Marketing Philosophy 101 

Ginger Shimp

Philosophy is not my strong point, but I like to sound intellectual when I write these blogs, so I thought I would spend some time with Plato.

Plato discusses a “theory of forms,” and by the term “forms” he really means ideas. The basic idea of the theory is that ideas are a higher form of reality than stuff. Heavy-duty thinking, right? Of course, Plato was a little biased because he was selling ideas and not stuff, but I tend to agree with him anyway.

For example, in addition to being a blogger, I also market business software. The sales team is really selling a giant pile of perfectly arranged ones and zeroes.

Now, we could argue that they’re not selling ones and zeroes, but rather the arrangement of those numerals. Do we really go to the florist to buy flowers, or do we go to buy a floral arrangement?

This isn’t anything new. The old saw is that people don’t need drills, they need holes. (Yes, it amuses me that there is an old saw about drills.) But seriously, who on earth is going to buy a hole? No one, that’s who. So, we can sell saws because they’re tangible, but we market holes because holes are an idea.

Back to our customers. They know they need a hole (or a solution), and they may even jump to the conclusion that they need a drill, or a great big pile of nicely arranged ones and zeroes. On the other hand, they may have a screw loose and not necessarily make that leap. That’s where we come in.

What does all this have to do with Plato? Hang on, I’m getting there.

You see, Plato wrote about the allegory of the cave. In this scenario, there are a bunch of prisoners chained in a cave. They cannot turn around, but they have a fire behind them that casts shadows on the cave wall in front of them. As a matter of perspective, the prisoners regard the shadows as reality and not the objects creating the shadows (which they cannot see).

So let’s suppose a drill and board are situated between the fire and the prisoners, and when the drill makes a hole in the board, the prisoners get the concept without actually laying their hand on the drill.

A salesman might go to these prisoners and ask them if they would like to buy a drill. “Yes,” the prisoners will say. “We can drill through our shackles and get the heck out of here.”

Now a rookie marketer might go to these same prisoners and say, “You dopes, a drill will get the job done, but what you really need are keys to unlocking your shackles.”

Plato had a sage teacher, Socrates. Socrates, the originator of the Socratic method (duh), knew it was far better to teach by asking questions rather than lecturing. So taking a cue from Socrates, the savvy marketer will say, “A drill might work for you but what do you really want? Do you want to get out of this damp cave? Have you considered keys?”

Great marketers will not try to disabuse their customers of their preconceived notions. A great marketer will be informed about potential solutions. They will endeavor to understand their customers’ needs. But rather than pushing a solution on a potentially uninformed customer, they will inform and encourage their customers to draw their own conclusion.

I’ve come to the conclusion that neither Plato nor Socrates had all the answers, but they had some great ideas. I think they would have been terrific marketers.

For more on successful marketing strategies, see Influencing Customers Through Infinite Personalization.


About Ginger Shimp

With more than 20 years’ experience in marketing, Ginger Shimp has been with SAP since 2004. She has won numerous awards and honors at SAP, including being designated “Top Talent” for two consecutive years. Not only is she a Professional Certified Marketer with the American Marketing Association, but she's also earned her Connoisseur's Certificate in California Reds from the Chicago Wine School. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of San Francisco, and an MBA in marketing and managerial economics from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. Personally, Ginger is the proud mother of a precocious son and happy wife of one of YouTube's 10 EDU Gurus, Ed Shimp.