Every morning I wake up, make breakfast and sit down to read the latest marketing articles. This particular morning, while reading articles from various websites, I began seeing a pattern. According to several different credible authors, marketing has a serious problem I’m going to have to agree with. The most disturbing line I read, while sipping a freshly brewed cup of coffee was, “A majority of executives today think that marketers lack credibility and a solid understanding of how business works” and “the marketing function suffers from a lack of customer awareness and engagement.” I’ll go a step further and add that departments, outside of the Marketing Department itself, also suffer from a lack of awareness and general understanding of what marketing is. There are three major problems that marketing is facing: the marketing function is misunderstood by “marketers” and non-marketers alike, there’s a lack of understanding of “how business works” (That’s not how it works! That’s not how any of this works!) and lastly, marketing has lost respect.
Whatever side of the fence you’re on, stop right now and answer this question: What is marketing?
…take a minute…
…think about it…
Did your answer have something to do with sales and/or advertising?
The Marketing Function is Misunderstood
Marketing and Sales are two different business functions. While advertising is a form of marketing, it’s also not (and should never be) the largest portion of work marketers do. When you’re marketing a product or service to consumers, you aren’t selling them the product. You’re supporting sales. Marketing also works in tandem with every other department a business has: Finance, Design, Sales, R&D, How?
Businesses differ in exactly how they execute their marketing function, but in its most general terms:
- Marketing does research on a particular target market – Say, for example, “Financing Corporation’s” sales department is planning on targeting large businesses that will be retiring used copiers and printers in the next year. Such an investment requires large amount of capital and therefore, these businesses will need financing to facilitate the deal. Sales will visit the marketing department and ask for a list of businesses that fit certain criteria: Over $12million in revenue, located in a specific geographic area, etc. and marketing delivers.
- Marketing creates collateral to support sales – Here, we’re talking about trade shows, client take-aways, brochures, business cards, pamphlets, one-page handouts, website content… and the list could go on. Marketing creates Sales Guides, training binders/folders (whether they’re physical copies passed out to all members of the sales team or a document kept on internal servers). The biggest mistake I’ve seen is for a design department to facilitate and oversee the entire process of creating marketing collateral- it should be the other way around. Marketing defines goals, proper content (yes, content is king in the process) and works together with a graphic designer to create the finished piece that adheres to the company’s Brand Guidelines- yet another marketing function.
- Internal and external Marketing Communications (MarComm) – those potentially annoying internal newsletters you get every month? Yeah, those are a MarComm function, and they’re completely necessary. Facilitating communication internally between departments is essential for day-to-day business flow and success. For example, marketing gathers information in order to support the R&D of a new or pre-existing product and backs the decision to create or enter (or to exit) a market.
- Branding – if you’re thinking “well duh” I don’t blame you. Aside from Social Media and the finished Advertising product, branding is one of the most visible functions of marketing and a blog post all on its own. Just so we’re clear also, Marketing is not Advertising- don’t get confused there, either.
I could go on, but for the sake of this blog post, I’ll move along.
That’s Not How Any of This Works!
I still laugh every time I see that commercial and it translates well to the confusion that some marketers carry (possibly unknowingly) about their own job duties and about business as a whole. In finance, the purpose of a business is to maximize shareholders wealth profitably. In marketing nothing is created unless it serves a customer’s direct need- serving customers is what serves the business. In the past, some marketers could push out their ideas without intense research or consumer connection. Marketing has changed dramatically since those days thanks to digital: the advent of smartphones, social media, internet and technological advances. SEO is a job in itself, people are learning Google Analytics and how to best utilize Webmaster Tools- the landscape has shifted. Marketers are no longer tasked with simply alerting consumers to buy a certain product or service. Imagine that there was a day when marketing success was defined by whether or not you’d utilized your entire marketing budget to reach your target market as many times as you possibly could. How simple life would be if we could still measure our success this way! However, it’s not the nature of the beast anymore- it’s just not how it works.
In order to be a successful marketer you must understand business. Whatever your background, you have to ask yourself, “How am I going to successfully market to consumers if I don’t understand the basics of business; of finance, accounting, operations, sales and/or the other departments that my company has?”
Now, on the other side of that curtain lies the company’s responsibility to understand the (correct) function of marketing well enough to vet the proper employees with the right backgrounds. Or, to know how to properly train their Marketing Coordinators in these needed areas. As a wise man once told me, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” Yes, there are plenty of very successful people without a formal educational foundation in business but, if you didn’t receive that training, you better be waking up at 6am or earlier every morning, absorbing as much information as you can on your time off, learning and teaching yourself. You must hold that integral thirst for knowledge and be motivated to learn every single day.
In the grand scheme of things, even marketing professionals truly know nothing about marketing. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Our job functions change just as quickly as the next technological advancement and it’s marketing’s job to market itself. To increase internal and external communications about exactly what the job function both is and what it requires. Marketing can blame nobody but itself if marketing doesn’t market itself. Say that 10 times fast!
It’s the combination of all these factors- employers hiring people that are unqualified and offering no training or mentorship, people being thrown in to a marketing position that had no desire to be placed there, other departments taking over marketing duties, businesses running without a strong Marketing Department and slowly diluting its function over time, you name it. If you threw someone in to Accounting knowing only basic arithmetic they’d be exposed quicker than the majority of marketers who just might be able to sit behind a desk and fake until they make it.
I was lucky enough to attend a college that had my best interests in mind, even when I didn’t know it. When I arrived at Wayne State I wanted to take as many Marketing classes as possible. Instead, I spent the majority of my time in Statistics, Finance, Accounting and Management classes begrudgingly, at first. I once looked at my Accounting professor, Deb, and tried to tell her that I wasn’t interested in accounting and I would never use it in my career. She literally laughed in my face. She then proceeded to stand in front of our entire lecture hall and take a poll of the Marketing, Management, Finance and Accounting majors seated before her. Of course, Marketing and Management majors were the minority of those in attendance but Deb explained, “Accounting majors, this is the first class you’ll take of many. You have years ahead of education and training ahead of you. Finance majors, I don’t need to tell you why you need this class. Management, well, you’re crazy if you think you don’t need this class. And Marketing majors… the collateral and strategies you’re going to be working on and pushing out in to the world are going to be backed by accounting. If you can’t understand a basic spreadsheet, if you can’t understand the basics of accounting, if a mistake is made, and you don’t catch it? Guess what? It’s not going to be Accounting’s job on the line- it’s YOURS.” Needless to say, Deb silenced me pretty quickly.
It’s the same for every single other marketer out there. Whether or not we want to hear it (and sometimes the truth hurts) those executives have fears that are well-founded. Let’s all hold ourselves to a higher standard. If you didn’t have the luxury of a business-based education, teach yourself. Find a mentor. Be the best you can be, every single day of your life. And then, be better. Earn back the respect that marketing has lost.