The quick answer is because a couple of my flatmates at university, on the same Industrial Economics course as me, decided to take a final year module in Marketing (I had chosen Politics).
The longer answer is that the things that they began to say about the subject provided me with a lightbulb moment. I had assumed wrongly – like most of the population – that Marketing was, in essence, the same thing as Sales. It became apparent to me, however, that Marketing was not about flogging stuff to anyone who would buy, like a market trader or second-hand car dealer, but was concerned with understanding and meeting customer needs. It may seem like a pretty simple distinction, but it is actually profoundly different – the one treats human beings as potential buyers of your product, the other sees them as men and women with frustrations and aspirations which are crying out to be resolved. In resolving those needs lies the real opportunity, rather than that of meeting another monthly or quarterly target.
The distinction that I suddenly understood made clear another critical factor: whereas Sales can rarely have any real impact on the core product or service being promoted, Marketing can never do its job without ensuring that the product or service is appropriately matched to customer needs. In understanding that, one instantly cuts through the biggest misunderstanding about Marketing, held not just by most of the population, but quite conceivably by a majority of marketers these days. Marketing is not just about promotion; indeed, it plays a very secondary role to ensuring that the core product is right for the target market in the first place.
It took many years following my marketing career before I came to understand what seemingly prevents so many people from getting their heads around the simple philosophy that lies at the heart of Marketing, as outlined above, and successfully executing it: the human ego gets in the way. We spend our lives believing that we have a reasonable grasp of what other people believe and are thinking, particularly if that belief confirms us in thinking that they are like us. Most of the time we are wrong, of course (at least to – what may be a critical – degree).
The critical skill for a marketer is not in creating an award-winning campaign (even one that also builds sales revenue), or in repackaging a product that results in increased sales and distribution, or even in preparing great marketing plans – important though these technical skills may be. It’s an ongoing fascination with people, with wanting to know what makes them tick, and in understanding their viewpoint and their wants, needs and annoyances. Plus, the realisation that this understanding will evolve and change – often quite rapidly. Some senior marketers, brilliant at this stuff in their earlier careers, can often lose this insight-generating connection to the outside world, confident that the organisation’s customers remain substantially unchanged.
This simply comes down to mindset: good marketers take a genuine ongoing interest in people and their lives, looking to resolve their frustrations and helping them to realise their aspirations. In so doing they are uncovering opportunities, which are frequently profitable for their organisations. It could be a Richard Branson, providing a better transatlantic airline experience or financial services offer. Or it could be the rare local bakery which starts offering customers more of the types of loaf that are normally sold out by 9.15 am every day, rather than just providing the same mix of loaves as always, so that latecomers don’t get what they really want.
Surprise, surprise: when customers’ needs are met they start coming back; better still, they spread the word about you. The principle applies in every sector – consumer, business, public, charity, etc. Shouting louder was never the best way to create a customer.
Further discussion of this topic is welcomed.
Check out the ‘How to’ resource libraryfor a comprehensive range of documents relating to the preparation of marketing plans, as well as the practical and conceptual issues surrounding their preparation and role within the organization. The resources include some downloadable templates and guides.
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