What is marketing?

And why every business has to get it right.

I know. There’re already lots of articles about marketing out there. So, why write another one?

Let me answer this question with a personal story – a horror story of sorts.

If you are not interested in my little episode, just scroll down a little and jump right into the marketing definition part of this article.

No worries, I won’t be angry. Or sad. Maybe a little bit sad. Hey, who said  I’m crying? I just have dry eyes….

We don’t do any marketing!

Not long ago, I worked for the Japanese subsidiary of a global company, with tens of thousands of employees and 150 years of history.

On my business card under my name, it said “communication”. I still don’t know if that was a title, some kind of wishful thinking or just a random English term the HR department had stumbled over when googling “crucial activity that every business should do that has something to do with PowerPoint”.

The frightening thing about this ominous line on my business card was, that it perfectly  reflected the state of the company. When I joined, neither a corporate communications nor a marketing function existed.

I had not been hired to change this. My task was to support sales with the creation of sales materials, and to publish an internal newsletter once a month. And that’s what I did. For some months, I dutifully created neatly organized PowerPoint presentations and flyers. Sadly, the sales people actually never used these, as their boss didn’t like my boss, and therefore ignored everything that came from our direction.

After a while, I started to wonder. Things were obviously wrong. The whole way we approached sales and business just felt weird. For example…

  • We essentially “donated” our entire communications budget – which was not much from the beginning – in the form of ads to industry newspapers that only our competitors read.
  • Despite our huge global presence, we had to spell out our company name whenever we called a customer.
  • Although we were in an industry where changing suppliers is a huge hassle, our customer retention rate was poor. Well, thanks to our competitors, the rate of customers coming back to us after a while (and leaving again) was also quite high.
  • We only competed by price. The result was that we had to sell some of our services for zero margin, even minus-rates – which meant we sometimes paid our customers to give us their business.
  • Our sales department cold-called random people and made appointments only to have an excuse to leave the office. “Hello. Do you have business for us? No? Oh, you have coffee?! Okay, tomorrow 3pm!”

The question marks above my head got bigger and bigger every day. So I did some research and finally got the answer. The cause of many of our problems – our braindead zombie occupied HR department aside – was the complete absence of marketing.

As I was the only one with “communication” on her business card (and a little bit of naïvete still left in me), I went on to change that.

First I tried to figure out why nobody was doing marketing in my company. The answer I got, was quite surprising: “We’re not doing any marketing. Marketing is done by our shareholder’s headquarters.”

What kind of reasoning was THAT? You could have also said something like “I don’t need to wear pants today. My mum is already wearing a pair.”

Bear in underwear

Bollocks!

So, I created a marketing plan and handed it over to my management. The reaction was quite positive. An internal presentation and discussion round with all the managers was scheduled.

The outcome of the whole event was as meaningful as Japanese slogan T-shirts (“Crap your hands – Make Noise!” – wait what?!), so I don’t want to bore you with the details.

But there was one episode amidst this drama that stood out to me – the actual reason for this blog post:

When I created the marketing plan and the accompanying presentation, I struggled with myself. Should I include an explanation about what marketing is, or not?

Throughout my career, I had observed that expecting other people to know the same things I know is a dangerous assumption that can easily lead to misunderstanding.

On the other hand, the senior management of a large company should know what marketing is, even if they decide to not do it, right? So telling them what they already know could be taken as an affront, which was the last thing I wanted.

At the end, I listened to my gut and experience and included a section on  “What is marketing?”. I went even a bit further and put in a definition titled  “marketing explained to a six years old”.

The feedback I received was quite astonishing (and frightening at the same time). The CEO and several managers (the ones that did not hate my boss, and consequently me) told me that thanks to my little lecture, it was the first time in their lives that they understood what marketing means and how important it is for doing business.

Hallelujah!

That nothing happened afterwards is another story….

Anyways, I learned three lessons from this experience:

  1. Never assume that other people know what you know.
  2. I need a new job. And most importantly:
  3. Marketing is the most misunderstood discipline in business.

My experiences with other companies only confirmed my finding about the general lack of knowledge about marketing. That’s why I decided to kick off my adventure of “fighting organized boringness through mind-blowing marketing” with this article.

