In 1960, Theodore Levitt, the father of modern marketing, wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Marketing Myopia” in which he suggested that businesses will do better in the long run if they concentrate on meeting customers’ needs rather than on selling products. A rather unremarkable idea by today’s standards, but only because Levitt came up with it in the first place.
To continue growing, Levitt argued, companies must determine and act on their customers’ needs and desires, not bank on the presumptive longevity of their products.
In every case, the reason growth is threatened, slowed, or stopped, is not because the market is saturated. It is because there has been a failure of management.
The theme of the article is that the vision of most organizations is too constricted by a narrow understanding of what business they are in.
The article started a revolution. It exhorted CEOs to re-examine their corporate vision and redefine their markets in terms of wider perspectives. Organizations found that they had been missing opportunities that were plain to see once they adopted the wider view.
Which got me thinking…
What are Meeting Professionals Selling?
As meeting professionals, in the simplest of terms, what are we selling? What is our product?
When I ask this question to meeting professionals, the answer I typically get is, “Meetings and events”.
Meetings are indeed produced, marketed, sold and consumed like products. And like many products, they risk becoming stale and outdated over time. But remember what Levitt said, “Our goal should not be to sell things, it should be to satisfy customers.”
So, what do our customers (stakeholders) want? What would “satisfy” them?
The answer to this question is as varied as the customers (stakeholders) you serve but when you think about the product we sell – meetings and events – what are the highest order needs and desires we serve? And given those needs and desires, what business are we really in?
Over the years my answer to this essential question has changed and it continues to evolve.
Why We Meet
Research going back decades tells us that the top reasons people go to meetings and events are for the educational sessions and networking (formal and informal learning, respectively). Therefore, I once thought that “learning” was the highest need.
But the more I got involved in developing formal and especially informal learning at meetings and events, I started thinking more broadly about what “learning” meant. I started focusing on the entire meeting experience, not just the formal or informal learning. I began to focus on experience design as the highest need.
Lately, I’ve come to realize that there’s something even greater than “learning” or the overall “experience”.
A meeting is defined as two or more people gathered together around a common purpose. Learning and the experience clearly play a critical role in this but ultimately, the highest need meetings serve is to foster a greater sense of purpose or meaning. This is commonly referred to as community building.
The Highest Order of Meetings: Community-Building
Community is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. I can’t think of a higher order need for meetings and events than to build and nurture community. Can you?
So if our purpose as meeting professionals is to ultimately build and nurture community, we must do things differently. This is where Meeting Design comes in. The current methodology for planning meetings and events does not focus per se on community building. It focuses primarily on logistics and satisfying lower order needs for food, shelter, and safety.
As meeting professionals, if we want to build and nurture communities we’re going to have to be more intentional, more strategic. We’re going to need new knowledge and skills, a new way of planning and executing meetings and events, and we’re going to have to define our community goals and objectives from the outset and align all meeting elements accordingly. The Meeting Design process and methodology is the only way I know of doing that.
Finally, getting back to Levitt, the cure for marketing myopia is to develop new (meeting and event) offerings which will meet customer needs better than your existing products and before anyone else does.
In today’s world, consumers have an abundance of choices. If you want them to attend your meeting or event – your community – you’re going to have to make a better case than “great education” and “great networking opportunities”. These are essential but no longer sufficient to building and nurturing community.