Book Review – Unmarketing by Scott Stratten


Who likes marketing? Aside from marketers, there are many aspects of marketing that no one really likes. Cold calls from telemarketers, mail boxes stuffed with fliers and brochures, spam email, poorly executed tv ads, website popup ads and over the top display ads. We are surrounded by relentless efforts of marketing agencies to get their message to you by hook or by crook.

We are already seeing a change in how marketing messages are consumed by younger audiences, for example, we met Generation Z earlier this year, who see through marketing messages, and rely on peer opinion to influence their purchasing decisions. Scott Stratten’s book Unmarketing looks at ways businesses should shift in order to adapt to this new reality. The book’s title is a clue to it’s premise. The old assumptions of what we can do in marketing implementation needs to be challenged.

Key arguments in Unmarketing are:

  1. We should focus on existing customers more than acquiring new ones.
  2. There is a hierarchy of buying that we need to be aware of.
  3. The importance of demonstrating expertise and authority via content.

Businesses need to consider how they communicate with their customers, the messages they convey in the delivery of their service and solving problems. The key Stratten identifies in this is the establishment of a relationship with our customers. Instead of concentrating on outbound message delivery to gain new clients, investing in a relationship via communication and content with existing customers can yield more value in the long term. Build loyalty and the rewards will come not only in continued business but in positive referrals and word of mouth, which is more and more important.

Stratten puts forward a hierarchy of buying to enable businesses to understand the purchasing decision process of consumers. The hierarchy of buying chart was developed from interviews with over 1000 business owners who were asked, “why do you buy?” It is a valuable tool that does a lot of market research heavy lifting for us. The hierarchy runs from cold call and google searches at the bottom, through to communication with potential buyers, to peer referrals and existing and maintained relationships.

Given the power of relationships, the difficulty of establishing and maintaining them, and the time and resources required in investing in relationship building, Stratten teaches us how.

Traditional marketing assumptions focus on getting new customers in, while this is the focus, existing customers tend to be forgotten or relatively under valued. While you are focussing on getting new customers, often the service and dedication to existing customers falls down resulting in a terrible experience that leads them to a competitor.

While it is of primary importance to provide dedication and build a relationship with existing customers, Stratton doesn’t abandon the need to attract new customers. Unmarketing is not about saturation of brand messages, it is about delivering value around your product or service in the form of content. Stratten recommends business owners become an expert in their field. This is often not difficult, because in most cases, business owners already are, they are just not demonstrating it or passing on their expertise in a regular way to potential, as well as existing, customers.

The benefits of blogging vary beyond the demonstration of expertise and the delivery of value to consumers. There are also SEO benefits that enable a greater reach of your business to new customers. To make it easier for businesses to generate content, Stratten offers a step by step process to follow.

Part of the content marketing strategy is the use of social media to promote content, but it fits into the Unmarketing picture in another way, it facilitates conversations with customers. Stratten identifies that without these conversations, and opportunities for communication and relationship building, social media marketing falls down the buying hierarchy.

The book shows it’s age at times, being published in 2010, but in other ways it is clear it was ahead of its time. The fundamentals are sound, and a revisit from time to time offers handy reminders. Unmarketing, by Scott Stratten, turns traditional marketing on its head and puts building relationships with existing customers at the forefront of marketing strategy. If we do this, new customers will come from referrals and value-adding content.

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