So let’s jump right into it!

Disclaimer: If you are looking for a run-of-the mill definition that includes many Ps (or Cs) that you can quote to  impress your reluctant management, I would  recommend that you better look here, here and if that’s not enough, also here.

So again, what is marketing? And why every business needs to get it right.

Let’s start off with a whopper.

Peter Drucker – he’s not a whopper; he’s a famous management consultant and educator – said:

Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.

Put simply: For Drucker, marketing equals business.

Wow, that’s huge.

And, I totally agree. (I would even if I wasn’t a  marketer, I pinky swear!)

Why?

Because marketing is the ultimate connection between a business and its customers. And you know: no customers, no money, no business.

If you now think, “Lisa, don’t be silly. The connection between customers and business is sales!”, then I have to disappoint you.

Of course there are several other functions like sales and customer support that also connect a business with its customers at some point. However, their reach is rather limited and covers only a very small part of the relationship.

To understand this better, let’s have a look at how this customer-business-relationship looks like.

Businesses and thy customers

Usually, businesses start with an idea for a product or a service, right?

Let’s assume your product idea is a potato peeler hat.

So, that’s the idea. What happens then?

We produce our potato peeler hat and it will sell like hotcakes!

Hotcakes with butter and steam clouds

Nope, not quite.

Unfortunately a lot of startups (42%) follow exactly this pattern and fail miserably.

Why?

Because, not every idea fulfills a demand.

Or would you want balancing ball tables, linty toilet paper or pillows with integrated cat mating sounds?

So, here we have the first opportunity for marketing to show its power!

Making a product people really want

Before making big investments into products and services, you have to figure out if there is any demand for your idea. In other words, are there any people (other than your mom) who would actually want your potato processing headpiece?

In the form of marketing research and audience building, marketing does exactly that.

But wait. Isn’t marketing’s main function creating demand, and not just checking it? Why look for demand before getting started? We can add that later on, can’t we?

Not really. Let’s be realistic. Creating demand without any pre-existing need is like trying to grow a plant without a seed. Impossible, even with good marketing! So, let’s use marketing to get a better understanding of the existing needs and the overall market situation – meaning your competitors and your industry.

Besides checking if there is any need, marketing also makes sure that your potato peeler hat will be a perfect fit for that need. Only because there is demand for your product idea itself, doesn’t mean that your ideal subterranean staple food skinning apparatus is ideal for your customers. Never assume that your customers like what you like! People are different. So figuring out what exactly they need will help you make a product that customers will beat a path to your door for.

You see, we do not even need to have a product, yet marketing can connect you and your future customers already. Cool, isn’t it?

So, let’s assume that there are people who are actually interested in your innovative potato peeler. With the help of marketing, you also found out that they would prefer a panama hat shaped potato peeler over a beanie peeler, since it gives them a classy look when peeling potatos. Great that we asked, don’t you think?

Time to get the production rolling!

What’s next?

The peelers sell like hotcakes!

Hotcakes with butter and steam clouds

Really?!

Think about it! How would people know about your peeler chapeau? How would they know that they want your peeler and not your competitor’s peeler or – even worse – something completely different, like a lemon press knee pad?

The answer is, of course, marketing!

Eyeballs, trust and engagement

I don’t want to go into too much detail at this point. I just want to explain briefly  why it’s  marketing that needs to play the main role in your customer’s discovery and decision-making process.

You must know that, thanks to the internet and other technologies, customers are not what they used to be ten years ago: walking purses that were dependent on sales people who would promise them hot pie in the sky with vanilla sauce.

Nowadays, customers have all the information they need to make a decision, right at  their fingertips. They don’t need, and –more importantly – don’t want any sales person to tell them what to want and buy.

“No mom, I’m not gonna wear the itchy ugly sweater to school! I’m old enough to choose my own outfit!!”

Bear in red christmas sweater

So, it’s on marketing to generate attention, inform, build trust, form valuable relationships, and eventually sweet-talk your customer into buying your stuff.

Marketing makes sure that people:

  • Find you and your offer wherever they are, e.g. the web or social media
  • Understand you and your offer (Why do I want this? What’s in it for me?)
  • Consider your offer over your competitors’ offers, and finally (hopefully)
  • Purchase your offer. Cha-ching!

