They say that visiting houseguests are like fish: after a week they stink up the place. The same could be said about marketers in the office. You see, marketers have a limited shelf life. The longer they stay in an office environment, the more they run the risk of becoming stale and out of touch.
A marketer lives on discovery, social interaction, an innate curiosity and a desire for communication and expression. Only by frequently and regularly returning to the field can they stay “fresh” and connected to the customer.
Just like sea mammals that have to come up for air, marketers have to frequently return to the outside and reconnect with the world of their customers. And yet it constantly amazes me how many marketers I’ve met who are perfectly content doing their business for weeks on end from their little world of desks and cubicles. It’s astounding how marketing campaigns, strategies and research projects get hatched online, in offices or in meeting rooms but seldom in/from the field.
Call me an idealist, but for me, the best ideas come from regular exposure to the customer and their environment. Some of my best marketing experiences took place when I worked in the consumer package goods (CPG) industry. We would spend days in a row in supermarkets watching customers buy groceries to learn their habits. We would regularly visit consumers in their homes and even watch them eat diner as a family to learn about their behaviors. When I started with Nestlé Marketing over 15 years ago, before I even set foot in the office, I spent the first 6 weeks of my post-MBA job on the other side of the country learning about the distribution channel, retailers, distributors and, of course, the customers.
Trade shows, surveys, focus groups and even conferences can be helpful, but they are poor substitutes for developing insights, original ideas or solutions that truly resonate with a customer base. The answers to Marketing’s biggest challenges cannot be found in the office. They rest in the real world, and it is up to us to go out and discover them. To do marketing well, really well, it has to become a passion, a vocation in which one pledges to stay closely – and regularly – connected to our customers’ world.