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Branch & Collins Lecture: What Is Marketing?

Dr. John Branch and Marcus Collins of the University of Michigan explore marketing and the culture that drives human decision-making and emotions.


Marcus Collins: Hello. Hello. Hello. We are super, super stoked to be with you guys. Sad we only have such a short bit of time, so we’re going to jump right into it. I am Marcus. I know it’s hard to differentiate us. I’m the black short one. He is the white tall one. I’m the good-looking one, and he’s John. On top of what we do, I work in advertising, an agency called Doner, an agency where I run the consumer connections practice, which is really about the convergence of understanding the behavioral sciences as well as where that meets with the evolving media landscape and having some really close proximity to culture.

Note, of course, in my career, I had the chance to work with some of the biggest brands across the globe, which is pretty awesome; and put cool things in the world, like launching Cliff Paul for State Farm, moving the Brooklyn Nets from New Jersey to Brooklyn. I launched the Made in America music festival, and I have the great privilege of teaching at the Ross School of Business. This is my colleague and good friend, Professor John Branch.


John Branch, PhD, MBA

Clinical Assistant Professor of Business Administration, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

Doctorate and MA in Education, PhD in Marketing, MBA, Bachelor of Engineering Science (BESc)


Marcus Collins, MBA

Lecturer in Marketing, University of Michigan Ross School of Business

BS in Material Sciences Engineering, MBA in Strategic Marketing


John Branch: Thank you, Marcus. Hello, everybody. I’m John. Some fun facts about me: I am originally from Canada, if you cannot tell by my beautiful Canadian accent, eh. I did some fun stuff in my life. In 1992, I left Canada. I was 25 at the time. I am now 50. “You don’t look 50, John.” Come on. Let’s try this again. I left Canada when I was 25, which means I’m 50 years old this year.

Audience: [Crosstalk.]

Branch: Oh, stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Yes. In 1992, I was one of the first 3 people to eat at the very first McDonald’s in Warsaw, Poland, which was the first McDonald’s in post-Soviet Eastern Europe. In 1993, I moved to this beautiful mountainous city. It’s called Bishkek. It’s the capital of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, and I was the first person to teach the first marketing course in the first MBA in the first business school in post-Soviet Central Asia. I was also engaged to the daughter of the prime minister of Kyrgyzstan, but that’s another story. I’ll tell you later.

After spending some time living in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan then Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, I moved to Brittany—Brittany in France—and I was a professor for four years at a business school there in France. And then, as Sarah has said, after that, I moved to England to finish my PhD in marketing at the University of Cambridge, where I met my then-girlfriend who is now my wife.

That’s a little bit about me professionally. What you don’t know about me is that when I’m not using my brain at school, I like to do things with my hands. One of my hobbies is woodworking. I have a nice woodworking shop. My latest projects—I have been making multiple replicas of this—this is a mid-century modern walnut bench with what’s called Danish cord weaving, and Marcus happens to have one in his house. Whether he likes it or not, it’s in his house, right, because we’re too good of friends for him not to show it.

Then, as you’ll be learning very soon in the film about me, the Course Hero film, the educator profile, is that I also like to work with my hands by rebuilding old sports cars. This is my current project. It’s a 1963 Porsche 356, which I hope, at some point in time, in sha Allah, will look like this. Just to be clear, it does not look like this. It looks like this piece of junk, but hopefully, it will look like this at some time in the future. There we go. You ready to start?

Audience: Yeah.

Branch: Good. Marketing is one of those words which everybody thinks they know, right? You’re in the front seat. What’s marketing?

Audience: I found the marketing team. Do you want to ask them?

Branch: No, I actually want to ask you. Yeah. What’s marketing?

Audience: Going to market. I’ve seen your book.

Branch: [Whispers, laughing.] Damn you. [Normal voice.] Ask somebody on the street. Stop a random John Smith, Joanna Smith on the street, what will that person say marketing is? 99 times out of 100, everybody says marketing is?

Audience: Advertising.

