What Every Manager Must Know About Marketing

Marketing Team Reviewing Plans
Hero Images/GettyImages

Few managers would disagree with the statement, “marketing is important to our firm.” However, much like strategy, the concept of marketing and the function of the marketing department are widely misunderstood by many. This article provides an overview of the purpose of marketing for an organization and shares insights on the different functions and roles of the marketing department in today’s technology and data-driven world.

The Big Picture: Marketing With a Capital “M”

The late management guru Peter Drucker frequently challenged the oft repeated mantra “the purpose of a business is to maximize value for shareholders.” In his version, “the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.

Drucker viewed the activities of marketing and innovation as essential to a business with all others being costs that support those core activities. He went on to suggest that “Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business,” and that “effective marketing should render selling unnecessary.

For anyone working in the marketing department of your firm, it might be tempting to hit the forward button and share this great news. However, before you declare primacy over your friends in sales and engineering it is important to note that Drucker was not talking about the marketing department. Rather, he was referring to marketing in the context of all of the work that goes into the process of finding, developing, serving, and retaining customers.

It turns out that every single function in an organization plays an important role in this broader marketing process.

Five Core Marketing Decisions that Define Your Organization

While your firm’s mission describes its greater purpose and the vision suggests an ideal future state for the organization, a number of key marketing decisions dictate all of the work of the organization.

These include:

  1. The markets and customer segments the firm will focus on developing.
  2. How the firm will serve the customers. The bundles of products and services intended to remove burden, solve a problem or enrich the lives of targeted customers.
  3. How the firm will meaningfully differentiate from competitors.
  4. How offerings will be priced, positioned and packaged for the market.
  5. How the product will be promoted and sold to the customers.

Drill down into each of the above activities and you quickly see that every area of the business plays an important role in executing on these key decisions. If a function or initiative in a firm cannot be connected to one of those larger tasks, chances are it is extraneous to the firm’s core purpose of finding and retaining customers, and potentially wasteful.

Key Marketing Questions Every Manager Must Ask and Answer

It does not matter whether you are in accounting, human resources, operations, customer support, information technology or any other function, it is essential for you and your team members to connect your activities to the overall marketing process of the firm. Your projects, new investments and measurements should all tie back directly or indirectly to the core marketing issues of the firm.

Questions to discuss with your team members include:

  1. How does our work in this department impact our customers directly or indirectly?
  2. Does our work improve our firm’s ability to find or retain our customers? Or, if our focus is on our internal customers, are we doing something that is helping them more effectively or efficiently serve our external customers?
  3. How do we measure our efforts and outcomes as they relate to our customers? Are our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) accurately measuring our contribution and are they identifying areas for improvement?
  4. How do we connect our efforts to the firm’s strategy and major goals?
  5. How is our firm doing overall in identifying, capturing and retaining customers? What can we do that might help with one or all of these activities?
  6. How are we performing versus our competitors? Are we growing or declining?
  1. How do we compare in our department versus the best of our competitors? Can we benchmark our performance against the market leader?
  2. Are our investments focused on strengthening our firm’s ability to find and retain customers?

It is important for managers and team members to regularly review these issues to ensure proper alignment with the overall organizational strategy and to provide everyone valuable context for why and how their work matters.

The Marketing Department: Strategic and Tactical Marketing

In many organizations, marketing activities are divided into strategic and tactical categories. The strategic marketers are dealing with the core questions identified above and the following additional issues:

  • Researching and selecting new target markets and customers.
  • Working to understand targeted customers at a deep level and translating this knowledge into offerings, services and approaches that meet the needs of those customers for the firm’s offerings.
  • Identifying the broader ecosystem of participants in a market, including service providers, different participants in the supply and value chains for the market and potential channel partners to help you reach the targeted customers.
  • Researching and building the business case for new product or service offerings.
  • Conducting ongoing research and data analysis intended to help better understand the needs, habits and buying patterns of targeted customers.

Tactical marketing activities include:

  • Creating promotions strategies designed to engage current or targeted customers and generate contacts and leads for the sales team.
  • Discovering and deploying the broad array of communication tools to promote the firm and offerings, including advertising, direct marketing, inbound marketing.
  • Capturing and analyzing customer information and leveraging this information to strengthen overall promotion activities.
  • Managing the process of moving new offerings to market.
  • Communicating with influencers and thought leaders in the targeted markets.

Today's Technology-Focused Marketing Department

The marketing department is decidedly more technical today than it was just a few years ago. While many people associate marketing roles and tasks with the creative work of advertising, campaign development and event management, the shift to technology-focused work is transforming marketing.

Many firms have adopted marketing campaign software platforms to manage their targeting. The explosion in data available across the organization and from marketing activities coupled with widespread access to data analytic software has given life to new technical roles in the department. Tools such as social media, search engine optimization, and search engine marketing are now important components of a firm’s marketing activities.

The historic emphasis on creative skills and positions has given way to a host of new careers and roles, including:

  • Data experts able to leverage data analytics software for precision targeting.
  • Technical experts competent at utilizing marketing automation software packages.
  • Content experts able to build inbound strategies based on downloadable or viewable content.
  • Social media experts able to grow the firm’s community and engage in dialog.
  • Web experts who manage search engine optimization and ad word purchasing.

Six Key Challenges for Marketing Today

The importance of your firm’s marketing activities to finding and retaining customers and the rapid evolution in technology and tools available for use by marketers make this an exciting and challenging area for investment and exploration. A number of key challenges faced by marketers include:

  1. Constantly striving to learn more about their targeted customers and to match what these insights with tailored offerings and content.
  2. Identification of new audiences for your firm’s capabilities and the development and execution of plans that brings those customer segments to life.
  3. Learning to leverage the latest technology and data tools to increase efficiency and effectiveness of the marketing efforts.
  4. Recruiting new technology savvy team members who can apply their know-how to supporting both the strategic and tactical marketing priorities.
  5. Selecting from the latest social and web marketing tools and deploying those to drive positive results for the firm.
  6. Engaging in a dialog with targeted audiences to build and defend the firm’s brands and core value proposition.

The Bottom Line

At the opening of this article, Peter Drucker offered us the unarguable argument that it is essential for a firm to find and retain customers. Use your understanding of the core marketing tasks and the strategic and tactical marketing activities outlined in this article to ask questions and hold your team and your colleagues in other functions accountable to the work of finding and retaining clients. If a new investment or project does not easily connect to supporting this cause, chances are it is extraneous and should be eliminated. And when your friends in marketing are looking for new resources, new programs or new technology, ask the same tough questions about whether the costs will support the firm’s broader marketing objectives. And then remember that everyone in the firm is responsible for marketing.