The Highs of Effective Marketing

The Ebbinghaus illusion/Source: WikiMedia

As we’ve mentioned in this space, Peter Drucker believed the highest praise one can heap upon an innovation is that it’s so obvious you can’t believe you didn’t think of it yourself. We therefore take a moment to laud the innovation of 13-year-old Girl Scout Danielle Lei, who has made national news by setting up a cookie stand in front of the “Green Cross,” a San Francisco cannabis dispensary.

Sales were so swift that Danielle unloaded 117 boxes in two hours and required restocking midway through.

We believe there are a few lessons here about customers and marketing. One is simply that, as Drucker wrote in People and Performance, “The want a business satisfies may have been felt by customers before they were offered the means of satisfying it.” In this case, the offerings of Green Cross created a want for Girl Scout cookies long before Lei offered the means to satisfy it.

Yet there’s also a deeper point here. Drucker stressed the importance of distinguishing between “selling” and “marketing.” When Girl Scouts sell their cookies, they’re operating on a business model that is, frankly, outdated. It’s from a time when, as Drucker put it, “the typical attitude of American business toward marketing was ‘the sales department will sell whatever the plant produces.’” The plant produces the cookies, and the girls must sell it.

But true marketing, Drucker argued, does not work that way: “It does not ask, ‘What do we want to sell?’ It asks, ‘What do customers want to buy?’”

Many of us buy Girl Scout cookies out of affection or sympathy for the seller more than out of yearning for the product. To be sure, we recognize that some people are sufficiently enamored of Girl Scout cookies per se to buy dozens of boxes (we really love Thin Mints ourselves), but they are not necessarily the majority. The brilliance of Lei—and, let’s note, her mother—was to think like a marketer and look for a different kind of customer.

“The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous,” Drucker wrote. “The aim of marketing is to know and understand customers so well that the product or service fits them and sells itself.”

Lei understood dispensary goers. The product sold itself. Another lesson in innovation and entrepreneurship from the Bay Area.

What other lessons do you think we can learn from the Girl Scout who sold her cookies in front of a cannabis shop?