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Branch: Advertising. Right, the word on the street typically is that marketing is equal to advertising, but Marcus and I take a much more strategic view. That is to say, advertising is a tactic, and Marcus and I try to elevate the definition of marketing from a tactical level up to the strategic level. Indeed, most of what Marcus and I do, both as professors but also as practitioners, is very much at the strategic level. One of our key things as professors now, we believe in radical simplicity. Everything which we do, we try to distill down into very simple principles. I thought that what would be interesting is if we go back to basics. Instead of defining marketing, if we take a much more essential look at business. What is business all about? What is business all about?

Audience: Making money.

Branch: Say it loud and proud.

Audience: Making money.

Branch: Stick out your chest, loud and proud. Come on. Business is about making money. If that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you’re in the wrong place, right? You ought to be doing a master’s of social work or something else, because business is about making money. How do you make money in business?

Audience: Providing goods and services.

Branch: Nope, providing goods and services costs you money. How do you make the money? Nope, convincing people costs you money. How do you make the money? Keep it simple.

Audience: Go to market.

Branch: Nope, going to market costs you money.

Audience: By taking in money.

Branch: How do you take in money? Steal it out of their pocket.

Audience: No, tell them or request them to give it to you.

Branch: Request them? No, that costs you money. Come on, simple, people, how do you make money in business? Selling. I prefer a different word than selling because selling sounds very one-sided. Selling sounds like the activity of business from the company’s perspective. I’m going to tell you. Here it is. For me, business is very simple. There are five things. Five, count them: five. There it is. There is the company. What does the company have? The company has a product. Good, and there is the other principal party in business.

Audience: Customer.

Branch: The customer. What does the customer have?

Audience: Money.

Branch: What happens between the two?

Audience: Transaction.

Branch: An exchange. That’s the word which I prefer. The word is exchange. There it is, folks, simple. Business is really quite simple at the end of the day. We make it far too complex in everyday speech. Here it is, very simply, a company has a product, the customer has money, and an exchange happens between the two. How do we make money in business? Exchanges. Exchange what for what? Product for money. There are two principal actors, two principal participants in business. There’s a company. There is a customer. There are two things, product and money, and an exchange happens between the two. Got it? What’s marketing, then? What’s marketing? Back there, peanut gallery, what’s marketing? See, she had her phone in her hand. She was checking in her email, and as soon as I said “back there,” she went, “Ooh, sorry.” What’s marketing?

Audience: [Persuading] customers that they want the product.

Branch: In order to do that, what must we do?

Audience: Trick them.

Audience: Understand their needs.

Branch: Understand their needs. Good. More, more, more, but keep it simple. Communication. Good. Keep it going. Marketing is? Come on. I want to hear from you, but back there. What’s marketing? Demonstration of value. Why do we need to demonstrate value? Because if we don’t demonstrate the value, the exchange will not occur. That’s an absolutely fundamental idea in marketing. That exchanges occur because both parties get value from the exchange. Good. What’s marketing? I’m going to give you a first definition. I love this definition—love, love, love it. Look at this definition. This is not actually the definition of marketing. This is the definition of to market, as in the verb to market. It dates back to the year 1455.

This, in fact, is the original definition of the verb to market in the English language from the great dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary. Here it is. To market means “To sell or bring to market.” Isn’t that great? Think about it. To sell or bring to market, which means that in the fifteenth century, if you were a carrot farmer, how did you make money? By growing carrots? No, not by growing carrots. Au contraire, growing carrots costs you money. If you want to make the money, what must you do with the carrots?

Audience: Bring them to market.

Branch: Bring them to market, because who’s in the market?

Audience: Customers.

Branch: The customer. What does the customer have in their pocket?

Audience: Money.

Branch: How do we make money in business? Exchanging the carrots for the money—so simple. Another reason why I love this definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, 1455, is that every time I see that number 1455, it reminds me of every single film ever done with a market scene in medieval times. Think of every Robin Hood film. Think of every Heath Ledger film, First Knight, all those Heath Ledger films, right? Imagine, if you will, Alex—you’re the videographer here, right? Set us up. Scene, market square, medieval fifteenth century, right? Somebody rides into town on a horse, right? Here, take my horse, would you? Then what do you see? What do you see? Come on, set the scene for us.

Audience: Stalls.

