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12/19/2008 Don’t give what they want

I read something the other day that stopped me in my tracks. I’ve been obsessing about it all week. It falls into the “what business are we in?” category compared with “what business should we be in?”

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times wrote about the Detroit bailout earlier this week. Here’s what he wrote:

“Over the years, Detroit bosses kept repeating: “We have to make the cars people want.” That’s why they’re in trouble. Their job is to make the cars people don’t know they want but will buy like crazy when they see them. I would have been happy with my Sony Walkman had Apple not invented the iPod. Now I can’t live without my iPod. I didn’t know I wanted it, but Apple did. Same with my Toyota hybrid.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times, December 13, 2008

I’ve been in variations of this discussion forever, it seems, and have played both the heavy and the good guy. Nowadays, I’m trying to mostly play the good guy.

Clients come to marketers with a problem. They usually have a solution or product in mind to solve the problem. Is our job to keep delivering products they want, or to deliver solutions they don’t know they want? I think the latter.

Especially as we keep moving into new territory in the digital space, we have to imagine possibilities even if our clients don’t directly ask for them. Because if we keep giving them what they want, sooner or later a competitor will come along and give them something they never knew they wanted, but go crazy for.


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