Paul Cook, the founder of Raychem—one of the most innovative energy and tech companies of all time—once said that creativity cannot be taught but rather is instinctive, because creativity stems from curiosity and one cannot be taught to be more curious. Curiosity comes from within. Last week, when I came across this quotation in one of the case studies for our Innovation Management class, I smiled, and felt extremely relieved and happy. Now, let me explain why this relief suddenly emerged: I started believing that I might actually be creative enough to be a part of the world of marketing, in which I am majoring. It gave me hope, and that’s why I want to talk about marketing this week.
Marketing involves so much more than commercials, advertisements, pricing strategies and sales promotions. And no, marketing people are not manipulative people with ulterior motives, nor they are just a bunch of people who are great with words, although all this is very true. But there is nonetheless so much more to marketing than what a person excluded from the industry might know and perceive. It has taken being actually involved in this area to really get my enthusiasm. I will go on to speak of an entrepreneur, a visionary businessman who managed to use a lot of the concepts we learn about in our studies, at a time before many of those concepts were even invented. The mastermind I am referring to is Harry Gordon Selfridge, or at least Jeremy Piven’s portrayal of Harry Gordon Selfridge—the founder of the famous British department store Selfridges—in the TV series “Mr. Selfridge.”
For those of you who haven’t seen this brilliant series yet, please do watch it. In every episode, I come across almost everything taught in Organizational Behavior and Theory, and our marketing courses in general, which fills me with even more enthusiasm and excitement. And this isn’t solely my opinion, for I have read a great many articles on business sites and met some business people who are addicted to the show and who support my thesis about Mr. Selfridge being a business genius in terms of both internal, i.e., how he connects with his employees, and external marketing. I am going to elaborate on a few examples that show just how far ahead of his time he was in a business sense.
1. Shopping is an experience, not just a business transaction, and the customer-oriented business model. Selfridges was founded in London in 1909, with no previous retailers having encouraged the “shopping experience,” service excellence and attractive visual displays. Harry Gordon Selfridge based his business on all these features, which retailers like Harrods, despite having opened about a hundred years previously, lacked at the time. Before Selfridges, people weren’t even allowed to touch the products. Along came Selfridges, and you were not only able to touch the products but also try them out, dine in the store, read in their library, and expose yourself to live music or readings by famous authors. Mr. Selfridge did not just stop there, but also went on to encourage the head of fashion to produce a variety of sizes of the same clothing item for women. This may seem like one of the simplest aspects of the whole fashion industry now, but at the time such choices weren’t available to women, at least in the British Empire. Famous for his phrase, “the customer is always right,” he customized services and products accordingly. Contrary to later misinterpretations, Mr. Selfridge’s dictum didn’t mean that one should always give customers what they want, but rather treat them fairly, hear them out and when necessary try to find out what they want by listening, for they themselves may not be aware of what they want. This is why market research fails sometimes.
2. Marketing matters. Mr. Selfridge valued the display department above all, and since display was the most essential form of marketing at that time, he stopped at nothing, from placing a car in a window display to putting Louis Blériot’s monoplane on show in the store to staging the majestic Empire Exhibition. Plus, as a form of “cause marketing,” despite many protests, he acted as a proud sponsor of the suffragettes by allowing them to hold their weekly meetings in the store’s café.
3. True leadership and communication at its best. This is emphasized constantly in the series: a leader should be open, honest, respectful and encouraging toward his/her employees. Whenever an external factor is about to change the way the industry operates, Mr. Selfridge arranges staff meetings and includes everyone from the department heads to the lowest-ranking employees to inform them about the coming changes and explain everything thoroughly so that they will cooperate willingly. This is a very significant strategy a leader must employ if s/he wants to survive and succeed through difficult times, and a characteristic that many leaders lack even nowadays. Despite how awful things might get, listen to your employees and have them listen to you for the sake of making things better in the long run. Mr. Selfridge managed to make things seem easier even during WWI.
4. Beware of competition. When Mr. Selfridge feels his business threatened by the possible expansion of Woolworth’s, a retailer offering low-price items, he seizes the opportunity and mounts a major sales promotion the day prior to the scheduled opening of a Woolworth’s store in the same district. In this way he attracts price-sensitive customers to his own store.
P.S.: Special thanks to Lale Hoca, Zahide Hoca and Ahmet Hoca, for they have given me the enthusiasm to choose my major and made the whole experience in our faculty even more enjoyable. Had I had more space, I would have written more, and integrated many other things discussed in the classes.