Branch: No, before you see the stalls.

Audience: Carts.

Branch: Before the carts. Every market scene, there is always that kid pushing that hula hoop thing, right? There’s always the hula hoop–pushing kid, and then there’s a fire-breather—and then there’s a fire-breather, right? There are some jugglers, and there are some little people dressed as court jesters and stuff. That’s the market scene, and then, then what do you see? Banners, and then there are the stalls. Who’s in the stall? Some toothless person who’s saying, “Carrots! Carrots!” Then there are people milling about, right, trying to buy carrots.

That’s why I love this definition. It’s the market scene of any medieval Robin Hood film. How does a company make money? It makes money by exchanging its products for money, and that means that marketing is going to market. Marketing is going to market. It’s simple. It’s pithy. It’s timeless. It’s universal and context-free, right? In 1455, how did you make money? By exchanging, which means that you had to … Today, Course Hero wants to make money, what must it do? You don’t have a live website?

Audience: They go to market.

Branch: OK. You need to go to market, right? It hasn’t changed, and that’s why I love this very concise, very simple definition. Marketing is going to market, so repeat after me. Ding, ding, ding, ding. Marketing is going to market.

Audience: Marketing is going to market.

Branch: Ding, ding, ding, ding. Marketing is going to market.

Audience: Marketing is going to market.

Branch: Ding, ding, ding, ding. Marketing is going to market.

Audience: Marketing is going to market.

Branch: Watch this Marcus. Ding, ding, ding, ding.

Audience: Marketing is going to market.

Branch: Ivan Pavlov, right? Boy, did he know some good stuff. All right. If marketing is going to market, the next logical question about marketing ought to be, is marketing optional? It is optional. Make money or don’t make money. But if you want to make money, is marketing optional?

Audience: No.

Branch: No, you must go to market. Now, what is interesting about this definition that marketing is going to market is that most people think that marketing is advertising, or most people think that it’s brochures, or it’s the trade fair booth, or it’s the Course Hero swag we give out, right? That is really more marketing communications, or marketing promotions. This definition of marketing essentially equates marketing to business. Indeed, Marcus and I would argue that marketing is synonymous with business because if you don’t go to market …

Audience: You don’t make money.

Branch: You don’t make any money. You’re not in business unless you’re going to market. Take that carrot farmer, for example. Somebody who grows carrots but doesn’t go to market, what do we call him or her?

Audience: Hobbyist, subsistence farmer.

Branch: A gardener, yeah, a gardener. And a guy like me who makes furniture but doesn’t take the furniture to market, what do you call me? A hobbyist. See, what differentiates a gardener from a businessperson is the act of going to market. Marketing is not optional. You with me? Hands up if you’re with me. Good, or as I used to do when I was a kindergarten teacher, touch your nose if you can see me. Touch your nose if you can see me. Thank you. All right. By the way, I teach MBA students, which means I still am a kindergartner teacher in many cases.

Who is the focus of marketing? We know that marketing is going to market. We know that marketing is not optional. It’s effectively equivalent to business. So the next logical question, is who is the focus of marketing? The customer. The customer is … the customer is king or queen. You’ve heard this expression. Now it makes sense. The customer is the most important person in the world. The customer is the king, the queen, because the customer has money in his pocket, and what do we want?

Audience: The money.

Branch: How much of it?

Audience: All of it.

Branch: That’s why we’re in business. There’s a very famous marketing professor from Canada—other than me—a very famous Canadian marketing professor, his name is Professor Adams. I think he captured it best, this idea best when he said, “Everything I do, I do it for you.” Professor Bryan Adams. Professor Bryan Adams was a marketing professor when he sang that song, because he was capturing this idea. Going to market is to go to market for the most important person in the world: the king, and the queen. Everything I do, I do it for you, you’re in, it’s the customer. Why? Very simply, customers got money in their pocket. What do we want? That money. How much of it? All of it, because that’s what business is all about. That’s why we’re here. Cool. What’s marketing? Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

Audience: Marketing is going to market.

Branch: Is it optional?

Audience: No.

Branch: Who is the focus of marketing?

Audience: Customer.

