Marketing is unfortunately one of the most misunderstood functions in businesses and organisations. Professional Marketers have unfortunately allowed the term to be hijacked – through telemarketing, direct marketing, SEO marketing – and by others, who claim to offer marketing, but without the foundations to ensure ongoing success.
Marketing has no standard definition – the key terms even differ between professional marketing associations.
The American Marketing Association defines marketing as:
Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.
While the Australian Marketing Institute uses the following definition:
Marketing creates value – for customers, shareholders and society as a whole. It does this by creating an alignment between what consumers value and what organisations offer. It offers techniques that help firms better understand the needs, preferences and perceptions of their customers (a prerequisite to adding value to them), and ways of using that understanding to focus the value-creating and communicating activities of the firm into areas where they will be most effective.
While the definitions differ, there is the common element of value, ensuring organisations provide value that resonates with customers, clients and other stakeholders.
Marketing – more than the sum of the parts
Marketing is more than sales, advertising, logos, promotion or processes – it is about leveraging the combined effort of your business or organisation to achieve its goals and mission.
Marketing starts with strategy. It considers the capabilities of your organisation and assesses the wider operating context to outline the steps required to achieve the goals you want for your organisation.
A marketing plan works in tandem with your business plan, providing the context and identifying steps that are required. A business plan identifies what you want to achieve, a marketing plan shows how you achieve these outcomes.
A logo on its own is not marketing, nor is a brochure, website or Twitter account. Marketing is when the logo is used to create a brand, providing an identity that is used in a brochure, website or Twitter account to communicate messages that reach and resonate with a target audience.
Marketing is when you leverage each of these tools to achieve the goals you have set for your organisation.
Beware the Pretenders
There are unfortunately many operators who are nothing more than pretenders – hijacking the marketing term through promises that cannot be kept.
You can use more than one provider to draw on specific expertise, but each of them should understand your goals and how they fit into the bigger picture. Services that neglect the bigger picture will do more harm than good, offering suggestions that fail to understand the people, processes and strengths of your organisation.
Failing to understand the bigger picture can harm the reputation of your organisation, by creating conflicting messages that erode the value of your brand.
Let’s consider a brand likes Porsche. If Porsche wanted to increase sales then one option would be aggressive price discounts. Reducing prices would most likely result in a short-term increase in sales, but would also erode the prestige that Porsche has established over many years. The end result would be conflicting messages and an eroded brand that would adversely impact sales and reputation into the future.
A holistic marketing approach would understand the strengths of the brand and provide strategies that do not erode an organisation’s value.
Retail is experiencing a similar issue in Australia, where the focus has been on price rather than service.
There was a time when shoppers travelled to Myer to experience its highly regarded levels of service. Over time a focus on reducing prices resulted in staff reductions and a lower level of service, making Myer just another department store.
Along came online stores, who can undercut traditional retailers because they do not have the same cost pressures.
Unfortunately, retailers have focused predominately on price, without leveraging the strengths provided by a store presence. The result is an erosion of their unique selling proposition, or the attributes that distinguish one organisation from another. Retail needs to focus on the experience: service, personalisation and where shoppers are able to see what they want to buy.
Don’t damage your brand
While a standard definition of marketing is unlikely to be agreed upon soon – it is time to recapture what marketing is and the value it provides.
Don’t risk your organisation with providers who fail to understand the bigger picture and do not provide the steps to get you there.
Success starts with strategy – know what you want to achieve and then plan the steps required to get you there.