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most people don’t know what marketing is

June 13, 2009

a long time ago when i was in sales, the president of our small company pulled me aside and asked me if i’d like to start a marketing department for the company. things were going well . . . our market was growing and the company was growing even faster. we’d been a very sales driven company. we made a good product, but our only avenue to the market was through a direct sales force and a small inside sales team. now, the president explained, we could take things to a whole new level if we started marketing our products, instead of just selling them.

i had never had another job and i had avoided anything other than liberal arts courses in school . . . i didn’t know what marketing was. so i asked him what he thought the marketing department would do. “i’m not sure really . . . i know we need some catalogs, some brochures, and basically someone to be really organized.” it seemed interesting, but for a (fairly) successful sales guy, seemed kind of squishy. making a catalog? being organized? i passed on the opportunity and recommended someone i knew . . .someone who was very organized and creative. in hindsight, it was a great decision . . . i would have been a trainwreck in that role. with no formal training, no real idea of what marketing could be, i would have fallen prey to the worst habits of novice marketers . . . producing a lot of stuff. most of it useless.

a couple of years later, i left the company and went to business school . . . and i began to understand not only what marketing could be, but also how completely connected good marketing is to the whole strategy and success of a company. i loved learning about analytics . . . from segmentation to pricing. i loved learning how to build a comprehensive marketing plan.

i loved learning how to stir the alphabet soup that underlies much of marketing (3 c’s, 4 p’s, then another p, then an “i” for integration).

emboldened by my four classes in marketing in my first year of business school, i marched off to my summer internship with a large technology company (many more stories to tell in time).

my hiring manager was walking me around the office and we came to a conference room. on the table were two familiar consumer packaged goods . . . a dove bar and a dove bar. “see?” he said. “a real marketer would have picked a different” for him, marketing was about branding. the other common pigeon hole. regardless of how different these products were, he was convinced that the common name was surely going to doom one or the other to poor results. as if a customer hankering for ice cream would see a dove bar in the freezer section and get a mental image of soaping up his underarms in the shower . . .i’m sure it’s a common occurrence.

in my hiring manager’s view, marketing came into the picture after a product was designed, created, etc.

to be sure, just as doctors are increasingly driven to specialization, there are marketing specialists who excel in one part of marketing or another . . .creative, catalog design, branding, analytics, social media, “being organized,” event management, agency work, etc. but marketing works best when it works together . . .when it is deeply integrated inside the operations and strategy of a company. i think companies that are heavily invested in marketing are the companies that will succeed. in later posts, i’ll share some statistics about the “value of brand,” which is shorthand for “the value created by successfully considering marketing across all functions.” in our view anyway, that’s what we’ve seen work.


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