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The Economy Masked Our Sins

Authored by Sean Doyle

The fatal flaw for many was a basic misunderstanding and fear of marketing. All of the company’s energies and resources flow into developing the idea. In many cases the idea becomes a product because the inventor can build it, not because there is an actual need in the market for the product. Or, even more frequently, the need exists, but the company has no idea how to build a core base of users. The answer, of course, is effective marketing. But too few companies understand what marketing really is and isn't. Let’s start by saying marketing is not an ad. Or a brochure. Those are tools with a limited shelf life. Many tech companies have made gestures to marketing by creating an ad or a brochure and then been disappointed with the results.

Instead, think of marketing as a process. It’s an ongoing, ever-evolving conversation with the people who should be using your product. And it’s not easy. One of marketing’s key tools is branding. Think back on the original definition of that for a moment: a cowboy tracks down a cow in an open field, throws him to the ground and burns a permanent mark into the animal’s skin. Not much fun for the cowboy and surely no fun for the cow.

While creating a brand for a company isn’t quiet that painful, it is far more work than many companies realize. A brand became something that corporate entitie4s thought they could buy. Today branding is getting bad press as a failure-not because it does not work but because so many thought they could buy it and it failed. Branding is part of who you are-how you behave-it is deep in the couture. It is not a skin you purchase from an advertising shop!

Here’s another way of looking at it. Who are you? Describe yourself, but exclude any context of your job, your family, your friends. Now who are you? Who is your company? What defines your company outside the context of your products’ or services’ physical characteristics? It’s not an easy question to answer, much less convey to the people you want to buy your product or service.

Another symptom of a company that doesn’t fully understand marketing is their reaction to changes in the economy. Because many companies see marketing as a necessary expense, when times get tough, marketing becomes the first victim of the budgetary ax. This is another common, fatal mistake.

Research has proven countless times (and advertising firms have touted this fact even more) that companies who continue to aggressively market themselves during recessions are more profitable than their competitors, not just during the recession, but for years after the recession ends.

I mentioned earlier that marketing is an on-going conversation with your customer. Sam Walton had a saying, “if you are confused, go ask the customer. She has all the answers and all the money.”

Wal-Mart is decidedly low-tech, but the wisdom of that statement is undeniable. It's also the point where most companies fail. They fail to involve the customer in the development of their products or the creation of their marketing.

Business consultants have often failed here too. Most business consultants, it seems, come from accounting or legal backgrounds. Unfortunately, these two professions have only recently embraced the worth of marketing; in fact, both have viewed marketing as unethical or at least highly suspect in the past. And while they offer solid counsel on issues critical to business, they often fail to include marketing in their plans. Forcing a choice between legal issues, accounting issues and marketing issues is like asking, “would your rather live without your heart, your brain or your liver.”

There seems to be a natural antagonism between engineering/product development people and marketing people. I think this is an unnatural relationship. Clearly, the product has to be good to survive. By all means, I encourage R&D to intensely pursue improvements in their products and services, bytes and bandwidth. But in building the product, the company’s view is not enough. The customer has to be a part of the product's development. The easiest way to do that is to ask the customer what she wants. And then balance that need with your own insights into technological innovation.

Another thing to remember: marketing is not sales. They are related, of course; think of them as two sides of the same coin. Sales, though, is focused on short-term goals. Get the sale. Close the deal. Marketing has both short and long-term objectives. Unfortunately, sales is seen as revenue producing and marketing as an expense. This leads to the thinking mentioned earlier that produces cuts in the marketing budget. These cuts inevitably lead to decreases in sales.

I heard that marketing is best defined as identifying, recruiting and retaining customers. It should be placed at the heart of your organization, equal to product development or any other issue. You can’t “kind of market” just like you can't be “sort of pregnant.”

Approached with the right frame of mind, though, marketing can build awareness and knowledge of your company. It can help you define your company’s personality, convince people to like you-even prefer you over your competitors. From there, selling is so much easier. Sure the nineties were flush; but then, for many, the market was flushed. To be a survivor in the future, you’ll need to know why.

Quick Tips

Sales VPs and Marketing VPs are different-don’t put marketing under sales, that reduces its function to outbound communication designed to making sales calls easier. In and of itself that sounds OK, but it is an incomplete view of what marketing is and how it can help accomplish business goals
R&D and marketers misunderstand and mistrust one another. Make it a priority to acknowledge this animosity and force the groups to respect and work together-you do all have the same end goal and you both need each other.
Bring a marketer into the conversation before you build and develop your company. Through research, marketers can avoid product development problems and enhance the salability of your products. The other option is build the product, hire the sales staff, go to market and then get feedback. The first option is profoundly less expensive.

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