Know when to shut the door on a customer

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Directors of sales and marketing. There are thousands of you out there with that title. And not one of you has the faintest clue what marketing actually means. Because if you did, you would realise that your title makes no sense.

The concept of managing both “sales and marketing” in one position is certainly stupid and probably oxymoronic. That’s because linking marketing and sales in the same position is like creating a gear stick for a car that goes into both 5th and reverse whenever you push it forward. Marketing – when you understand it properly – is as much about repelling sales as it is about generating them. So how can you be in charge of both at the same time?

It’s unlikely that a lowly associate professor like me will be able to convince you that your entire existence is anathema to marketing, so let me rely on two of my most esteemed colleagues – Professors Abercrombie and Fitch – to make the point for me.

You may have read last week that Abercrombie has offered to pay Michael ’The Situation’ Sorrentino (from bawdy MTV reality show Jersey Shore) not to wear its clothes any more. In a carefully worded statement, the company noted that the association with Sorrentino was “contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans”. Most commentators last week branded the strategy as “outlandish” or a “PR stunt”. Nothing could be further from reality.

I am a long-time admirer of Abercrombie & Fitch. Not its products, which I cannot get into with a blowtorch, but the way it has assiduously applied the fundamentals of marketing to everything it has done. Abercrombie knows who it wants – hot, under 25-year-olds with hard bodies and a winning attitude. It also knows who it doesn’t want – pretty much everybody else. And that includes dodgy 29-year-old reality TV stars from New Jersey with the IQ of a toilet brush and the sex appeal of a four-day-old beer.

As Abercrombie ably demonstrated last week, targeting means two things: which sales you want and which ones you don’t, because in the long run the sales you don’t want will cost you more money than they will generate. Yes you can make $69 by selling The Situation a figure-hugging T-shirt. But you will subsequently lose $7m as an army of teens watches in disgust as he whips that shirt off to admire his abs in the mirror.

If marketers have a favourite word it is “exclusively”. Yet most don’t know what it means. It means: I exclude you

Repeat after me – some sales are bad for business. In fact most sales are – when you actually understand your consumers and the long-term implications of brand building.

I’ve met an army of sales and marketing directors who think they understand segmentation and targeting. They think it means to generate as many sales as possible from as many consumers as possible. Only rarely do I encounter a true marketer with a real understanding of segmentation and a targeting strategy in which they spend as much time repelling non-target consumers as encouraging their targets.

In Abercrombie’s case, its current strategy with The Situation is merely the latest in a long line of exemplary attempts to switch off non-targeted consumers from the brand. That’s why its boutiques are lit with the dimmest wattage possible – so that the feeble eyes of 30-somethings have them stumbling and groaning around in the darkness like zombies in a bad sci-fi movie. That’s why Abercrombie plays music so outrageously loud that only the young and hip can endure it. That’s why six-packed models stand as sentries at its doors – to ward off the plump, the ancient and the unattractive.

And that’s why when Abercrombie founder Mike Jeffries was interviewed a few years ago about his strategy, he was openly dismissive
of “vanilla” brands that try to target everyone and went on to note that “not everybody belongs in our clothes and they can’t [belong] for long”. “Are we exclusionary?” he asked his interviewer. “Absolutely,” he replied to his own question.

If marketers have a favourite word in their lexicon it is probably “exclusive”. Every product, service and event these days is marketed as being exclusive. And yet most marketers have forgotten what the word actually means. It means: I exclude you. It means: fuck off, I don’t want you wearing my clothes. It means: I will PAY you to fuck off and never wear my clothes again.

Abercrombie is not the outlandish one here. You are. The sales and marketing director who just doesn’t get it. You are the moron that thinks marketing is the same as sales. You’re the one with no segmentation or targeting of any kind.

The job of a marketer is to make choices. Who you want. Who you do not want. And to realise that to get the former, you will probably have to block the latter. When was the last time you worked hard to use marketing to stop the wrong consumers from buying your brand?

It’s not a rhetorical question. I mean it. Give me examples.

Because if you can’t, you aren’t really a marketer at all and I exclude you from my discipline.

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