Branch: Cool. Next question, logical question: If marketing is going to market, what is a market?

Audience: Wherever the customer is.

Branch: Indeed. Did anybody study econ as an undergrad? Any economics majors? Yeah? No, just studied the course. Good, because otherwise, four years, waste of time, right? Basically, in four years of econ, you learn two things: One line goes this way, and another line goes this way, and where they cross, something important happens. OK. Economists are concerned with markets. Economists are concerned with markets. That’s their livelihood. That’s their lifeblood. Economists define markets in three different ways. The first way makes perfect sense. Look. A market is the site of the exchange. So clever, because what’s marketing? Ding, ding, ding, ding.

Audience: Going to market.

Branch: Great. What is, hopefully, in sha Allah, going to happen in that market?

Audience: Exchange.

Branch: An exchange, so a market is the site of the exchange. OK, another way to think of this from an economics perspective: How many of you … well, you all live in California now, so I know the answer. How many of you shop at Saturday morning farmers’ markets for organic kale, yes—or even better, organic quinoa, or kwin-oh-ah, as we call it? Yes. How many of you go to a farmers’ market? Who’s in a farmers’ market? There are two people in the farmers’ market. Here, hold my horse. Who’s in the farmers’ market? Two people, who’s there?

Audience: Customers and sellers.

Branch: Right, but economists don’t call them customers and sellers. They call them buyers and sellers. Another way to define a market, according to economics, is that a market is a place where buyers and sellers come together. Cool, and if you put it into aggregate, right, if you aggregate it, they aggregate, it would be—it’s the nexus of supply and demand. A market is the nexus of supply and demand. Cool. Well, marketers are not economists. Marketers tend to think a little bit more pragmatically. Just to be honest with you, marketers love models. We love models, and we especially love what we call sexy models. You know what makes a sexy model? All the words begin with the same letter, or the first letter of each word spells another word, right? Acronyms—yeah, we love this.

Here’s a model. It’s very popular in marketing. It’s called the CIE model. Let me switch to this side. The CIE model, CIE, customers, industry, and business environment. The CIE model, very common in marketing. Who are the customers? The customers are the people with the money in their pockets. What is an industry? Very simply, an industry is the set of all the companies which have substitutable products which are competing for the same customers. Saturday morning farmers’ markets, all of the farmers who have organic kale would be called the Saturday morning farmers’ market organic kale-selling industry. That was a mouthful, wasn’t it? Like kale, right? It’s just spinach by another name and more expensive, isn’t it, basically? Tastes equally bad, yeah. Then what’s the business environment? The business environment is the arena, sometimes called the playground. It’s all of that uncontrollable stuff out there that exists irrespective of our existence.

That’s kind of sexy, I guess, the CIE model, but, here, I’m really going to sex it up. This is the model which a lot of marketers love. It’s called the Five Cs model, the Five Cs model, and it suggests that every market is comprised of five components. What are they? We already know two of them. They are the two principal actors in marketing, in business: company and customers, right. I put customers first, because the customer is the king. The customer is queen. The customer is the most important person in the world. Everything I do, I do it for you. The second C, the second actor is the company, right? Unfortunately, unfortunately, there are other evil companies out there which have substitutable products. What do we call them?

Audience: Competitors.

Branch: Competitors. Great. By the by, if you put the company and the competitors together, that’s the definition of the industry. An industry is the set of all companies which have substitutable products which are competing for the same customers. What’s a good C word for business environment?

Audience: Coliseum.

Branch: Coliseum. Perfect. Like Russell Crowe, bare-chested, right? Well, I like coliseum, but the word we use is context, not quite as sexy as Russell Crowe, but nevertheless…. Then you have what are called collaborators. What are collaborators? Collaborators are other companies which help you go to market, because is it possible to go to market by yourself, alone, without any help? It’s possible, but in most instances, it’s much better to use helpers, partners. Like, for example, can Procter & Gamble go to market with Head & Shoulders alone? Sure, but when you’re trying to sell Head & Shoulders to 250 million people with dandruff in the United States, it’s much easier to use CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Kroger, Safeway, and so on. Those are called collaborators. Collaborators are downstream partners which help the company go to market, because marketing is, ding, ding, ding, ding.

