We are all bombarded with messages about cool marketing tools that everyone needs to be using. They point to company X that did Y and suggest that everyone needs to do Y or be left behind. Unfortunately it is kind of like saying the car that won the race had a shiny bumper, so buy a shiny bumper and you will win races.
Like anything that needs to be done correctly, there is a process to marketing, and the order matters. Quite often we are called in to help companies because the marketing tools they are using are no longer working or not delivering the way they had hoped. The problem is usually not with the marketing tools. The problem is usually further back in the process, in one of the earlier gears.
The foundation of marketing is based on gaining an understanding of the market from the perspective of the market looking back at the company. Most companies spend a lot of time thinking about their customers. But most of that is based on how to push products at the customer or how the customer uses the product/service. A market-based perspective starts by putting yourself in the shoes of the customer, understanding how they view the world and seeing how your product fits into their business. This external viewpoint back towards the company needs to be done for clients, competitors, channel partners and your company itself.
By understanding what the customer really needs or cares about and how competitors fit into the puzzle should lead you to seeing why customers really care about your current products or what other products and services they might want that you can profitably delivery. It should also show you how to present your offering is a way that is different from competitors.
Once you have developed a good understanding of the market from the customer’s perspective, the next step is to align your organization, modify or bundle products and/or services to meet those needs. Marketing is too important to leave to the marketers. To really grow, an organization needs to modify what and how they do things to meet the needs of the various customer segments.
This does not mean you do whatever any customer asks. It means you proactively decide where you will focus and what types of changes will make you stand out and sell more the most profitably. When the people in your organization understand where the company is going and why, they can each use their skills to help make it happen. Patrick Lencioni completely nails this as reality as the cornerstone of organizational health in his book, “The Advantage.” Without this clarity and alignment, your people either have to wait to be told what to do or each go off in their own direction. Anyone ever seen a sale force where each sales person was going in a different direction? Or product development department? Or marketing group? Or customer service team? How productive is that?
Once you have a market-based direction, know what the customer wants and why they should buy from you, have your products, services and organization aligned to deliver, and then you can tell people about it. This last gear is what many people think of as marketing. It is the most visible part. But if an organization spends money on the third gear without being aligned with the first two, they are just hoping they get it right.
Knowing what the customer cares about and how you stand out from the competition should lead you to the types of marketing tools to use. When those tools are aligned, they can be measured and managed. You may end up using completely different tools than your competitors.
For many companies the best marketing is done with no marketing dollars. It is done by getting the first two gears right and then intelligently targeting the efforts and messages of your sales force. The key is not the marketing tools or marketing spend. They key is aligning the market needs, with the company and products and the marketing tools. For more information, you may be interested in this short ebook “Strategic Marketing Jumpstarts Growth” .