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Is Marketing Promotion, Product or Purpose?
Posted on May 14th 2014
I am a marketing geek. (And a coffee and beer geek.) That means I get in a lot of philosophical discussions about marketing. I get into lively conversations with fellow marketing wonks about the details and the strategy of marketing. But I also tend to be an evangelist so I seldom shy away from hard discussions/arguments about marketing with those poor, unfortunate souls who are outside the marketing mothership. Just floating in the utterly dark void that is life outside of marketing.
This week I posted my article about whether marketing should be held to a higher standard than engineering. I have a wide range of friends and acquaintances across social media. Although I tend to gravitate towards fellow misfits and outcasts. Not everyone in my circle of social is in marketing. (weird right?) When I posted the article above I wrote a lead-in to it that essential said that marketing is business and business is marketing.
This idea ruffled the feathers of many people and made them quite agitated.
The retorts landed squarely in two seemingly opposing camps as regards to business:
- Marketing is the beginning and end of business
- Production and/or engineering are the purpose of business
The ‘engineering first’ camp pontificates that engineering or production (or some other purely logical, technical, altruistic group of deities) are solely focused on creating something of value, solving the world's problems and otherwise turning magical awesomeness into reality. The position is encircled by the idea that engineering/mechanical is altruistic and good and is the reason business exists. According to this camp a business exists to make XYZ widget to solve ABC problems and all the rest is fluff and dross. Not necessarily wrong or bad or unneeded but certainly NOT the reason or purpose of the business.
The second camp preached that all is marketing. That the reason that engineering or production made ANY product, let alone this specific product was because marketing found a need THAT HAD A BIG ENOUGH MARKET TO MAKE IT COMMERCIALLY VIABLE. In other words someone looked at all the problems for a given set of the population, found an intriguing solution that they felt THIS business could do better than others, realized that if they marketed it well enough they could make money off it and have a lot of fun on the way.
Out of this seeming contradiction at the basest level, I see no contradiction at all. Certainly there are two differing view points based on differences in perspective and depth of focus.
It turns out you see only what you look at.
To me, marketing is the discipline of asking questions and finding answers that matter. Not every question that is worth asking gives an answer that is worth having. Marketing is focused on asking these types of business questions: Why, Who, When and What. Engineering is focused on asking How and then What. Combined they make the magic mushroom of chaos we call business. Separated they kill baby unicorns. The two don’t always live comfortably in the same house but the conflict and contrast is essential.
Marketing is not advertising. Although it does use advertising. Marketing is not sales. Although it does bring in and use sales. Marketing is not manipulation. Although it certainly uses some manipulation. Marketing is not engineering. Although engineering is marketing.
In any business venture a group of founders (crazy people) get together to either:
- Build something that solves a specific problem OR
- Sell something that solves a specific problem
Out of these two starts most people would say that the first one was the engineering/product company because they started by building something. And most people would say that the second one was a dirty marketing company since they just took something and applied it to a problem.
Engineering is the application of scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge in order to design, build, maintain, and improve structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes. Wikipedia
From my perspective and experience the companies who are successful and make a product that is useful, good and effectively solves the problem it is meant to solve all started with marketing first. Not advertising or promotion, marketing.
They looked at the market (as a marketer) saw an unsolved problem (a market), thought “If we solve that need (product) for those specific people (market) they will pay us lots of money for it (promotion) and the world will be a better place. (purpose)”
That’s what marketing does.
Good engineering and production is marketing first, i.e. customer first. If you build the best widget in the world that does not solve a need, either real or perceived, then you have just made an expensive paperweight. No matter how well or crappily made it is it has no value if it doesn’t do something for someone.
Not that there is no value in making cool stuff just for fun. That’s awesome. More people should make more stuff that has no commercial value or purpose. But that’s not business. That’s just fun. And business is not fun. You can have fun doing it but it is not for fun. Hobbies are for fun.
In tech startups there is fantastic concept called Product/Market Fit. It is centered around the idea that according to Eric Reis author of Lean Startups:
Startups exist to find a sustainable business model.
Note that tech startups do NOT exist to build kick ass products, write breathtakingly beautiful code or even solve life’s problems. They exist to find market fit for an un yet made product. They are searching for a market to apply a product to. The vast majority of the time the product they stick to the market is not even remotely close to the product they set out to make. This core idea tends to be glossed over by engineering types.
The successful tech focused, engineering led startups focus the majority of their time, talent, energy and focus on marketing. Not promotion but product and purpose. Marketing is far more about product and purpose than it is about promotion.
I remember a time last year when i was on a GoTo Meeting conference call with a company that was pitching me their product/service. It was a super cool mobile optimized survey/qualitative research polling tool. About half way through the demo/pitch they brought up a feature/benefit that they thought I would be interested in. They said “And you can get detailed information on what each individual thinks about your product or service!” They were excited about this because they were sales people.
I replied: “I don’t care about what anyone thinks, that’s sales. I only care what everyone thinks, I’m in marketing,” I then went on to explain that technically as a marketer I didn’t really care what EVERYONE thought or wanted, I really only wanted to know what a large enough group of people wanted or thought.
Now anyone who knows me knows that I base my foundation on the principle that you never give customers what they want. You only give them what you do best.
Customers have no idea what they want until you give it to them. And as a general rule whatever customers want is hardly ever what you want to give them. That’s where the art of marketing works its magic. True marketing is riding the bleeding edge of finding unsolved problems that customers don’t even know they want or need solved and figuring out the exact balance of product and promotion to enable customers to want YOUR product/service. Sales is giving customers what they want. Engineering is building what they want better. Marketing is giving customers what you do best and helping them want it.
Marketing is all 7 of the P’s: Product, Promotion, Place, Price, Process, People and Purpose. Marketing is business, business is marketing. All else is the parts of the machine.