Most people think of marketing as an activity you do after all the really important stuff has already been done. They think marketing is what you do to get the money you want from your customers. As a business professional, you need to know that marketing is actually an umbrella full of unexpected activities that should be done with your customers and clients in mind. So, let’s take a look at all that marketing entails. Surely, you’ll see how vital marketing really is after you read this.
In the beginning, there is market analysis. Whether you’re starting a new business or adding a new product or service, you should start by analyzing the market to ensure that there is a market—a profitable market—for the product or service you want to offer. Clearly, this is a marketing activity, even though it’s often treated more like a general business activity.
The level of analysis you use will depend on your resources and the skills made available to you. Big corporations often hire outside firms to perform this kind of analysis. These firms may also provide these services to smaller businesses or startups, but this is usually not in the budget for smaller companies.
These companies often perform a much more cursory analysis. Either they have been working in an industry and have strong convictions that the product or service is needed or they have been developing the product or service and rely on their own willingness to use it. Regardless of which way they began, the wiser breed will at least perform surface analyses of the market in order to justify their hunches. This involves researching how similar products or services are selling and who is buying them and how much they’re paying for them.
After you’ve analyzed the market, then it’s time to develop your product or service. In the real world, many businesses begin—or even finish—the development process before they’ve really analyzed the market. This is a mistake. If you do these things with a marketing mindset, as a marketing activity, this empowers you to tailor the product or service to the specifications indicated by your research. It allows you to design, develop, and create a product or service that will satisfy needs of the market within the cost/price constraints your research indicates.
If you engage in product or service development without catering to the needs and desires of the market, you may end up with a really cool product or service that satisfies your creative drive, but doesn’t sell—at least not at a price and volume that will generate a profit. Have you heard of the real cool war-time vehicle that no military wants to buy?
Another example of the need to keep product and development within the marketing perspective is the choice to go international. Have you heard of the Nova, the no-va, the car that wouldn’t go in Mexico? Products and services that sell great in one country may need to be tweaked to work in another. If you think about your target consumer’s needs—and have a target consumer to think about—you’re going to be able to avoid your own snafus.
Market testing occurs after a product or service is created. Basically, it means collecting a relatively small, but representative sample of possible customers and having them try your product or service. Perhaps if Hasbro had done a more conscientious job of market testing, they wouldn’t have ended up with a Play-Doh cake decorating tool that looked like male genitalia. Surely, somebody would have noticed!
If you’re just a little guy operating on your own, then this practice is more likely to involve friends and family—or harassing random strangers—then a representative sample. Even so, you want to have other people try out your product or service before you put it on the market. This gives you the opportunity to obtain feedback and correct mistakes before they become even more costly.
Remember, the idea is to create a product or service that meets the needs or desires of a large enough population that it will sell at a price that can generate a profit after your costs. Up until now, this has only been a hypothesis. Now, when you do your market testing you are trying to test this hypothesis in a controlled setting so you can gather the data you need to ensure your real market test—your product or service launch—will prove that your hypothesis is correct.
In most companies, manufacturing and service delivery are their own departments. Those guys have nothing to do with marketing, but they should. This is where the vision is either realized or bungled. What makes perfectly good manufacturing sense could change a product or its desired level of quality to the point that it’s no longer desirable. I’m not saying the manufacturing department should be turned over to the marketers, but they should still have their fingers in the decision-making pies.
When it comes to service delivery, you’re talking about actual customer contact points—this is the point where the promises made be the marketers are either kept or broken. Again, you don’t want to hand this over to marketers, but they should definitely be consulted and they should have the opportunity to monitor operations in order to ensure that the right promises are being made and that they are being kept consistently.
When marketing is an afterthought, it’s generally a shallow activity. The marketers create messages that sound good, but may or may not having anything to do with what is actually being delivered to the customer. This kind of marketing is the reason marketing has such a bad reputation. On the other hand, if you integrate marketing into the whole of your business, your marketers have a chance to create messages—and help others to create products and services—that are true. This is what I call The Marketing Ideal.
Much like manufacturing and service delivery, the distribution end of things impacts product and service quality, which impacts marketing promises, but rarely involves marketer input. This is asking for trouble. Every time you create a customer contact point and every time you do something that impacts your customers and your clients, you should use a marketing mindset to analyze what you’re doing.
How many times have you bought or received a good product in bad packaging? How many times has trying to remove the product from its packaging spoiled the product? Packaging is often constructed with an eye towards distribution. Unfortunately, it is done without the other eye looking towards the actual recipient. If you want to rise above the competition, distribute your products and services with at least one eye on the end user!
This is especially evident on online transactions. If your product or service involves online distribution, then the entire distribution process is full of customer contact points. You need to keep your eye on the customer to make this experience as satisfying as possible. If you do, you are more likely to generate more sales. It’s as simple as that.
Marketing Structure, System, and Procedures
A business starts with a premise. This is the big idea that differentiates your business from every other business. The marketing structure is derived from this premise. The kind of marketing you will and will not do will depend, almost entirely, on your business premise. The marketing structure is the framework your marketing activities will follow.
In a good business, the marketing structure is used to create a system. A system is a set of processes that are repeated over time to achieve a specific goal. A marketing system will consist of advertising campaigns, marketing campaigns, content marketing, and more, though not every system uses all of these strategies. A marketing system provides the timetables and processes that are going to be used under normal circumstances.
