What Is Marketing?

Let’s face it, to the average business person, marketing equals promotion.

Marketing is what you say and how you say it when you want to explain how awesome your product is and why people should buy it.

Marketing is an ad. Marketing is a brochure. Marketing is a press release. And more recently, Marketing is a Facebook page or a Twitter account.

Marketing, to many business people, is simply selling at a larger scale.

The reality, is that marketing sits at the intersection of the business and the customer – the great arbiter of the self interests of the business and the needs of the buyer.

Quick Takeaways:

  • At a fundamental level, marketing is the process of understanding your customers, and building and maintaining relationships with them.
  • Marketing is the key to an organization’s success, regardless of its size.
  • There are several types and sub-types of marketing, digital and offline. You should determine and pursue the ones that work best for you.
  • Marketing and Sales teams need to have a unified approach. Automation helps them work towards the same goals.

What is Marketing, Really?

There I was, minding my own business, resting after completion of an amazing content marketing strategy workshop for a client. And someone asked about my opinion on the difference between marketing and branding.

I was directed to read this cartoon that defines marketing as “I am a great lover” vs branding which shows the consumer saying “I understand you’re a great lover.”

This got me a little fired up. OK, a lot fired up!

I’ve already tried to define what marketing is many times here. I’ve tried to address the common perception of marketing as being all about promoting and selling. And I’ve taken on the problem of advertising, mad men and their “big” ideas, and the sheer idiocy of banner ads.

I believe marketing has a marketing problem. Ask most people what marketing is and they think of some form of either selling (I am great and you should choose me because of reason A or B) or advertising (buy our stuff and you will have a better life, be more attractive, have more sex, attract better partners, be happier.)

As the global economy settles into a new normal of consistent doubt, Marketing has an identity problem, a brand perception gap, maybe even a crisis of confidence.

“Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation.”

~ Milan Kundera

When I transitioned out of a successful sales career almost 15 years ago, most of my peers thought I was crazy. The head of our division hung up on me (it wasn’t the first time).

Increasingly, after more and more conversations with real customers, I had bought in to the idea that marketing represented the future. I sold what was “in the sales bag.”

But I wanted to help shape the future. Naive? Probably. Delusional? Certainly. Possible? Definitely!

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

~ Peter F. Drucker

Marketing is not about who can talk faster, or close better. It is about deep psychological understanding of customer needs. Steve Jobs had this gift better than almost any example. Henry Ford. Thomas Edison. Every innovation in the history of the world combined an uncanny understanding of human needs and the innovative vision to deliver it.

“Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”

~ David Packard

If business is composed of marketing and innovation, and marketing is about deep customer insights, then marketing is the job of every employee.

Social media has only made this point painfully clear: every employee is an extension of the brand. The brand serves to meet the needs of the customer and the business serves to innovate.

Marketing starts by asking consumers who they are, what they want, and what they care about. Marketing starts with a question. Marketing is not “I am a great lover.” Effective marketing simply asks “How are you?”

Marketing is a Conversation

I learned in college that marketing is a conversation. Marketing is the conversation that starts between two people who don’t know each other well. Great conversations lead to understanding needs. Great insights like this lead to amazing products delivered through engaging customer experiences. THIS is marketing.

When I meet someone I don’t know, I ask them questions. I try to get to know them. I try to understand their dreams and problems and needs. I do NOT talk about myself unless there is a genuine interest from the other person to learn about me as well. But this only comes from true and authentic empathy. I have to actually care about this other person to earn their trust.

This conversation continues as we get to now each other better. And like human relationships, the brands who continue into deeper connections are the ones who seem to care more about the other person than they do about themselves.

The brands who win more customers are the ones who put their customers ahead of their desire to sell more stuff.

They show potential customers that they are interested in solving real problems. They don’t just act like they care. They actually care and they prove it in the way they act. They genuinely seek to help their customer to improve their lives through their content, their expertise, their passion and, if they are lucky, through the stuff they sell.

And like in real life and common human interaction, Marketing means you have to give much more than you hope to receive. Great marketers are passionate teachers, giving away their expertise with only the hope that they are helping people. The business benefit is in establishing trust, and building an audience of people who believe in you to help them in times of need.

When given a choice, we only buy from brands we know, like and trust!

Marketing Requires Empathy

But how do you do you explain the power and importance of empathy to executives who don’t have any? How do you explain empathy when businesses only want to sell, and promote, and hang their logos on stadiums and golfers hats?

You have to show them that, as a society, we tune out ads, and promotion, and ego-driven marketing tactics. Promotion and propaganda don’t work in today’s world.

But we tune into content and brands that helps us. The only way to accomplish this is for brands to create content that actually helps people. And lots of it. Because we have been burned many times. We are skeptical. We are tired. And angry with auto-play video ads on the sites we like to visit.

Is Marketing Broken?

Yeah I said it. “Marketing is broken.” In this episode of BrightTALK’s Market Movers interview series with Christine Crandell, I made the plain and simple case:

“Most of marketing is ineffective pushing, and that’s the stuff that we as consumers are tuning out.”

I’m sorry if that’s hard to hear. Hey, I’m one of you! I want to be a part of great, meaningful work that contributes to the success of a business.

But as even Christine admitted, it’s really hard to deny the point that much of marketing is broken. Look around you. Can you remember the last banner ad you saw?

I think that too much of marketing is tactical. The boss asks you to do something. The marketer goes and does it.And usually that thing is something promotional and ineffective. Partly because we don’t care if it’s effective. We only care if it gets done.

I believe we have to remind the boss what the brand stands for. Every business is started in order to solve a customer problem. The company grows and becomes successful because it created something unique and helpful. But as the business grows, too often the focus becomes the business, not the customer.

Your brand is more than what you sell!

But to be truly effective, shouldn’t marketing start with a focus on meeting customer needs? Marketing should be telling stories, not selling products. That’s why I define content marketing as the simple process of answering customer questions.

The business that wins becomes known and trusted as the brand that solves customer pain points along their buyer journey.

I believe that too many of us lose sight of that commitment, and that is why I think that in many businesses, marketing is broken.

In the video I explained this further: “Unfortunately, a lot of the content that happens inside companies is completely ineffective and all about the business.”

There’s a huge a cultural element to this. I believe the executives inside the business need to be held accountable for creating a culture of customer-focused content. But it’s also up to us in marketing to push back.

I know it takes courage. I know it’s hard. But that’s the difference between the marketing that’s broken and the marketing that works.

In the video I talk about how brands need to go back to their roots and create content marketing experiences that customers want to read and share. I also show how that helps you reach, engage, convert and retain buyers you would have never seen before.

Check out the video below:

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