Until recently, marketing meant meeting needs profitably. People with needs, otherwise known as potential customers, were identified by the marketing department who then asked senior management for permission to go and make money—or at least try.
Marketing was about pairing needs with solutions, and then making people aware of newer and better solutions, otherwise known as advertising. And, after decades of being the most visible step in the process, advertising became synonymous with marketing—even among marketers. It’s time to revisit this thinking.
The core idea of marketing—that we’re happy to pay to have our needs and wants fulfilled—remains true, if forgotten. Instead, the marketing department has become the place where teams look at their company’s innovation pipeline and ask one another, “how can we convince people that they want to buy this?” When everyone was selling soap, it made sense to build the best soap-selling team possible, but it’s completely and totally backwards today. The world has since changed in two very important ways.
No one can bring the customer experience back onto the rails better than a great support experience, which is often the kind of event that prompts a customer to recommend a brand to their peers. Go visit an Apple genius bar and it will become clear.
First, marketers got so good at meeting our needs that the cost of living dropped dramatically: today we take it for granted that food, shelter, and security are available to almost everyone fortunate enough to live in a developed economy. It’s once the essentials are taken care of that each person’s individuality asserts itself. Every person has their own preferences and a bit of spending money to fulfil them. Gradually our economy shifted from satisfying not only needs to satisfying both needs and desires. This is the genesis of the Starbucks latte you may be sipping as you read this.
Second, through satisfying an increasing number of radically different desires, a tremendous amount of technology was invented and commercialized. With more new products, there was more opportunity to bring new innovations together in exciting new ways. Newness begets newness. For today’s innovator a very real challenge is figuring how best to combine all the tools and technologies at their disposal into the best possible solution for a specific problem.
Taken together, more consumers have a surplus of spending money and unfulfilled desire, and the biggest-ever pool of possible solutions to satisfy those wants. For a marketer it doesn’t get any better than this. So why do we act like we’re still selling soap? We need to bring the basics back.
In computer science, biology, materials science, nanotech, economics—absolutely everywhere that’s producing incredible innovations, no one understands the potential of what they’re working on more than the people doing the research. Countless brilliant people are working on world-changing research and then handing their work over to the marketing department. These people are an integral part of marketing, so why aren’t they encouraged to think like marketers?
We can say the same of the sales force: no one understands the day-to-day challenges of customers better than the reps who speak to them every day. From customer service representatives to high-level sales professionals, these people have some of the richest contact with customers, but no seat at the table that decides what will actually be sold. If we look up a definition of “low hanging fruit,” we might well find the input of the sales team as an example.
Finally, another strong group to bring into the marketing fold is the customer support staff. More often than not, it’s the first call to customer support that determines if a company made a sale or a customer. No one can bring the customer experience back onto the rails better than a great support experience, which is often the kind of event that prompts a customer to recommend a brand to their peers. Go visit an Apple genius bar and it will become clear. Support staff also has a direct line into invaluable information about how products are actually used; they should be given a chance to share that knowledge.
Whether it is research, sales, support, or any other function in a firm – we’re all part of marketing. If marketing is a mentality, why not design our organizations to spread that mentality to everyone? This means rethinking “the marketing department” and including marketing thinking into all aspects of the company. Employees of every department in a 21st century company need to continuously ask the question ‘how can I best fulfil the current and future needs and desires of customers?’ As the team at 37Signals rightly points out in their book, Rework: “marketing is everything and everything is marketing.” Marketing is bigger than any one department. Much bigger.