Marketing isn’t just about communications – MAF154

In this week’s show, it’s just me and the mic.

And I tackle a subject I see coming up more and more. Marketing isn’t just about communications.

It’s such an important subject you can either listen to the podcast episode or read the following post. Or both.

Welcome to episode 154 of the Marketing and Finance Podcast.

Marketing isn't just about communications - MAF154

Marketing isn’t just about communications

And by communications, I mean advertising, promotions, websites, content, social media, email, snail-mail and any medium putting a message in front of a customer.

All these activities are an important part of marketing but there’s more to marketing than this.

Much more.

But pick up a clipboard and get yourself out on the street and ask people, “What is marketing?” and I bet many would answer, “Advertising”.

Some might say spam email, cold calling or being pestered by pop-ups. Perhaps a few would say social media. Fewer would say content like blogs, podcasts and ebooks. Communications, collectively, would be the most popular answer.

As a marketer with more than 25 years’ experience, I know there’s much more to marketing than communications. They drummed it into me at college and in my many junior marketing roles until I’d worked my way up the corporate ladder high enough to drum it into those working for me.

I remember my first interview for a full-on marketing role. In the job description, they explained the successful candidate would be responsible for the “strategy and marketing mix” for the product range.

“The marketing mix!”

Not a phrase you hear much these days. You’ll find it on university syllabuses and in marketing textbooks. Where you won’t hear it used much is in marketing departments.

The marketing manager interviewing me for the role, the guy who turned out to be my future boss, asked me to explain my understanding of “strategy and marketing mix”.

I sifted through the memories of my college course and the work experience I’d had to date.

Something like this came out of my mouth, “Strategy is setting out the goal and planning to meet the goal by meeting a customer need. The marketing mix is the tactics we use to fulfil the strategy.”

I may have used clunkier, more jargon words than that, but this was many years before I developed my obsession with simplicity in marketing.

My future manager seemed pleased with my articulation of a strategy and a goal. He urged me to explain the tactics available within the marketing mix.

Straight from the textbooks, I plucked the good old “Four Ps of Marketing”. The product. The price you charge for it. The place you sell it. And what you do to promote it.

Place is really the distribution, of course. But I guess whoever invented the Four Ps had to call it something beginning with a “P”. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been the Four Ps. It would have been the Three Ps and a D.

He must have liked my answers because he gave me the job.

Research

And he taught me a great deal over the next few years. In our weekly review meetings, the need to balance strategy with tactics was a fixed agenda item. Getting the strategy nailed before diving into the tactics was his constant refrain.

A stickler for research, my boss wouldn’t let me do anything without evidence to back up the decision.

As good and important as these lessons were, at the time I felt a little frustrated.

I was a young marketer. I wanted to write brochures and advertising copy. I wanted to work with the agencies on the creatives. Research was dull. Strategy was painful. I wanted to get my hands on the exciting stuff.

But as I said he was a stickler. We did the research. Put the strategy in place and then we got on with the tactics. Our company grew its market share. The balance worked.

From my studies, I’d always known, on paper marketing, wasn’t just about communications, but here I was living it and breathing it and seeing it succeed.

Now 25 years later I hear so many companies talking about marketing as if it is, in fact, just about the communications.

Influencers

And listening to the advice of some marketing influencers I can see why some do think it’s just about communications.

Influencers say you need to be on Twitter doing “Twitter Marketing”. They say you need to be doing live video. They say you need to be blogging.

The marketing influencers influence. I’ll talk to a potential client and they’ll say, “We need to be on Twitter. Can you help us get our Twitter marketing right?”

Or.

“We need to be doing a live video”.

Or.

“And we need to be blogging.”

All these activities are perfectly legitimate tactics in any marketing strategy. The problem is we seem to have forgotten marketing involves more than just the tactics of communication.

Perhaps it’s because many of these influencers have specific, often superb, communication skills.

They may be incredibly successful on Instagram. They may have hundreds of thousands of subscribers on YouTube. Millions of followers on Twitter.

The world’s media hail them as marketing gurus and conference organisers invite them onto stages in giant auditoriums.

And while some have wider marketing pedigrees, others are solely experts in their chosen type of communication.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. These influencers work hard and deserve their success and their accolades.

