I’ve been having one of those weeks when the same question repeatedly turns up and this week it has been an old one that never ceases to surprise me. Early in the process of my Brand Discovery programme workshops we get around to defining marketing. Simple you might think, but you’d be surprised. There’s no lack of confidence behind the answers I get, but there are some very weird ideas!

The most common problem is that people – and remember the people I am talking to are supposed to be marketers so they should have this well and truly sorted – confuse marketing and marketing communication. Of course communication is a critical component of marketing, but it’s by no means the whole deal and if that’s your universe then not only is life going to be difficult and boring you won’t actually achieve much.

The other popular misconception is that marketing and sales are the same thing. We see the mistake made every day in recruitment ads. but just because some half-wit, or even a few of them don’t know their arses from their elbows doesn’t make it any less of a crime to agree with them. A crime, by the way, for which I believe perpetrators should be strung up by their delicate body parts and flogged with a copy of one of those marketing tombs that these people have on their bookshelf, but none of them (apparently) read!

You know what I mean. Read beyond the headline of an ad. for a marketing manager and the text describes a sales job. Yes, sales are a component of marketing, but they are just another bus-stop on the scenic route to profit. Marketing is far broader and more complex than sales.

If you Google definitions of “marketing” you’ll see the same mistakes time and again, but the dictionary definition and the one that thankfully you’ll come up with most frequently goes something like this:

“Marketing is the process of generating profit by identifying and leveraging an organisation’s resources to satisfy consumer needs.

Simple isn’t it? Well, yes and no. Its succinct for sure, but the implications are complex. Looking at it like this (which I absolutely believe is the correct definition – that’s why I wrote it!) it’s instantly obvious that marketing plays a part in every function within any organisation. Its about designing products and service offers that you can deliver using the resources at your disposal and which satisfy consumer needs, making sure that they are available and at the right price and telling potential customers about it and more.

While you are doing this you get to understand more about customers, competitors and market trends, which helps you identify your weaknesses (wrong manufacturing equipment, poor distribution and my favourite, people and recruitment etc.) and fix them, adding new people, resources and changing practices and structures. So, though this might sound like heresy to some people, marketing is well and truly a part of operations, distribution, manufacturing and recruitment for a start.

This same insight also enables marketers to understand the relevance of the product offer and define how to improve that too so (perhaps less radically) marketing involves a contribution to product design.

Even when you have the right product, life is such that there are probably a dozen alternative and equivalent products for consumers to choose from in their local store – Hey, I didn’t say this was easy! – and that’s where brands come in. Sure, you can begin to create an emotional differentiation in the cosmetics and packaging of your product – ask Philips Apple, Sony, Harley Davidson and pretty well all the auto manufacturers about this. However, that’s only a small step in the direction of branding and brand development and I’m not going to explain more – That’s what I get paid for!

In the “making sure you can deliver it …” department we get into internal marketing, which involves training and therefore brings HR into the equation. This is another of my favourite areas and one in which I think pretty well every business I see is under-performing. Delivery not only concerns the physical delivery of a product, but embraces the delivery of the emotional promise inherent in every brand. OK, you’ve heard me say this before, but its where most organisations slip up so I make no apologies for repeating myself.

Apart from not knowing what marketing is, the thing that prevents most organisations marketing effectively is their structure, practices and above all culture (I say “above all” because if the culture is right then the rest tends to get sorted). Most businesses are set up in silos representing different departments and that perpetuates a lack of cooperation between disciplines. Worse still, marketing is frequently viewed as one of the junior functions, sometimes even treated as separate to the mainstream business. Needless to say there isn’t much of a future for an organisation that doesn’t acknowledge the central role of marketing, but its essential for everyone on the team, whatever their specialisation, to be able to influence the work of other departments, which for most organisations means a new structure and set of practices. Thankfully I am increasingly encountering astute CEOs who create businesses with the cross-fertilisation and specialist accountability that is essential to business success in today’s competitive marketplace.

A structure like this works because it acknowledges that everyone around the table has capabilities or ideas beyond the boundaries of their defined role, but understands that specialists should call the shots in their own environment. For example, marketers tell the manufacturing/operations guys what they should make, the manufacturers decide how they are going to do this and identify what they need from everyone else in order to achieve that. This includes, for instance, the level of investment that the CEO needs to find. If to create the products, produce and deliver them requires a change in personnel the HR department either re-assign existing human resources or hire and train new people.

It works in reverse too. Having devised a strategy for delivering the necessary human resource, the HR people will hire the communications specialists to devise the communications that deliver the right people to the door and because communications is the essence of training the marketing people will be lending their expertise to this too. At each of these cross-over points there is opportunity for all parties’ input.

Part of the framework of HR strategy (as well as design, manufacturing and every other strategy in the organisation) will be the Brand Model that the Marketing Department has created with contributions from the board. No organisation is going to get very far from home without a Brand Model.

To bring us back to our second great misconception; a Brand Model is where marketing and sales rub shoulders because when the sales folks take to the stage in this business pantomime they will also have to be working within the framework of the Brand Model. The HR folks will have seen to it that they are the right people for the job and together with the marketing people will have created a training programme that will deliver them to their cue. Now its their turn to represent the brand and its promise – in fact, they could be the only flesh-and-blood manifestation of the brand the customer gets to see, so not only will they find it easier to sell if they work within the Brand Model and maintain consistency of message (see earlier [posts on consistency), but the organisation is depending on how faithfully they represent the brand promise for future sales.

Even though this is a very much simplified scenario the fact that marketing impacts on every area of every business should be pretty obvious. So, if you find yourself in one of my seminars or workshops and this question comes up, you’ll know not to tell me that marketing is the same as communications or sales.

Michael Weaver
May 19, 2008

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