forever.

A mindset shift is required to change marketing into service marketing. Your customers and prospects are people with problems, not simply a target market to manipulate. When the marketers in your company start thinking about how to serve through sales instead of sell more, the conversion process becomes easier, customer loyalty improves, and lifetime value increases. To start the shift:

  • Review your marketing strategy and service levels for the last five years. Does it focus on generating sales or providing service? Are the metrics that determines customer value trending up or down? How are service levels trending?
  • Challenge everyone in the company to suggest better ways to serve customers. You can even make it into a competition with prizes. The best ideas often come from frontline personnel. Their knowledge about customer needs comes from serving every day.
  • Look online for opportunities to fill service needs. Social media and review sites give you a glimpse into your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Use that information to expand your marketing and service reach.
  • Change the name of your marketing department to Service Marketing Team. It reminds everyone that service is foundation of your company’s success. The addition of team delivers the expectation that people will work together for a common goal.
  • Create and execute a plan that capitalizes on service. This is the best time in history to implement a service plan because people are desperately seeking companies that care. You don’t have to be the best; you just need to be better than the competition.
  • Build from the ground up. Your plan has to have the foundation and infrastructure to make it work. Without the base, it is another form of marketing manipulation that will not consistently deliver on the promise.

* I know Herschell Gordon Lewis as the king of copywriters and a man always willing to share his expertise with an engineer trying to learn about the nuances of marketing beyond analytics. I’m forever grateful to the lessons he generously shared. Seeing him at conferences is a treat anticipated for months before the date. During our time together, he has always been charming and helpful. It was years before I learned that he had a dark side.

During a client meeting, I suggested that they ask Herschell to review their catalog copy. The marketing manager asked me if I was seriously recommending that the “Godfather of gore” movies look at their catalog. I was completely unaware that Herschell has dual careers where he is recognized as the best in both. Knowing this now, I qualify my recommendations. If you want to learn how to create copy that motivates people, buy Herschell’s books and read his articles. If you are a horror film buff, check out his movies.

For information on how you can make service marketing work for your company, email Debra at

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