The Marketing Bureau

Specialist Marketing & Communications Resourecs



Build It & They Will Come. Or Will They?

By Brian H Meredith

Some years ago, as I walked briskly through the suburban wilderness of the Albany Supa Centre (as it was initially called) on Auckland’s North Shore (and I was walking briskly - no-one in their right mind would want to spend a moment longer than necessary in this wasteland of tin sheds and concrete hangers posing as superstores) , the words of Bill Bryson* came to mind:


 “It seems so odd and sad that mankind could, for centuries, have so effortlessly graced the landscape with structures that seemed made for it – little arched bridges and stone farmhouses, churches, windmills, winding roads, hedgerows – and now appeared quite unable to do anything to the countryside that wasn’t like a slap across the face. We used to build civilisations and now we build shopping malls”


Offering what Bryson describes as “at best, a sleek utility”, it is painfully clear that environments are being built for someone other than us, the real stakeholders in our society.  And for that I substantially blame marketers.


The Albany Supa Centre (which has now been complimented by the Albany Westfield Mall where, in my humble opinion, the only difference is that it has a roof) wasn’t designed with the comfort of shoppers in mind. If it were, it would be more than a cluster of cheaply thrown together warehouses surrounded by a sea of tarmac. Too many retail environments are an assault on our senses.


And then there’s Britomart. Am I the only misguided fool who can’t help chanting the mantra “A single terminal does not a public transport system make?” Who is it for? Clearly not passengers. Yes, it is now chokka block full of bars, cafes, restaurant and the like. But an integrated transport hub it most certainly is not. But then I guess we do have to take account of the fact that the mayor has been somewhat distracted in recent times.


My heart goes out to those amongst you who, for a huge chunk of your adult lives, inhabit the travesty of environments for humans that is the contemporary office building, not, by any wild stretch of the imagination, designed with people in mind but, rather, to deliver a yield per square metre .


When flying to a Tourism Conference some years ago, I was seated next to the Vice President, Sales & Marketing, of a well known chain of hotels. I made a remark to do with some aspect of building design which impacted on hotel operations and her replied stunned me - “As VP Sales & Marketing I don’t have anything to do with the operation of the hotels” No wonder the plug for the jug is in the bathroom.


And here is the clue to the problem.


Organisations are not, in the main, run by, or well advised by, marketers. They are run by accountants. Or engineers. Or administrators.  But marketers are notable by their absence in the leadership role.


The reason that this matters is this:


An organisation, by definition, only exists to meet the needs of someone and that “someone” comprises a number of stakeholder groups of which one is the customer, or end user/beneficiary, of the organisation’s products and/or services.


Regrettably, accountants, engineers, administrators and the like have not shown any substantive evidence to-date that they understand this core reality of organisational existence. They end up being hijacked by the loudest or most proximate voices amongst their stakeholder groups (often shareholders) who demand fast returns. Period.


Or they just exhibit plain, old fashioned greed or self interest.


The harsh reality is that very few organisations ever actually manage to place the marketing concept at the centre of their universe. Some try and fail and many don’t bother to try. For them, it makes no sense at all to consider the architecture of the mall, the office building, the transport interchange or the hotel from the user’s point of view (the shopper, the office worker, the passenger, the guest). There is nary a marketer anywhere near those decisions.


The interest represented by marketers (and often only by marketers) is that of all stakeholder groups, including the customer or end user. But this interest must reside not simply within the title or job description of a marketer – it must reside within every fibre of the organisation’s being. Only then might we begin to see organisations refocusing their endeavours towards the simple reality that, ultimately, it is people and the society which they, together, comprise who must be the central focus of organisational thinking – whose needs the organisation exists to serve.


Fulfilling those needs requires “users” to be central to everything the organisation does and that, often, means starting with the environments they create and with which society is forced to interact.


“Build it and they will come” will ring true only when “they” want to come, so involve them at the outset and not just when you want to extract money from them with the omnipresent marketers cry of “Up to 50% off!” 



*(Author “Neither Here Nor There – Travels In Europe”)


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