But they can perpetuate the view marketing is just about the communications. Have we forgotten about research, strategy and the other components of what academics call the marketing mix? The tactical tools of product, price, place and promotion.

Perhaps we have, and I can understand why. Thinking back to “young me” I remember my eagerness to get to grips with writing brochures and ad copy and work with creative agencies.

Today the communications toys are so much sexier. Social media. Apps. Web platforms. Email. Bots. AI. VR. Programmatic.

The shiny toys seduce all marketers, me included. No wonder everyone wants to play with the tactical toys. Who wants to bother with all the boring academic stuff?

Research?  No thanks.

Strategy? Please.

The Four Ps? Nah that’s for naff old college professors.

As stuffy as it may seem, and as shiny as the toys have become, before you can dive into communications, promotions, advertising, engagement or whatever you want to call it, you must have a strategy.

Strategy without using the word “strategy”

If the word strategy makes you go cold inside or creates a sinking feeling in your stomach – perhaps you’ve been involved in one of those endless corporate away day sessions – don’t call it strategy. But you still need to do it.

From a traditional academic standpoint, this means segmenting the customer base, targeting a segment of those customers and putting together a proposition to meet those customer’s needs.

Sometimes, often in big corporates, this is where the process gets painful. Mired in SWOT analysis. PEST analysis. Boston Grids, Ansoff’s Matrices and Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, the analysis paralysis puts many people off the “S” word. Again, these are legitimate, tried and trusted exercises, but don’t make it so complicated.

Keep it simple.

As a marketer who’s tried to keep things simple for a couple of decades now, I like to try and get through this using as little jargon or mumbo jumbo as possible. Or at least come up with easy to understand alternatives.

Instead of proposition let’s use “offer”. To get to an offer we must understand the customer.

Offer

Start by answering this question. “Who is my customer?” And be pinpoint exact. That’s the segmentation bit.

Millennials aren’t a segment. “Everyone in the UK between the ages of 20 and 50” isn’t a segment. Be specific and get to know what their needs are. Listen. Do research. Get on social media.

Use what you hear to discover what their needs and problems are. Once you know this you can come up with something that meets their need or solves their problem.

This is your offer. A product or a service that meets your customer’s need or solves your customer’s problem better than anyone else. The “better than anyone else” bit is your competitive advantage.

From your offer, you’ll be able to create your positioning statements (Depending upon the stage of your business development you can find your brand, vision and mission from these too – that’s another long article in itself). Let’s keep it simple and just call them “your whys”.

Goal

Once you have your offer, define your goal. Is it to make a certain level of profit? Bring in a target amount of revenue? Get so many customers. Achieve a percentage market share.

So now you have a target market.

You have an offer to meet the needs of that market.

You have a goal.

(That’s your strategy by the way – but we’re avoiding the “S” word, aren’t we?)

Activity

Now you can start to think about the tactics or as I like to call it simply the activity to support your offer and goal. Here’s where we move into Four Ps territory (or depending on which course you studied or which books you read, the Seven Ps or even the Eleven Ps).

The product or service is part of your offer. As is the price. You can change and refine these as you get feedback from your customers. There’s also distribution – that thing academics call, “place”.

And finally, we get to promotions or communications.

Or maybe we’ll call it engagement because it may also include content and social media instead of just advertising. And because you know your customer intimately, you’ll know where to communicate with them and on what platforms. You’ll better understand which of the shiny toys are relevant to your customers and which aren’t.

All of that put together is marketing. Marketing isn’t just about communications.

Let’s recap.

  • Research
  • Who’s the customer?
  • What’s their need or their problem?
  • Your offer.
  • Why your offer is better
  • Your whys
  • Product/Service
  • Price
  • Distribution
  • Communications

So, if communication is only one out of 10 things to think about when putting together a marketing strategy – why do so many people think marketing is just the last bit? And why do so many of the influencers, we hail as marketing experts,  only talk about the last bit? The communication?

As I said earlier because it’s exciting. We love shiny new toys. We want to jump straight into the communication because it feels like “real” marketing.

But without the other components of a marketing strategy, it’s possible the tactics of communication will fail.

Now it’s your turn:

Do you need help with your marketing strategy? Do you want to keep it simple? I’d love to work with you. Get in touch and let’s talk. And if you enjoyed this podcast episode and blog – please share it on social media and among your friends and colleagues.

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