Marketing's New Reality
Today, too many organizations and executive managers are focused on growing their sales and profits faster than the industry average - pursuing every potential market and customer, blurring their target market and image - and in so doing, diluting their finite resources. With today's unsound economic uncertainties, erratic change is one of the few organizational certainties. So, how can an organization adjust to, and even take advantage of change, rapidly, without disrupting its critical functions? The answer, to a great extent is by refocusing its marketing efforts.
However, this is much easier said than done. In today's marketing world, efforts, for the most part, are misdirected rendering them mostly ineffective. Markets are fragmented. Product and service life cycles are ever shortening. Organizations are facing reduced time frames for making money as competition, substitution and pricing pressures quickly mount. Consumers are more elusive than ever and far less loyal to brand, and even source, than previous consumer generations. Consumers are becoming more sophisticated and demanding.
To remedy this, marketing must identify, evaluate, and select marketing opportunities, laying down strategies and determining tactics for achieving target market dominance.
Sustainable competitive advantage, if it ever existed at all, is not to be found. However, this doesn't change the mandate that marketing must achieve profitable revenue growth for the organization (or suffer the consequences.)
Since each marketing organization faces unique opportunities and challenges in its respective markets, some general steps should be implemented for clarifying purpose and marketing direction. Marketing needs to start by better defining, communicating and executing on the following:
These steps will lead to other more focused steps that will address the uniqueness of each opportunity and challenge that the organization may face.
What Marketing Is and Isn't
Marketing should be a better communicator of what it is and isn't. Most importantly, executive management needs to understand what marketing is, what it can and can't do. In its simplest form marketing is everything an organization does to create an exchange between itself and its prospects and current consumers. However, beyond this simple definition, marketing must define itself, its value, purpose, and what it can and should do in terms of market approach and positioning.
Many marketers have long since forgotten, or have been forced to neglect, this first step of defining who they are and what they can do. Marketers tend to set goals that cannot be reasonably obtained. Executive management is now under even greater pressure from stakeholders to maximize profits and value while sustaining growth. Marketing is forced by pressure from executive management to commit to what they can't realistically deliver. Most of the goals and objectives imposed upon (and within) marketing departments are unrealistic, if not completely ridiculous.
Once this fact is realized in the market, executive management may once again call a series of meetings with marketing management arguing that their marketing efforts are failing to influence consumer demand and provide any level of quantifiable ROI. Then marketing management is either fired or once again given direct mandates to maximize profits and value - while at the same time seeking sustained growth.
Marketing then once again begins to develop its arsenal of strategies for brand differentiation, customer loyalty, and persuasive advertising tactics. Thus the cycle of futility continues.
Marketing should set its own agenda and objectives - not merely react to what is imposed upon it. And it can only do so once it has properly defined itself and communicated its purpose and objectives to executive management. Executive management needs to know what they can expect from marketing.
Whom the Consumer Defines as Competition
Competition isn't, and never has been, defined by marketing. Only the consumer can truly confirm the competitive market landscape. Much like positioning, competition is mostly a perception in the mind of the consumer. This isn't to say that marketing doesn't need to be conscious of its market competition. Not at all. However, marketing must take the necessary time and steps to look through the consumer's eyes to accurately assess and evaluate the competitive landscape.
Quite often true competition is not external to the organization at all, but internal. Organizational value doesn't come through knowing who the competition is and creating strategies to compete, but through knowing where the value creation comes from and how to effectively influence and increase that value.
In truth, the principal marketing value creation forces are consumer relationships. Brands are merely a means of serving those relationships. Marketing's challenge isn't, and never has been, to sell a brand to a poorly defined selection of consumers, but to sell a clearly defined set of consumers a selection of brands, products and services. To achieve this, marketing departments, and the organizations they serve, must transform practically every aspect of how they function to conform to current market realities.
Focus on Creating Markets and Demand and Appropriate Positioning
The function of marketing isn't merely to discover market needs, but to essentially create them. Market research should serve primarily as a tool for confirmation of marketing ideas, not the source of ideas. Marketing should seek to create the appropriate markets and demand. Leave the discovery and analysis of newly developed or emerging markets to the competition. If one competitor has discovered them, chances are that many other potential competitors have or will as well. Focus on creating markets and demand. Then position the brand, product and services appropriately.
Penetrating established markets require greater marketing efforts and resources than ever. Where possible, differentiate the brand, product and service by creating the market and demand. Many markets have fragmented into niche markets. Niche markets are now more abundant than ever - and quite profitable as well. Where they're not existent, create them!
Dissolve the Isolation Barrier
Finally, marketing walls need to be torn down and dissolved. Too many marketing departments are insulated and therefore isolated from other organizational functions. This separation causes disconnect between an organization's intended goal of getting new customers and its actual attainment. Marketing and its activities are central to the organization.
As change continues to accelerate in the marketplace, the traditional chronological alignment of marketing responsibilities and efforts must be refocused to their synchronization. Synchronization comprises active promotional efforts for interaction and cross-pollination of product, sales and service departments. All marketing elements must work independently, as well as interdependently to ensure success.
The older marketing models must be abandoned and replaced by an assemblage of structures, systems and processes that promote and support mutual dependencies among product, sales and service departments.
In the End
Few people, outside of marketing, take marketing seriously. But until marketing refocuses its efforts there won't be sufficient reason to change that perspective. Once refocused, marketing can then be the catalyst for top-line growth and profitability.
Efforts focused on defining marketing, understanding the consumer's perspective on competition, creating markets and demand, and dissolving isolation all lead to effective marketing. Effective marketing leads to profitable growth. And profitable growth is what marketing is all about.
Bray J. Brockbank has over 12 years experience in marketing, sales management, and consulting. His experience covers the pharmaceutical, elearning, content management, biomedical, packaged goods, and software industries. He currently directs marketing and sales activities for Blackwell Professional, a world leading professional publisher. He has also held an adjunct position of program director and instructor at a respected North American business college. He is a recognized and respected speaker and author. He can be reached at BrayJB@hotmail.com .
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