A marketing system is used to develop marketing procedures. These procedures produce the processes that are normally used. A system indicates what is likely to be done. Procedures determine how it is likely to be done. By creating a structure, a system, and procedures, you can plan your marketing in advance and stay on schedule. Of course, extraordinary situations may occur that requires you to deviate and, perhaps, adjust your normal marketing behaviors. Either way, it saves times and prevents wasted resources. And this is what most people think of when they think of marketers.
Everything you do to communicate to your customers is a form of marketing literature. From the sign you put up to advertise your services and prices to the mailers you create to introduce your business, it’s all marketing literature. Manuals, pamphlets, e-books, blog posts, and website content are marketing literature, too. Ideally, your marketing literature will develop directly from your marketing structure, system, and procedures—intentionally. Ideally, whoever produces these materials will have knowledge of your business, of marketing, and of copywriting. Ideally, you will also use graphic and layout design services, as well as website design and development services.
As a professional marketer, I assure you there is such a thing as too much—too much of an investment in marketing, too much marketing literature, too many graphics, too much spent on design costs. Nevertheless, most businesses spend far too little on their marketing. We’re all dealing with limited resources and marketing seems like an easy way to cut corners. But, the more corners you cut in your marketing, the less able you are to reach your customers.
The right marketing doesn’t have to be a budget-breaking expense. Be honest about your budget and your needs and a skilled marketer will be able to make it work. If your skilled marketer can’t make it work, then chances are you need to find a way to invest a little more.
Online Marketing / Content Marketing
Online marketing is an advanced form of marketing literature. It involves using the latest techniques and tools (most of which are very cost effective) to reach an online audience and engage them in your brand. Most of these tools and techniques are forms of content marketing, which involves creating and providing content that “passively” attracts users.
You’ll notice I did not say that online marketing will “sell them your products or services.” Most online users are not the same “captive” audience television advertisers have grown accustom to. Those people still exist, but they’re not looking for that kind of interaction online. To reach people online, you have to reach out and excite them—which involves sharing your business’s identity and making your brand matter to them.
For many businesses, this involves providing free information via blogs and social media. Beware, this is already being overdone and is often done badly. Passively providing information and then logging out doesn’t work. You need to engage. It means discussing a post either on your blog or on your social network. It means being responsive to what people like, don’t like, love, and hate. It means connecting, because that’s what the online world is all about.
Advertising is evolving, too, but it’s still part of marketing. While it may not seem like it, advertising is a smaller department under the broader umbrella of marketing. Most businesses don’t really live that out, though, because there was a time—not so long ago—where enough advertising dollars could sell anything. But people are less captive to these advertisers. We have DVRs and we have Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix, all of which provides us with the entertainment we want, when we want it, on our terms—not your terms.
Magazines and other traditional advertising mediums are experiencing similar transformations. Nobody has to be subjected to your advertisements. There’s always a way to live ad-free, unless you want to drive or walk through a busy city. But if you do that, you’ll notice there are so many advertisements there’s far too much competition for anyone’s attention.
At one point, it took seven ad exposures to make a sale. Now, I hear, it takes 21 or more. If you do the math, you’ll see that divorcing your advertising from your marketing is no longer a cost-effective way to make sales. Advertising should complement marketing strategies, not replace them.
Speaking of sales, your sales team falls under your marketing umbrella, too. Once again, this is a poignant customer contact point. If your marketing promises aren’t fulfilled, then your sales team is going to have to push harder to make a sale. If they have to push too hard, fewer and fewer customers are going to come back to you a second or third time. You can have a lot of sales without building any long-term customer value. That’s the way to create a very short-lived business.
When I first reentered the workforce, I worked for a company that sold vacuum cleaners and air filtration devices. The products were top-notch, but the business premise relied on very high prices and a sales force that operated like a multi-level marketing company. The idea was to push hard to make the sale, really hard. The entire premise relied on sales and virtually nothing else. And, for the most part, it didn’t work.
Honestly, though, the business survived. Enough products were sold at exceptionally high prices for the business to survive. The sales professional who could push customers into buying products that were outside of their price range made a lot of money, for themselves and for the company. But that “success” comes at a cost. None of it was done with integrity, so eventually they’d burn through the market.
Market Satisfaction Research
Once your products and services have hit the market, you’ll want to know if customers continue to be satisfied after the initial purchase. Market satisfaction research helps you answer that question. You’ll receive some information through unsolicited customer feedback, but you can also solicit customer feedback to get a better balance of data.
Remember, dissatisfied customers are more likely to volunteer to air their grievances. This is not necessarily a representative sample of your customers. Still, those squeaky wheels will also be squawking at other prospective customers, so you’ll want to do your best to satisfy customers before, during, and after their purchases to establish and maintain a good reputation in the marketplace.
If you gather a representative sample of your customers’ post-purchase satisfaction, then you’ll have the feedback you need to improve your products and services (if necessary), to post customer testimonials, and to improve the targeting of your marketing. You will be better able to identify good customers and you’ll be better able to exclude the bad ones.
Of course, your product or service will someday be obsolete. If you want a business that lasts, you need to be able to continually adapt and develop by continuing to invest in the whole of the marketing process as a marketing cycle. By continuing to develop your capacities and innovating throughout the marketing process, you’ll be well-positioned to last for however long you want to stay in business.