If the first rule of marketing is to offer products and services that consumers want, the second rule is to rip up the first.
It’s not that it’s misguided; of course it isn’t. The principle of building from consumer needs and desires takes us right back to the foundation of modern marketing, with the seminal 1960 paper ‘Marketing Myopia’, from the Harvard academic Theodore Levitt.
In those unenlightened times, what the consumer might actually want was an afterthought, as manufacturers sought profits from sales of things they happened to be good at making. Detroit rolled out huge cars because it could, and was inclined to – not through any evidence that a living room on wheels was what consumers were crying out for.
Levitt castigated business for its consumer blindness and argued that the capitalist machine should be thrust into reverse: product should come last, customer needs should come first.
What was revolutionary then is routine now. Ask, learn, offer. What modern brand doesn’t work like that? Which marketer doesn’t spend a big slug of the budget gathering consumers together in airless rooms, observing their articulated whims through the one-way mirror?
That’s the built-in problem with rule 1. If everybody’s complying with it, nobody has a natural advantage. The consumer will spill their current version of needs and desires to whoever happens to be listening. Fulfilling them will be standard practice.