Marketing: More Science Than Art

Marketing is a strategic craft; it is not simply a matter of producing more clever advertising or sending out better emails. Marketing done effectively and correctly is the process of determining and communicating what people want to make them — and keep them — as customers.

We know this. But it’s always been difficult to sell this notion to the powers that be, to convince them that marketing is more than a necessary evil, more than a cash sinkhole of ads and brochures that can’t be eliminated.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Chief among them, in my opinion, is that the results of even the best strategic marketing thinking are hard to see on the bottom line. We may know the value of positioning, but it’s tough to explain how many more widgets a good positioning strategy sells over a bad one.

The web and integrated Net technologies present the best chance to change all that. They offer marketers the finest opportunity to begin to be understood as business strategists rather than as simply tacticians who spend money.

The Net allows us to reach marketplaces that are broader and more focused, if only because the cost of communicating is so low. And because we’re reaching such a vast network, the meaning of the word “marketplace” has grown to include virtually everyone our companies touch or who touches us.

The marketplace is no longer a gathering of blurred prospects and customers. It’s now a tightly focused, highly segmented gathering of individuals, such as the financial press, favored suppliers, key partners, new employees, and just about anyone else you can think of.

If our traditional sphere of influence was limited to those who buy product and those who influence product purchase, with 24/7 access to our companies 365 days per year for everyone, that sphere is now broadened to include everyone who touches the enterprise.

With such enormous visibility, marketing has a key role to play in each of what I call the six prime cycles of business (product development, marketing, sales, fulfillment, education, and service).

On the surface, it may seem that some of these have no place for marketing. (Isn’t fulfillment a manufacturing and logistics issue?) However, once we view the participants of these cycles as marketplaces, we can then ask who is better qualified than skilled strategic marketers to figure out how to satisfy them.

In the past, we reached our traditional marketplaces through event-driven activities: an advertisement, collateral distributed at a trade show, direct mail. Event started, event ended, move on to the next event.

Today, we have web sites, extranets, and communication that occurs outside TCP/IP (never forget that an old-fashioned electronic data interchange transaction across a virtual private network is just as much e-business as anything that travels across the Internet). Because of this, strategic marketing is in play every minute of every day.

If we take these two elements together — the depth and focus of the marketplace and our ability to communicate with them constantly — we begin to see how the Net can help marketers finally move into the strategic stratum of their companies. If our work can cut costs, through, for instance, better-managed employee training via integrated distance learning or smarter supply chain interaction with suppliers, or can increase sales, through smartly targeted follow-on sales opportunities, we can demonstrate the value of marketing in contribution margin and lower cost of sales.

But wait… Supply chain management as a marketing discipline? Isn’t that an IT issue? Of course, it is. And of course, it isn’t. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it is an IT issue because it depends on the implementation of hardware and software. But it isn’t an IT issue because it doesn’t depend on a continually developing understanding of what the marketplace wants. (In this case, the marketplace is your suppliers, and what they want is lower cost of sales and increased volume so they can give you better pricing.)

IT focuses on cutting cost through better process. It’s not watching out for what the customer wants. That’s marketing’s job. It’s a team process now.

Just imagine a universe where, when someone asks you how you measure marketing results, you don’t have to stammer through the usual razzle-dazzle about how branding is cumulative and advertising can’t be measured the way machinery can. Imagine being able to say our approach to our partners pulled more product through the channel, our influence on the design of learning systems lowered support and service costs, or our understanding of how to strengthen the efficiency of the sales cycle flat out increased sales.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s about time.

Related reading