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Sunday, October 28, 2012

What Is Marketing?


I'd like to shed some light on what many people think marketing is about and what marketing is really about. As someone with a Bachelor of  Commerce (Major in Marketing), an MBA from HEC Montreal and six years of experience in various Product/Brand/Marketing Manager roles, I will try to compare marketing theory with common misconceptions. I'm sure a lot of people in my industry feel the same way so I'd like to explain to those on the outside, the differences and subtleties of the trade.

What Is Marketing?
I remember my interview for a Marketing Intern Position at Schering (now part of Merck Frost) and I was asked by the Director of Marketing what I thought marketing was. My exact words were:

"Marketing is the solving of a customer want or need by offering a solution at a profit". So, you find something that someone needs or wants, figure out how to satisfy them and get paid for the work that you do. It was a win-win situation.

Now ask the same question to someone outside of marketing and you'll get a bunch of answers like marketing is sales or advertising.

From Dilbert.com: Perks of Being in Sales :)

Marketing Is Not Sales 
While both a marketer and a salesman will focus on customer needs, marketing is focused on the long term while sales is more short sighted.

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

Marketing deals with identifying customer needs/wants, creating the products/services to solve those demands and then follows through with post-launch campaigns to ensure that the appropriate message is understood by the target audience.

By figuring out what customers want or need, you create something that solves a problem. Put this in contrast with sales who often push product simply because they have overstock. I worked a summer job for a small company back in the day and the owner was pretty clever. He went across the US figuring out what retailers needed (market research) and eventually ended up in the olive oil business. He didn't buy a pallet of whatever at a low price and and try to peddle it (sales) to buyers. Of course, you can prove me wrong but this example is a simplified version of what goes on out there.

Sales deals with matching current stock/services with customers, often on a one-to-one basis to meet hard $ targets. Sales has to persuade customers to choose a product that is in the salesman's suitcase. Commission plays a huge role so dysfunctional behavior is common because of the typical salesman's compensation structure. Good salesmen won't try to pull a fast one (repeat business is important) but as you can see, there is a lot of pressure to push certain items that otherwise shouldn't even be sold.    

Marketing Is Not Advertising
I like how Wikipedia puts it: Advertising is a form of communication for marketing.  Advertising is only a fraction of what marketing is all about. Many people think a marketer works for an ad agency and perhaps it's because ads are generally highly visible and glamorous to the public.

An ad, a PR release and a Twitter giveaway are examples of promotional activities. To think that marketing is doing a social media campaign to generate awareness would be the same as calling your hammer a tool box. You need the hammer but it's definitely not the same as your entire tool box.

From Dilbert.com: Makes me laugh and I know some people think it's funny because it's "true"!
What Non-Marketing Business People Think

In the word of business, you have a lot of people who do vastly different things. Accounting, Finance, HR, Operations, Information Systems and Management are some majors other than Marketing that you could take in business school. While everyone is forced to take core courses, in which there is an intro course to all these majors, these courses are often disliked by students. Accounting people may hate the marketing course and vice-versa, so someone who graduates from business school as an Accountant might only have the vaguest idea of what marketing is about.

The most common sentiment that I've felt in the work place is that marketing is a "nice-to-have". I've seen budgets and staff get cut and the business model of "making something cool because I think it's cool" become the flavor of the week. A lot times this happens because a company has operated, based on no research, in the past and found success. Unfortunately, you can only win so many times at the casino and I've witnessed companies go down after years of product releases with no real customer insight.

I will admit, that having marketing at the forefront of many companies is challenging, especially the ones whose culture is centered around engineering or sales. Only the multinationals have access to market research data and small companies are run on a shoestring budget. Just like any major business decision, nothing is guaranteed but understanding the breadth of marketing will help any company improve its business model. Running an ad campaign or contest for something no one wants is doomed from the get-go and a classic example of fake and doomed marketing.

Everyone's A Marketer
“Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” - David Packard

I hope that my message of what marketing is really about has clarified some misconceptions. marketing is about understanding the customer so well that you innovate and come up with a product or service that they need or want. Communicating your brand and good/service is just as important as figuring out what customers want. That's why I say that everyone should be involved in marketing because it's beyond the work of one person or one department.

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