What’s the true role of Marketing? Hint: It’s Not What You Think!

What’s the true role of Marketing? Hint: It’s Not What You Think!

I often ask my workshop and conference participants – typically seasoned marketing executives – what the role of marketing might be? Their answers are, by and large, always the same. They revolve around advertising and marketing communication.

They tell me it’s all about branding and image. About differentiation and value. This, of course, is all true and essential. Part of what we are tasked to do as marketers. But is it enough?

Marketing : beyond the four Ps

Strictly speaking, marketing encompasses what we all know as the four Ps. This is how marketing is taught in most business schools on the planet. Price, Place, Promotion and Product. This model for marketing management was first published by E. Jerome McCarthy, back in 1960. But has it kept pace with the times?

Since then, a plethora of authors have sought to add additional Ps with great enthusiasm. When all is said and done, there may be as many as ten, perhaps more! These include People, Process, Partnerships, Proof, Permission and even Passion. It goes to show how skilled marketers are at finding “P words” that fit their discipline.

The four Ps clearly delineate the dimensions that every marketing must manage in the mix. However, they also introduce a functional bias that colors our perception of the true essence of marketing. We all need to take a step back and get a 30,000-foot view to better understand the essence of what we do (or should do).  We need to look beyond the obvious and tedious reality of our tactics and tasks.

Your customers don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill!
They want a quarter-inch hole!

Marketing : satisfying customer needs

Back in 1964, Harvard professor Theodore Levitt wrote a manifesto for modern marketing titled Marketing Myopia. In this seminal HBR article, Levitt was highly critical of inwardly focused self-absorbed marketers and their focus on finding customers for whatever their organization is able produce. He also challenged our view of the true purpose of organizations.

At a time when mass marketing was gaining unprecedented momentum. Despite this, he challenged the production-centric view of marketing, rampant product innovation and market-share focused growth strategies in general.

Levitt suggested that marketers should stop focusing on finding customers for whatever an organization could produce. Instead, they should seek to identify customer needs and to find profitable ways to satisfy them.

His most famous quote sums it all quite eloquently, and reveals the myopia of most marketing organisations:

“Your customers don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill!
They want a quarter-inch hole!”

What is surprising is that this message has taken over a half century to be heard. Only today are we starting to fully understand it’s meaning. And it’s impact on shaping marketing’s true role in the organisation. Even today, while technology has given consumers full control of the purchase cycle, organization still struggle to become truly customer-centric.

The case of Henry Ford

We all know that Ford revolutionized the world and redefined manufacturing. He is credited with the invention of the assembly line. But most do not fully understand how this innovation came about. Nor why Ford should be a role model for modern marketers.

At the time, America was going through a time of unprecedented social and economic change. And Ford was able to glimpse an emerging need. That need was for a fast and reliable mode of transportation, able to travel greater distances quickly.

At the time, if consumers were asked what they needed, the response would have been “a faster horse”. Ford on the other hand, understood that instead of a faster horse, the answer might be the automobile. At the time, the automobile was a new and emerging technology that was costly, but might hold the promise of solving the need.

However, his research also revealed that people would be willing to pay no more than $500. To achieve that price, Ford standardized, specialized and systematized tasks. Assembly-line manufacturing was born!

His only compromise was simple: all his cars would only be available in black.

Having understood the true need of the consumer, Ford was able to bring about a whole new industry, and reinvent manufacturing in the process. Talk about disruption!

So, ask yourself, what can you do to bring out the Henry Ford in you? Do you truly understand your customers’ needs? If not, what can you do to uncover them?

Marketing : in search of customer relationships

Today, the sales and marketing process is now a path to purchase. Pushing products no longer yields the expected results. More and more, brands realize the importance of nurturing customers to create lasting relationships based on trust.

These relationships focus on longevity instead of solely on short-term transactional gains. They are reinforced and strengthened with each interaction. The transaction becomes secondary, almost a by-product of the relationship. What counts is lifetime value and customer retention.

Of course, we still need to make our targets and quotas and financial objectives. But we now need to realize that customers are a scarce resources. Which is why we have a responsibility to ensure that each purchase is the right choice. A smart and informed choice. A choice that meets customer expectations and needs. A choice that builds trust. If not trust is eroded, the relationship weakened and degraded.

Can customer relationships be sustainable?

How can we reconcile our short-term financial responsibilities to our organization. And the need for a more sustainable relationship with our customers? I believe that it is simply a question of balance. Balance between the ask and what we give in return.

We believe that each interaction must provide value to our customers. This value can take the form of a tip. Or some valuable information to help them make an informed choice. It can be amusing, educational or inspirational content. Or content that share our passion for our category or industry.

As we shift from promotional to nurturing, we can change how brand perception and add value to our interactions. To learn more about relationship marketing and the customer journey, check out the related content below.


Related content on relationships marketing

Relationship Marketing: 4 things you need to know


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