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Management article
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Reference no. R0109E
Authors: Stephen Brown
Published by: Harvard Business Publishing
Published in: "Harvard Business Review", 2001

Abstract

In the past decade, marketing gurus have called for customer care, customer focus, even--shudder--customer centricity. But according to marketing professor Stephen Brown, the customer craze has gone too far. In this article, he makes the case for "retromarketing"--a return to the days when marketing succeeded by tormenting customers rather than pandering to them. Using vivid examples, Brown shows that many recent consumer marketing coups have decidedly not been customer driven. They''ve relied instead on five basic retromarketing principles: First, exclusivity. Retromarketing eschews the modern marketing proposition of "Here it is, there''s plenty for everyone" by holding back supplies and delaying gratification. You want it? Can''t have it. Try again later, pal. Second, secrecy. Whereas modern marketing is up-front and transparent, retromarketing revels in mystery, intrigue, and covert operations. (Consider the classic "secret" recipes that have helped to purvey all sorts of comestibles.) The key is to make sure the existence of a secret is never kept secret. Third, amplification. In a world of incessant commercial chatter, amplification is vital, and it can be induced in many ways, from mystery to affront to surprise. Fourth, entertainment. Marketing must divert, engage, and amuse. The lack of entertainment is modern marketing''s greatest failure. Fifth, tricksterism. Customers love to be teased. The tricks don''t have to be elaborate to be effective; they can come cheap. But the rewards can be great if the brand is embraced, even briefly, by the in crowd. Managers may be dismayed by the thought of deliberately thwarting consumers. But if marketers were really customer oriented, they''d give their customers what they want: old-style, gratuitously provocative marketing.

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Abstract

In the past decade, marketing gurus have called for customer care, customer focus, even--shudder--customer centricity. But according to marketing professor Stephen Brown, the customer craze has gone too far. In this article, he makes the case for "retromarketing"--a return to the days when marketing succeeded by tormenting customers rather than pandering to them. Using vivid examples, Brown shows that many recent consumer marketing coups have decidedly not been customer driven. They''ve relied instead on five basic retromarketing principles: First, exclusivity. Retromarketing eschews the modern marketing proposition of "Here it is, there''s plenty for everyone" by holding back supplies and delaying gratification. You want it? Can''t have it. Try again later, pal. Second, secrecy. Whereas modern marketing is up-front and transparent, retromarketing revels in mystery, intrigue, and covert operations. (Consider the classic "secret" recipes that have helped to purvey all sorts of comestibles.) The key is to make sure the existence of a secret is never kept secret. Third, amplification. In a world of incessant commercial chatter, amplification is vital, and it can be induced in many ways, from mystery to affront to surprise. Fourth, entertainment. Marketing must divert, engage, and amuse. The lack of entertainment is modern marketing''s greatest failure. Fifth, tricksterism. Customers love to be teased. The tricks don''t have to be elaborate to be effective; they can come cheap. But the rewards can be great if the brand is embraced, even briefly, by the in crowd. Managers may be dismayed by the thought of deliberately thwarting consumers. But if marketers were really customer oriented, they''d give their customers what they want: old-style, gratuitously provocative marketing.

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