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Thought Thursdays
Marketing still relegated to second cousin status?


Peter Drucker is credited with saying that a business has only two functions – marketing and innovation – and that everything else is just costs! Needless to say, this perspective does not always sit well with the finance, operations and production teams in the business, who continue, in most instances, to dominate boardroom deliberations and decisions. 

It seems that the marketing function continues to be misunderstood, perhaps in part because these activities were often just seen as opportunities for the marketing team to be ‘creative’. Certainly it has not helped that it was also almost always difficult to calculate ROI on marketing spend.

While this relegation of marketing to ‘poor second cousin’ status is hardly ideal – many larger organisations seem to muddle along in spite of it. This is thanks in part to legacy and momentum, and is much like stopping a supertanker. However, a lack of market-focus is absolutely crippling for small businesses, and yet, when I speak with owners of many SMMEs, the marketing role or marketing budget is among the first to be slashed in tough business conditions, such as we are currently experiencing. Entrepreneurs also don’t know where to start with their marketing initiatives, where to advertise, and how. In an economy where far more entrepreneurial ventures need to be successful it is indeed a shame that the role of marketing is so misunderstood.

We need to make some important distinctions about what we mean by ‘marketing’. In most instances, managers and entrepreneurs are really talking about the promotional elements of the marketing mix – what we otherwise call advertising and public relations. Marketing encompasses far more than this and, referencing Drucker again: “… the aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself”. In other words, “to make selling superfluous”. Of course, Drucker is referring to those beastly advertisements again, although that does not suggest that advertising should be avoided. The point he stresses is that advertising alone – particularly if our product or service does not meet customer needs – is never going to solve our revenue problems.

Of late, there has been much talk about being customer-centric, as if this were something completely separate from marketing. Yet, in Drucker’s world, it is not. It is absolutely integral to the core role of marketing. It is in developing a deep understanding of our customers on an emotional level, fulfilling their needs, knowing where they are, and how we can reach them that creates the magic. 

From an Idealised Design (Magidson, Addison & Ackoff, 2006) perspective, customer-centric businesses would aim to eliminate the overheads of the traditional sales and marketing team. The constant push-marketing initiatives would not be required, since customers would seek you out. For example, Anthropolgie, a US-based women’s clothing retailer with annual revenues in excess of $1bn, built the business without any advertising!

So, to revisit some critical elements, particularly for SMMEs, which usually have limited resources – advertising is not marketing. Your sales team is not marketing. And marketing is not something that is done by only the arty, creative folk on the second floor. Do you really know who your customer is, and does he or she even want your product or want service delivered in the manner you, the entrepreneur, have decided? Does your customer really sit at the centre of your business? Is your customer emotionally invested in your product or service? Are you the Apple of your industry, or the Blackberry?

That’s all well and good, you might say, but how does any of that help support small entrepreneurial ventures? There was a time when it was practically unaffordable for the entrepreneur to explore some of these questions – this was the domain of expensive ad agencies and market research teams. However, this has changed significantly with the evolution of digital marketing platforms such as Facebook, You Tube, Google and now even LinkedIn and Instagram – all of which provide relatively affordable options for promoting your product or service. More importantly, promotional activities on these platforms can be tracked and optimised, bringing ROI on marketing spend within the grasp of any reasonably conceived digital marketing campaign.

The success of any digital marketing campaign – but particularly for Google Search and the Google Display Network – is significantly impacted by the relevance of the content and advertising. This brings us right back to being customer-centric. Indeed, the golden rule for successful digital marketing is to engage with your customers online and to provide meaningful, emotive and useful content on all digital assets. If you have developed this intimate understanding of your customers – that is, you’re doing what is good for your business – then adopting the same approach to your online content strategy will work well for you. Indeed, when it comes to digital marketing, best practice is not to ‘engineer’ your digital content for SEO, but to focus on what is going to add value for your customer. 

Establishing some presence online goes far beyond merely having a static website. Small business owners really do have the means now to engage directly with customers – with the emphasis on ‘engage’. If you’ve struggled to connect with customers in the past then there are many platforms that can be exploited with some reasonable investment of time, and without having to sell the silverware. We now also have the means to track exactly what impact our marketing efforts have, to calculate ROI, and to obtain feedback directly from customers in real-time. 

Fortunately small and young businesses now have an arsenal of powerful tools to help connect them with customers. I hope that all SMMEs out there do more than just have a website! Really put the customer back in the centre of your business and leverage the power of digital technology to do so.

Pierre-Yves Robert.jpg

Pierre-Yves Robert is a consultant and business coach, who also works with USB-ED as a learning process facilitator on its customised Management Development Programmes​. He is also a part-time faculty member facilitating Marketing and Strategy.

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