Audience: Going to market.

Branch: Going to market, cool, which leads me with my final logical question before I hand over the clicker to Marcus, which is with what do we go to market? Yeah. We go to market with a product. We already knew that because [of] the 5 fundamental, essential components of business: a company has product, customer has money, and an exchange happens between the two. We go to market with a product. The product is the focus of the exchange. The product is the thing for which the customer gives us money. We go to market with a product.

However, back in 1959 at Michigan State University … woooh, yeah. Back in 1959 at Michigan State University, there was a famous professor by the name of Professor Jerome McCarthy. McCarthy had some very insightful ideas. He recognized that when a company goes to market, in addition to going to market with a product, the company must specify the—what’s that sticker on the side of a product? It’s called the price. What’s another way of saying price?

Audience: Value?

Branch: No. And not cost. Cost is internal. Exchange rates, yes—that makes so much sense, doesn’t it? The price of a product is actually the exchange rate. It’s the rate of exchange of the product for, in this case, money. Although I really don’t like the word price, it makes a sexy model—product, price—but actually, did you know that 20% of all global trade is still happening with barter? Fifty percent of trade between African nations is still happening using barter. Probably, exchange rate is a more apt description of what’s happening, right? I have pigs. You have chickens. Do you want to do some trade here?

Audience: Yeah.

Branch: OK. How many chickens for a pig?

Audience: Five.

Branch: Five? 17, you give me 17? 17, do I hear 18? 18, 18, 18. That’s an exchange rate, right? McCarthy wanted to be rich and famous, and to be rich and famous in marketing, you need to have a sexy model, so instead of exchange rate, he used the term price. Good. How do we get the product from the factory to the market where the customer is located? What do we need?

Audience: Pipeline.

Branch: Oh, pipeline. Pipeline is an amazing word. What we really need is a distribution channel. The term is distribution channel. Unfortunately, distribution channel begins with the letter D instead of the letter P, and if McCarthy had been at University of Michigan instead of Michigan State, he probably would’ve used the term pipeline, but instead, stupid Jerome McCarthy used the term place. I got to tell you, Marcus and I absolutely deplore the word place because a lot of kids graduate from business school and they think that place means retail outlet. It doesn’t mean retail outlet. It means distribution channel. How do we get the product from the factory to the market where the customer is located so that the exchange can occur?

We have product. We have price, exchange rate. We have place, which is distribution channel, and we have one more P. When we go to market, we need to communicate in the market. We need to communicate in the market. We need to tell customers about our product. We need to tell where to find the product. We need to inform them about the price. We need to tell them about our opening hours for our store. Only one problem with the word communication, it doesn’t start with the letter P. Give me a P word which means communication.

Audience: Promotion.

Branch: Promotion. I hate the word promotion because most kids graduate from business school, and they think that promotion means discounts. It does not mean discounts. Indeed, if you’re talking about discounts, it needs to go into a different P altogether, because discounts affect what? Affect the price. Promotion is about marketing communication. It’s about advertising. It’s about brochures. It’s about public relations. It’s about salespeople. It’s about endorsements. It’s about [inaudible], testimonials. It’s about all the kinds of things which we do in the market to communicate. Ladies and gentlemen, those together are referred to as the Four Ps. They are the famous Four Ps. You got to know them, and I’m going to teach them to you right now. Here we go. Drum them into your heads. Are you ready? Everybody, product, price, place, promotion. Product, price, place, promotion. Product, price, place, promotion. Product, price, place, promotion. Product, price, place, promotion. Product, price, place, promotion. Cool. What’s marketing?

Audience: Going to market.

Branch: Everybody, what’s marketing?

Audience: Going to market.

Branch: Is it optional?

Audience: No.

Branch: Who’s the focus of marketing?

Audience: Customers.

Branch: What’s a market?

Audience: [Crosstalk.]

Branch: What’s a market?

Audience: Customer.

Branch: Just say Five Cs. Just say Five Cs. What’s a market?

Audience: Five Cs.

Branch: With what do we go to market?

Audience: Four Ps.