Marketing does that with a broad spectrum of strategies and tactics, ranging from content to  inbound marketing, from advertising to branded content, all of which we will  further discuss in future articles.

The final outcome of this whole marketing process is a customer who bought our peeler.
Wonderful! Happy end!

Well, not quite yet.

Play it again, Sam!

Did you know that acquiring new customers is much more expensive and much more of a hassle than retaining existing customers? It’s true! Think of all the jumping around in front of a potential customer to grab and hold their attention. What’s more, you then have to carefully poke them here and there to make them buy your products or services. That can be quite exhausting… blech!

Here’s where the third superpower of marketing comes into play: customer retention!

Of course, there are many parties involved in keeping a customer happy, like sales and customer support. However,  marketing can also do a lot to strengthen  customers relationships beyond their purchase.

With the right information and content, marketing can help customers get the best out of their purchase. It also helps customers to discover other things you offer that might be helpful to them. An example could be a fancy case for their new 100% straw potato peeler hat – “Use your head, not your hands! The smarter way to peel potatoes!”

But that’s not all! Marketing can also turn your customers into raving fans who spread your message – for free!

Last but not least, by staying in touch with your customers, marketing can get an even better insight into their pain points and needs. These insights canthen be used for improving your products and experiences.

The ultimate connection

You see, marketing is everywhere! It’s the ultimate connection between a business and its customers.

Bear in hero costume

I use the highly nuanced technical term “ultimate” because it sounds so coooool …um … I mean … because I want to emphasize the all-embracing and powerful nature of this connection.

Let’s look at the details of this relationship to help you understand what I mean:

1. Marketing connects your entire business with your customers

Marketing connects your entire business with your customer

Companies that rely only on the relationships their salespeople have with their customers, often face one big issue: When their sales reps leave, their customers follow them, like cute puppies that follow their masters *wuff!!*. This can happen so easily, because those customers don’t have any connection to the business itself, only to their sales reps. The business itself doesn’t mean anything to them.

Marketing prevents exactly that. It gives your business a voice, a face, a message, values, a story and much more. This package is called a “brand”.  It helps your customers relate to your business beyond your products and services.

2. The connection goes both ways

Besides a voice and a face, marketing also gives your business ears to listen.

But listen to whom?

Of course, to your customers and wannabe-customers. This is important when you want to create products and services they really want.

In addition, Marketing gives your customers and wannabe-customers a voice.

Many businesses make the mistake of just listening to their customers without translating the insights they’ve got into action. The wishes and needs of their audience get buried under internal issues and corporate navel gazing.

Marketing ensures that your customers and wannabe-customers have the strongest voice in all the business decisions you make.

The connection marketing creates gives customers a voice

3. The connection has value in itself

The connection marketing creates with your audience, adds value beyond your products and services.

Modern marketing doesn’t annoy the world with noisy ego-centrism, but rather delights  the audience with helpful information, inspiring stories and entertaining content. As a result, the relationship that develops is very similar to the relationship a rock star has to her fans. It’s a strong bond of shared values, visions and experiences that has meaning in itself, independent of your actual offers.

The connection marketing creates has value in itself

4. The connection is seamless

Marketing sends out the first gleam somebody sees of your business. From this very “first contact”, marketing guides all further interactions somebody has with your business.

Also, marketing makes sure that the journey doesn’t end with a purchase. By continuously being helpful and adding value to customers, it keeps customers engaged with your business beyond the first purchase.

The connection marketing creates is seamless

Without marketing …

Now do you understand? Why marketing is so important for your business – no matter how many employees you have, in what industry you’re in or how big the market is you serve?

Let’s summarize the functions of marketing by turning around what we’ve said so far.

Without marketing…

  • you’re risking to create products and services nobody needs. iPotty….just saying…
  • you will not be able to reach the audience you want to reach to sell your products and services.
  • your wannabe-customers will not be able to understand why and how you can help them.
  • your customers will have no reason to stay with you beyond their first purchase.

In short, without marketing your business would be a grey and lonely place. *Sniff*

So, what do you think?

Will you give it a shot? Will you embrace the power of marketing?

Is there any superpower that marketing possesses that I missed out? Let me know!

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