Here's a paradox for you... everybody seems to know what marketing is and yet few people seem to actually understand marketing at all. Why is that?
Part of the reason is this: while most of the principles that make up marketing have been around for centuries, the field known as "Marketing" was born about 1970. I took Marketing 101 in 1980. In many ways, the discipline of Marketing is still fledgling.
Marketing is a discipline.
Marketing is not an activity as much as it is a way of approaching what mankind has been doing for centuries - offering goods and services to others. Much like Physics struggles to define a "Universal Theory of Everything", Marketing tries to define a "Universal Theory of Commerce" (for lack of a better term).
The very heart of the discipline of Marketing is an effort to satisfy the wants and needs of consumers at a profit. The twist here is "Marketing" proposes to do this from the birth of the product (or even the concept of the product) to the point of purchase.
At least that was the scope of Marketing when I first learned about it. Today, the concept of Marketing extends beyond that to take into account what should happen to a product AFTER it's useful life is over.
Many problems arise because this universal concept is often ignored. Marketing departments are often shut out of the conceptual stage and only allowed to participate when a company gets to the promotional stage. Thus Marketing is most often only associated with promotion. Sadly, this association has been earned.
Even my Marketing 101 professor consistently crossed off the "production" part of the four "P's of Marketing". He always stated that production would take care of itself. I disagreed then and I disagree today with that idea, but that is another article.
The sad fact is, the discipline of Marketing has seen nearly every "P" hacked off until all that seems to remain is the "P" of Promotion.
From the President of the company to the salvage people who recycle the now dead product and including anyone who claims any knowledge of the product at all - "marketing" has become the term for "doing whatever it takes to sell something".
So what happened? How did such a noble concept become sullied in the minds of consumers and business people alike? Who's responsible for this?
Well, we are. By "we" I mean everybody.
Marketers, true Marketers who learned and understood and sometimes even embraced this way of thinking, sold out to other interests. Most of the time these interests include regular meals and a roof over their heads.
Businesses, especially American businesses, like the profit part of Marketing Theory but they tend to be to short on time to worry about the marketing aspects of product development, production and so forth.
Besides, most already have products that need "marketing (promotional) help" so why waste time and resources on the other aspects? Get working on those promotions and make some money!
For the most part, consumers don't care at all about marketing. Certainly not enough to find out what the term really means. And they shouldn't have to. Marketing SHOULD be transparent. So the only portion of "Marketing" most consumers relate to is promotion. Thus to them marketing equals promotion.
My own view of Marketing is much broader even than that of most true or "clasical" marketers. What view is that? Everything is Marketing. Everything. From the way the cleaning crew scrubs the company toilets to the policy decisions made by the Board of Directors. Nothing a company does should escape Marketing scrutiny.
This doesn't mean that all aspects of a company should be considered equally from a Marketing standpoint. What it DOES mean is that, looking at everyday aspects from a Marketing standpoint can have a massive impact on the company's efforts to bring products and services to consumers.
Think of it as the "Butterfly Effect" of Marketing.
Here's an example: John clocks in to work at 8:45 AM to give himself 15 minutes to prepare for his work day.
The coffee machine overflows again and he spends most of this time cleaning up the mess. By the time his gets to his desk it's 8:59 and his usual good nature has already slid into a foul mood. His phone at the shipping desk is already ringing off the hook.
Betty in customer service wants to know if a certain order has shipped yet. John grumbles to himself as he plows through his paperwork, misses the shipping manifest he was looking for and growls that is hasn't shipped yet.
Betty is now angry because it was supposed to ship yesterday. She calls Chris on the floor and chews her out. She swears it went to shipping.
All along the phone keeps ringing so Betty is taking calls from other customers and working on this order in between. Some of those customers pick up on Betty's mood. One feels Betty was rude to her and asks to speak to her supervisor.
Finally, it all gets straightened out but everyone involved is a bit more on edge than they otherwise would be.
Meanwhile some of the customers pick up on the bad vibes, a mistake or two is made on some orders and so on. Somebody in production, upset they were wrongly blamed for not getting that order out on them, doesn't quite get one thing right in the product they were assembling so that one goes out defective.
All this happens because someone with the vending company used by the company failed to clean the coffee machine properly.
The fact is, this sort of thing happens all the time and it is NEVER going to stop. So what can be done? How about adopting a "Markting Mindset"?
A Marketing Mindset accepts the idea that the company exists to meet the needs and wants of the customer at a profit. It acknowledges that every action has an impact on how these needs and wants are met... and how it affects the bottom line. Decisions are based with these factors in the minds of everyone in the company.
Imagine how the above events might have been handled differently...
The coffee machine still overflows... again, but the Marketing Mindset has now caught on with the vending company too, so John knows he can write a note to Charlie with the vending company and he'll look into it. John smiles because he knows Charlie will do something nice to make up for it too.
John still arrives at his desk to find the phone ringing. This seems to happen with greater frequency these days. Maybe it's time to consider getting someone in a bit earlier in the morning to handle the load.
Betty still wants to know if that order shipped. John still misses finding it in his pile. Together, they germinate the seeds to a plan.
Then Betty calls Chris. Chris uses the tracking system she implemented to find out the order was completed and went to shipping yesterday on schedule. It takes her about 30 seconds. Betty marvels at Chris and thanks her for her efficiency.
Chris takes a moment to thank Bart on the line for helping make the system she devised work so well.
Bart almost forgets to check on the part he is installing. That would have caused the product to fail. He makes a note on how to check for this and sends it to quality control. Better safe than sorry.
Meanwhile, Betty calls John again and asks him to check again. He finds the order. Betty tells him about the new system Chris developed and suggests John talk to her to see if maybe her system can be expanded to solve John's problem.
Notice the customer isn't overtly mentioned in this scenario. Yet each employee is focused on how to improve every aspect of their job. Why? I'd like to think this is because everyone realizes all this goes to making a better product and therefore a better customer experience. And while this could very well happen in an ideal world, it could also happen for a variety of reasons.
Tom Peter's "In Search of Excellence" is a pretty good study of what happens when companies look beyond themselves. I've always thought of it as a decent book on marketing principles. And yet, unless memory fails me (and I DID read the book many years ago), the book itself was not really focused on marketing principles, but on excellence.
However I do think one great place to start is with an overt objective to deploy a Marketing Mindset company-wide. The world may never understand what true Marketing really is. That doesn't matter. What matters more, what has ALWAYS mattered most is the needs and wants of the customer... at a profit, of course.