On Marketing

MarketA year or so into my career at BT, I decided I would study Marketing. I thought it might be useful as we moved into a deregulated market and competitive environment (this was some time ago – my diploma was from the plain old Institute of Marketing, before it became Chartered).

I loved it. It was just common sense about how you should do business, as many of my course colleagues agreed. In fact, none of us could understand why the businesses we worked in didn’t follow marketing principles (we were young and naïve, we’d find out why eventually).

Today, marketing still seems like plain old common sense. Whilst it can be incredibly complex in its operation, the basic principles are simple and enduring. I still don’t really understand why most companies make such a mess of it. Let’s me explain.

My definition of marketing, loosely based on the old CIM definition, is “to meet the customer need, profitably”. Is this not also a definition of business? I keep it simple so it’s easily remembered and kept ‘front of mind’. It’s the purpose of the organisation, the yardstick against which you can measure every action, at any time. And you should.

(Today, I would expand it a bit to say “to meet the customer need, profitably, sustainably and with integrity”, to reflect personal and societal changes.

For me, Marketing is a philosophy, a way of being, a culture. The people in the business should live and breathe it every day, it should inform their every thought and guide their every action.

It’s not a function, a department or a process. It can manifest itself as any of these things, and often does, but that is secondary. I’d also suggest this is increasingly less than helpful as organisation structures become more fluid and organic. It’s telling that in the tech sector “Growth Hacking” is preferred to what used to be called marketing and it is organised and peopled quite differently.

Everything is marketing. Every single action by every single person is marketing because it all impacts the customer, in some way. How the phone is answered, how tweets are replied to, the way the billing works, the language people use in the business. Every single interaction the customer has with the business (or the brand, if you prefer) impacts their perception of the business and the degree to which their need is met.

This is not some mass land-grab by a megalomaniacal Marketing Director (moi? Surely not?). “Marketing”, the function, doesn’t have to control everything and everyone. In fact, it doesn’t have to control anything. The point is, everyone must be aware that what they are doing is marketing in some way and degree. “Marketing” must create that awareness.

It follows, then, that marketing is everyone’s responsibility. Every person is a brand ambassador, everything they do is a brand statement. This has significant implications for how a business treats its people and the degree of trust they place in them. The best companies, like Zappos and Netflix, get this completely. They are a minority.

Marketing is the responsibility of the CEO. Full stop. The Marketing Director is only the steward of the process, the function and its resources. Marketing is so core to the success of the business it can only belong to the person at the top.

It also follows that marketing is about more than Advertising and PR, or what is labelled ‘Promotion’ under the four Ps of marketing. Let’s remind ourselves of the others. First is Product. Hello, engineering, IT, R&D, that’s you. Let’s be sure we’re building stuff the customer wants, and not what you want to build. Then there’s Price. It’s not just numbers, Finance. And finally, Place. Hold on there,  customer service, distribution and logistics. These four pillars work together to deliver what the customer needs and wants. They are not owned by separate silos who can play games with each other and bicker over who owns what. That’s why the CEO has to have overall responsibility.

Finally, marketing is about listening, not about telling. It’s about finding out what your customers really need, not about blasting them into submission with your messages. Today, I would rephrase this as being about conversations, not broadcasting. Marketing has always been about social, it’s only now the technology has caught up and enables this to happen fully and in real time.

To me, that’s marketing. Real marketing. And we need as much today as ever.

Picture by NobbiP (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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