Most business disciplines are easily understood. Accounting, customer service, IT — all pretty straightforward. You wouldn’t try to do them unless you were trained. So why is it so easy for people to be confused about marketing?
To some it’s sales, to others it’s product promotion, to others it’s advertising. Everyone’s a copywriter; everyone has a “marketing idea.”
Long ago, at the very beginning of my career, I had a manager who gave me an analogy to distinguish between marketing and sales:
“Marketing builds the swimming pool. They decide how big, how deep, the location, the height of the diving boards, the amenities. Sales executes the dive.”
Now, to be sure, good sales and good marketing functions share a passion for really understanding their customer. An important distinction is that marketing tries to align every activity of an organization to be in service to a centralized value proposition.
It starts with a decision about scope. Where will the business compete, and more importantly, what won’t it ever do? Understanding that helps define the target audience the business seeks to reach. And then it’s all about generating consumer insight. What are the unmet needs of the customer? They may already have solutions for some of their needs: which are not being served?
Identifying the un-met customer needs you will serve is the foundation for creating a strong strategic positioning, or value proposition. What will you stand for in the minds of your customer? When they hear your name what instantly should come to mind? If I say Maytag, you say reliability. If I say Volvo, you say safety.
Whatever you choose, all of the activities, products and messages of the organization should be in service to that idea.
And that’s where what traditionally people think of as marketing comes in. The brand, pricing, product promotion, distribution, advertising and public relations should all be in service to the place you want to live in your customer’s mind.
That’s a far cry from simply making a brochure or designing a clever ad.