Marketing is misunderstood. The deeper purpose and potential of marketing are rarely recognized or embodied. While marketing is often used and perceived as manipulation, it can serve as a process to bring a company’s mission to life and to engage its stakeholders in ongoing and ever-deepening relationships. While all marketing can function in this way, I call the approach to marketing I outline below Stakeholder Engagement Marketing™ to emphasize this potential and intention.
We live within an increasingly crowded and complex marketplace, with infinite messages calling for attention, increasing transparency, and heightening expectations for business to provide inspiration and meaning and to serve society beyond producing great products and delivering excellent service. In this context, companies have an opportunity to establish trust-based relationships with their customers, vendors, employees and other stakeholders, enhancing the resilience and sustainability of their business. While other business functions can contribute, marketing holds a special role in this process.
At its root, marketing is a process of communications, and related systems, to cultivate and sustain relationships. Marketing includes, but is more than, facilitating transactions (such as, generating sales, attracting investment, etc). Marketing is like skin: a permeable membrane that connects the business with the marketplace. Like skin, marketing serves an integrative function, holding a company together and reflecting its essence and integrity.
Stakeholder Engagement Marketing™ advances a company’s mission and addresses its objectives through an ongoing, systematic process of communicating, connecting, engaging, and exchanging value with and between its stakeholders.
As Ed Freeman, “father” of Stakeholder Management Theory, observes, “Capitalism and business are the greatest form of social cooperation every created.”
This point is beautifully illuminated by Leonard Read in his 1958 essay I Pencil. “I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies—millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire…!”
“Actually, millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation, no one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others. Now, you may say that I go too far in relating the picker of a coffee berry in far off Brazil and food growers elsewhere to my creation; that this is an extreme position. I shall stand by my claim. There isn’t a single person in all these millions, including the president of the pencil company, who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how.”
This interdependence and inherent cooperation forms the foundation of all business and of the economy. Recognizing this interdependence and far-reaching cooperation inherent in business is an insight underlying Conscious Capitalism. And by recognizing the human foundation of business, cultivating shared purpose and purposefully creating value for all of its stakeholders, a company can amplify and leverage this natural process.
The Bottom Line
Marketing can certainly be manipulative. And it often is. But marketing can also serve the deeper purpose of a business, create value for its stakeholders and catalyze deep collaborative relationships between a company and its stakeholders, which reflect the core, underlying interdependencies and cooperation inherent in business, and in the process, serve the greater good.
In my next two posts in this series, I will outline how Stakeholder Engagement Marketing™ works, beginning with Developing the Core, followed by Designing and Implementing the Campaign. I will use my work with O.N.E. Coconut Water as an illustration.
Stakeholder Engagement Marketing Series Links