Branch: My work here is done. Thank you very much.

Collins: Thank you, sir. All right, so what John has been talking about is perspective, giving you a perspective of how to see the world of marketing. We love the word perspective because we believe that things aren’t the way they are. They’re the way that we are. That is, the way you see the world ultimately forms how you behave in the world. Perspective—you can look at the exact same thing from two totally different perspectives; you see something completely different. This is the power of perspectives.

Take, for instance, my daughter Georgia, who I love dearly. She’s a fish. I know, she’s amazing, right? She loves to swim, and I take full responsibility for that because I’m an awesome dad. But, no, when she was much younger—she’s only three, so she was very, very young—I took her to the pool and did one of these numbers. [Shows video of tossing child up in the air, catching her.] Check it. All right. There, she’s going to go. She gets some airtime. Look at that, perfect release. Amazing dismount … and I catch her. I’m a great dad. I’m a perfect dad. I’m awesome. Now, look … I know. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That’s whay I do in my off time, is save my kid.

This is my perspective. I threw Georgia, my daughter, threw her in the air, just a little bit, just a little bit. Georgia, she maybe saw it just a little bit more. My wife? “My gosh, what are you doing to our child?!” It’s all a matter of perspective. You’ve known now the perspective on marketing. Marketing is?

Audience: Going to market.

Collins: Going to market, so it begs the question, then, what is social marketing? Now, when we ask that, usually, I ask customers. I ask clients. I ask team members. I ask students. What is social? They say, “Oh, it must be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, Snapchat, and everything in between,” or if you’re old school like me, social is BlackPlanet. I used to kill the game of BlackPlanet. I was vicious in college. Trust me. Trust me. All right. Some people think social is all about hashtags. To me, that’s just the most ridiculous thing. I hear clients say, “We need a hashtag strategy.” It’s the dumbest-ish I’ve ever heard, right? As if people talk like, “Hashtag chilling. Hashtag … ” It’s actually ridiculous.

Some people think that social is all about content. What content are we going to publish? What am I going to say? What do I tweet? What do I tumble? What do I pin? Some people think that social is really just word of mouth on crack, and because it’s word of mouth on crack, it probably belongs in public relations. People like, “You know what? Cut the crap. Social and digital, it’s all the same. There is no difference.” Clearly, there are a lot of blurred lines, abstractions, jargon, and buzzwords for you to get by.

Social, by definition, is people. Social work, social justice, social action, it’s all about people. Social is people, which is why when you look at my Facebook, those are my peoples, my friends, my family, my coworkers, my teammates, my people, right? Twitter, the network of people who like the same things. If you love Frank Ocean like I love Frank Ocean—because I love Frank Ocean, he is the dopest—we’re going to be the best of friends, the network of people. LinkedIn, the network of people who’ve worked together, the network of people.

Uber: The network of people with access capacity, the network of people who need a ride. Put those two hands together, the network of people. Kickstarter, the network of people with ideas looking for money, network of people looking to spend some money, the network of people. eHarmony, the network of people looking for love. Tinder, network of people looking for love in all the wrong places, right, the network of people.

In fact, just recently, I saw this, there is a dating site for people who love Trump. I know. It’s not political, but come on, the network of people. The funny thing about this, or the interesting part about this, is that these people don’t just exist online. They are real-life people. They are friends. I know, right? Stop traffic. They’re our friends, our families, our coworkers, our teammates, our congregates, our club mates, our people. Social is the network of people, their patterns, their behaviors, their structures—people.

Now, the crazy thing is that when we think about social, we’re like, “How many likes can I get?” Well, there’s some value in that. What do I tweet? There’s some value in that. What kind of content should I be creating? Those things provide value. But social, at its core, is all about people. Guess what? I’m going to let you in on something very, very top secret. You might want to cut the cameras off. This might get me fired. Are you ready? I’m sorry. Are you ready?

Audience: Yes.

Collins: All right, listen. None of it is new. I know. I know. I know. I just blew your mind. It’s not new. We have been social since—been social since the beginning of time, since we’re a Neanderthal by campfires exchanging grunts, Romans in forums exchanging ideas, congregations congregating in church neglecting not the fellowship, people talking about Game of Thrones at the pubs or over the water cooler, which is more like a Keurig these days. The same things that happen in all of those environments are the exact same things that happen in social networking platforms.

