Grape Lollipop Marketing by Mark Schaefer

Click here to order your copy of Mark Schaefer’s new book, Marketing Rebellion

I often joke that most businesses are “grape lollipop” marketers.

Here’s what I mean. 

Grape lollipops contain no grapes. They don’t taste like grapes, they don’t look like any grape I’ve ever seen.

And yet, at some time in history, some candy company industrialist deemed that this purple color would be forever associated with “grape,” and eventually the world population was conditioned to think this was indeed the flavor of grape.

But … it’s not grape, even if we call it grape.

The same thing has happened in the world of marketing.

The same thing has happened in the world of marketing. When we consider our “human-centered marketing,” we might proudly point to the stock photos of ethnically-diverse models on our website, the personalized customer names in our email marketing, and the internal advocacy programs encouraging real employees to share our legally-approved marketing messaging.

We’ve conditioned ourselves to believe this is real, a best practice — a reflection of the voice of the customer.

But there is no real human voice or connection here. It’s grape.

The subtitle of my new book Marketing Rebellion is, “The Most Human Company Wins.” Through extensive research and hundreds of interviews with experts like Martin Lindstrom, I explain the vast chasm between what companies believe to be effective marketing today and what real consumers truly expect from us. For example, 

  • Businesses think just 13 percent of their marketing messages are unsolicited, while consumers feel 85 percent of the messages they receive from businesses are spam.
  • Businesses believe 81 percent of their marketing messages are relevant and useful, in contrast with 84 percent of consumers who say these communications are NOT useful at all!
  • Businesses believe that 75 percent of their corporate communications are personalized, while consumers feel it is more like 17 percent.

If there is any silver lining to this coronavirus crisis, it is that businesses are being forced to abandon grape lollipop marketing and connect in an authentic and meaningful way. Look at what some of the greatest brands are doing right now. Their marketing has rapidly pivoted to reflect:


Focus on a united human condition with an emphasis on real human needs in a crisis.

Authentic Generosity

People need meaningful help with life issues, not just coupons and promises.

Acts Not Ads

Concrete actions that add true value will be remembered on the other side of this crisis, not clever ads that simply lead cheers.

We’re already seeing a backlash against tone-deaf ads and lame expressions of help. Successful marketing in this environment requires companies to dig deep beyond their normal agency protocols and approvals to meet people where they are today – suffering, worried, and even grieving.

The coronavirus is a terrible plague. I know. My wife and I have both experienced the illness first-hand.

But I’m hopeful that a long-lasting business lesson comes from this:

Marketing must finally transcend our antiquated notions of advertising, the comfort of our martech stack, and the pride in our beautiful social media dashboards. 

We’re re-discovering that marketing requires a connection that is real, accessible, and even vulnerable. We’re learning that now and forever, the most human company wins.

About Mark Schaefer

Mark Schaefer is a marketing strategy consultant, keynote speaker and the author of eight best-selling books including KNOWN, Marketing Rebellion and The Content Code.

Click here to order your copy of Mark Schaefer’s new book, Marketing Rebellion


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