If you are a marketer, have you ever ask yourself if you are doing marketing at all? To answer this question, we need to agree first what marketing is? An even more interesting question is – what is the difference between sales and marketing. Many companies opt to focus on and invest in building a salesforce to drive their businesses. The role of the marketing department has been diluted over time. So, what should be the role of marketing? 

Steve Jobs defined the difference between sales and marketing that the role of marketing is to create demand, and the sales role is to fulfil it. I do agree with his definition, and I think the role of marketing is much deeper than most CEOs would think. At its heart, marketing can drive long-term, sustainable success for businesses.  

Marketing is all about offering solutions

Marketing and branding can also be used interchangeably (even though there are not the same). In a direct sale environment, it is quite challenging to explain what marketing and branding are about. This is because, in the sales environment, the focus is not about customers. It’s about how to make quick revenue. Marketing can help businesses make quick money too. What we have to do is to look at offering a product as a solution. 

The gist of it is we have to look at what solution a company offers to its customers. It’s pointless to just focus on the product’s features. Even if you have a great product, if you try to sell it to the customers who don’t need it, it just wastes everyone’s time. Therefore, the first step is to understand the problems that customers have, which can be put into three categories:

  1. External problem: This is a physical need. What can your product do, e.g. a car that takes customers from A to B? Many companies stop here and keep on hammering the fact that I am selling a car (my car is different because it can take you from A to B – every car does that!).  
  2. Internal problem: This problem is sitting inside your customer’s mind. They are customer’s frustration, self-doubt, fears, and confusion. This is the first step in good marketing. 
  3. Philosophical problem: Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. A solution to this problem helps customers to find meanings by using your product. This is when branding kicks in. 

A good example is from Tesla Motor. 

  1. External problem: I need a car. 
  2. Internal problem: I want to be an early adopter of cool technology. 
  3. Philosophical problem: My choice of car should help save energy. 

What is your core narrative?

As mentioned previously, customers want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. To join your customer journey, your business must think beyond what your products do. Your core narrative should be a vision of a better world that makes you do what you do. 

The core narrative is what you offer beyond your product. It describes how what you do (product features) could solve your customer’s problems. Based on this line of thinking, to identify your core narrative, you should start by finding what success looks like for your customers. Then, you help them get there. As an example, if you are a hotel operator, you shouldn’t think that you offer hotel rooms (everyone does that). Your core narrative should be something like “we bring friends and family together and help them enjoy meaningful holidays”. 

The first step of marketing

Once you understand your customer problems and have the core narrative, you are ready to do marketing. The prerequisite condition is you need to have a great product. By ‘great’, I mean there must be someones who wants your product or your product can solve someone’s problems. The size of the group of those someones must be big enough to make the business financially viable. 

Then, you must tell people about your product. That’s when the communication function in marketing kicks in. Take Stripe as an example. They created a great product by offering a payment processor that is better even than Paypal. Stripe initially targeted a small group of users who loved the solution. Who would think a payment processor behind e-commerce websites could be a topic that went viral on social media. That’s a power of great product and words of mouth. 

What happened with Stripe gives us a simple formula on how to market a product with minimum marketing efforts. The starting point for us, marketers, is to take a pause and think why customers want to buy our product. Who are those customers? How can we make their lives better?

Marketing as service

Then come along an approach that looks at marketing as service. The era that has the marketing department as an independent unit ended a few years ago. Marketing should be at the top of the tower with customer service, customer experience, sales, even human resources underneath. 

Let start by asking this question – why do we do marketing? We do marketing because we want to offer solutions to customer’s problems. We also do marketing to make a difference in a customer’s life. The process is we tell customers that our product could be a solution to their problems. Customers then buy our product, and we want them to have the best experience. We then serve them with the hope that they will stay and recommend our product/solution to their friends. When something goes wrong, they contact our customer care team. We solve their problems and delight them. They rave about our product through word of mouth, and their friends notice it. 

There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.

Sam Walton, founder of Walmart stores

Take social media as an example. It’s very hard to draw the line between social media marketing and social media service. Customers will bring up issues regardless of channels. You might post a new campaign on Facebook with an expectation for it to go viral to get more sales. But, your existing customers might see the post and share their frustration. 

To succeed in a new world, marketing needs to be at the top of the tower.

Happy customers are your biggest advocates and can become your most successful sales team.

Lisa Masiello, Founder & President, TECHmarc Labs, Inc

Your product is not for everyone

One last thing that I’d like to highlight in this post and for better marketing is that your product is not for everyone. It’s just not possible to offer a product to everybody. It’s common sense, and I know you agree. However, if you are using one of the mass marketing tactics, you are trying to sell your product to everyone. 

The competition out there is super fierce. Every industry is super crowded. The most straightforward marketing tactic for us all is to compete on price. Discounts are everywhere. I remember that I was excited to see a 70% OFF campaign 10 years ago. Now, it’s pretty normal to see something like half price or 70% OFF. It’s not exciting anymore. 

How can we do better marketing then? Enter a concept introduced by Seth Godin – “the Minimum Viable Audience”. The idea is your product is not for everyone. You have to tell yourself that you are not selling a universal remote control. You are solving a specific problem for a particular group of customers. You only need to ensure that 1) that group is big enough to sustain your business, and 2) you are clear on the uniqueness of your product on how it could change your customer’s life. 

The good news is all customers want the same things. They want one of these – they want to become healthier, happier, wealthier, less stressed, and to increase their social status. Being remarkable in delivering something that achieves one or more of the above outcomes, you will be very successful. 

Final thoughts…

Many CEOs don’t understand what marketing is about. When a crisis hits, many of them remove the marketing function first. Then, they ramp up the salesforce. The idea is to get more revenue as quickly as possible and at all cost. What this practice would bring is an endless cycle of crisis. There is no loyalty among customers. When something slightly cheaper appears in the market, those customers switch to buy from a newcomer. When you do it right and consistently, marketing can make quick money too. 

Leave a Reply