The things we talk about at dinner is what we saw on Facebook. The things we talk about on Facebook is what we did at dinner. It’s all about people. The thing is the technology changes really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really fast—but people change very, very, very, very slowly. Our brains are wired the same way they have been since our sub-Saharan days, right—haven’t changed that much. Though a lot of technology happened over that time, we changed extremely slowly.

For instance, people say, “Look, text messaging just changed everything. We don’t talk anymore. We’re not friends. We don’t look at each other. We’re constantly in the hues of our phones,” and I argue and say, “Have we been text messaging for a long time?” At its core, we’re exchanging syntax on a private forum. It’s not that different. Well, yes, we are addicted to our devices, no doubt. We are way, way in, and if you’re anywhere, like in San Francisco where there is some public transit, this is not an uncommon thing to see, not at all. But is this any different than this? [Comparing slide images of groups people on smartphones and groups of people reading newspapers.] Not really. People are engaged in their content here, much like they are here.

The only difference is that, today, it’s much, much, much more accessible. There’s more content to tap into. But at the core, the behavior is very much the same. Now, people argue, “OK, text messages, all right, you got that one, fine; content absorption, fine—but emojis, my God.” Emojis, we ain’t even talk sentences anymore. We become these visual communicators. We don’t even use words. I say to myself, “Huh? Have you heard of hieroglyphics before? We’ve been doing that for a long, long time, B. It’s not that different.” The technology allows us to do more, but at the core, the behavior is still very much the same.

Same thing with selfies. People like, “Oh, my God, selfies, we die for the selfie, right? We die for the ’gram, anything to get the right selfie.” We see tons and tons of people taking selfies all the time, grandmommies to Millennials and everything in between—but selfies aren’t that new either. In fact, the first selfie was taken in 1839 by Sir Robert Cornelius. Sir—I don’t know. He’s just Robert. I don’t know the guy, right? Then we see it happening more and more over the years. The only difference is that the technology wasn’t accessible then, right? You had to pay for a camera that was expensive, pay for the film, and then pay to get the film developed, and therefore, I was less likely to take a risky shot. Now, if I take a bad photo, I’d take one again, and another one, and another one, and another one, and another one. The behavior is not that different. The technology just allows us to extend on the behaviors that we already do.

This is a self-curation argument. On Facebook, I am the dopest version of myself, but in reality, I look like this, right? No judgments. But this is what we look at. We think people are constantly, constantly trying to curate themselves. I say, well, look. Don’t we take showers in the morning? Don’t we get our haircut? Don’t we go to the gym, make sure we have the fresh pair of clothes on? We’re constantly showing our best self, putting our best foot forward. Chris Rock would say, when you meet someone for the first time, you’re not meeting them, you’re meeting their representative, a walking version of their resume, right?

The technology just loves to extend the behaviors that we already do. People say things like, “Well, in Facebook, there’s this echo chamber, and all these lies and fake news happens.” I’m like, “Have you heard of a rumor, of gossip?” It’s not that different. To me, it’s really summed up here. [Shows slide of people standing on street reading newspapers, and slide of people in a subway looking at their smartphones.] You got old-school tech from a transit perspective, new-school perspective from a transit perspective, old-school tech from a media perspective, new-school tech from a media perspective. At the core, the behavior is still very much the same. The technology changes, but people don’t change that quickly. The idea is that we have to get better at understanding people.

Evan Williams, one of the cofounders of Twitter, puts it this way, “We invented Twitter. We didn’t invent it, because you don’t invent anything online. You merely extend on behaviors that already exist.” When John and I read that quote, the first person that came to mind was a gentleman named Marshall McLuhan, who is a Canadian, but very, very smart, very, very brilliant—got to think as Canadians. What Marshall McLuhan would argue is that technology only extends on behaviors that already exist.

The wheel—extension of the foot. Glasses are extension of the eyes—allow us to see further or see closer, depending on our impediment. Clothes—extensions of the skin. Cameras are extensions of our memories. Computers are extensions of the brains, taking syntax of information and providing if-and statements, which means social networking platforms, at their core, are just real-life extensions of our people. Social is all about people.

The tools matter. They just don’t matter as much as people do.

Now, let’s put these two hands together. What is marketing?

Audience: Going to market.

Collins: What is marketing?

Audience: Going to market.

Collins: Going to market, right? What’s the core function of marketing?

Audience: To make money.

Collins: To make money. You said make money. OK, but what if she’s like, “Hey, Marcus, I want to run for mayor. Can you help me with my marketing?” What does she want me to help her do? Get votes, so not just money, right? Say he’s starting a website. “Marcus, can you help me with my website?” What does he want me to help him do? Get traffic. Get people. Get subscribers, right? It’s more than just money. Ultimately, we go to market to get people to adopt behavior. Sometimes it’s a transference, an exchange of money. Sometimes it’s “Give me your time.” Sometimes it’s “Give me your email address.” We are in the business of getting people to adopt behavior, and the most influential people in our lives are our people.

We think of ourselves that we make our own decisions, that we’re independent agents in this world, but it’s just not so. Our people, our networks of people, our friends, our families, our coworkers, our teammates—those people have a massive impact on our behavior. So when we go to market, social media marketing is all about using people media in an effort to get people to adopt behavior. And our people are extremely, extremely influential.

Facebook was always in trouble. It seems like, a few years ago, did a study where they took 2,500 anonymous users. They put nothing but negative things on their newsfeed, and then took another 2,500 anonymous users to put nothing but positive things on their newsfeed. What they found is that people who had negative things on their newsfeed end up posting new negative things. People who had positive things end up posting new positive things, which means our people have an impact not only to what we feel, but, ultimately, what we say and do.

This, my friends, is what makes social media marketing so very powerful, because the ideas, the messages, the products, the communications, the behaviors are being propagated by our people, the people that we trust. Now, traditional marketing communication works like this. I have a brand. We have products, and I communicate those products and their value propositions through some medium, some marketing communication, some advertising. It’s all based on the value propositions. My razor is sharper. My battery lasts longer. My car goes faster. My burger is bigger. My shampoo will get you laid, right?

Then we say, “Hey, you got a nose. We sell Kleenex. Come get some. Who’s trying to get laid? Come work with us.” At best, we get people to say, “I’ll think about it; [I] appreciate it,” or “Hahaha, that’s a good one,” and keep moving. But when a brand has a belief, a conviction, a way by which they see the world, they communicate that belief by tapping into a network of people who see the world similarly, who share the same belief, the same conviction. And those people not only consume from that brand, but they use the brand to communicate their identity and share to people who are just like them, because, as Aristotle would say, we are social animals by nature, and we do everything we can to crash into each other.

These brands, this iconography, are shortcuts to who we are. Who out there sees the world the way I do? Ergo, we use these brands to communicate ourselves and share it with the next person, and they share it with the next person, and so on, and so on, and so on, and so on, and so on. Social media marketing is people media in an effort to get people to take action, to adopt behavior. For social media marketers, the job is to create some catalysts based on beliefs, based on conviction, based on how the brand sees the world. And we get people to help preach the gospel, to go spread the word, the people that we trust, the people who are laden with credence, and those are the things that get people to act. What is marketing?

Audience: Going to market.

Collins: What’s marketing?

Audience: Going to market.

Collins: What’s the core function of marketing? I’m sorry. What’s the core function of marketing, question mark?

Audience: [Inaudible]

Collins: Exactly, to influence behavior. What’s social? People. The idea of social media marketing is getting people to influence other people in an effort to adopt behavior.

Questions? Nothing? Yes. Nothing? Awesome. I hope this was helpful. I hope this widens the aperture just a little bit on how you see the world of marketing, and ultimately informs how you behave in your job. Because even if you’re not a marketer, guess what, you’re in marketing. John and I will often say that if you don’t understand business—or you don’t understand people, then you don’t understand business, because people are at the core of every single thing that we do within our organizations, our companies, our institutions, and our schools. Thank you so much, guys.


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