Marketing is Not Dead Yet

Lately there has been a rush to bury marketing. Bill Lee’s recent HBR article “Marketing is Dead” is the latest salvo, but that blog was preceded by other similar pronouncements from advertising CEO Kevin Roberts as well as numerous earlier blogs that predicted marketing’s demise.

From my standpoint, all of this talk is a slightly misplaced. Or to paraphrase Mark Twain: “The reports of marketing’s death have been greatly exaggerated.” Now I know that catchy, provocative headlines get more attention than boring ones (I learned that one in my Marketing 101 class), but my concern is that all this focus on the “death” of marketing will lead to misplaced reactions against the department itself.

Marketing isn’t dead, any more than it ended when Sergio Zyman declared “The End of Marketing” in 1999. The Oxford English dictionary defines marketing as “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services.” And that, my friends, is never coming to an end.

Yes, marketing is going through a massive shift in terms of how customers are acquired and retained, but it’s gone through shifts like this before. Just as Zyman was right in 1999 that marketing needed to focus more on tracking, measuring and process rather than just being a pretty face, the current doomsayers are also correct that the colossal changes caused by almost ubiquitous high speed Internet access and the rise of social media mean that many of the old methods won’t cut it anymore.

So what’s a modern marketer to do? Should we abandon everything that marketing ever stood for now that the old models no longer apply? I don’t think so. The four P’s are still valid, but they must be applied in different ways. I don’t believe anyone has all the right answers in this new marketing paradigm, but below are some ideas and thought starters.

Collaborate With the Market to Make a Killer Product
As it has always been, without a great product the rest of your marketing efforts are useless. Products should always focus on customer needs, but now you can leverage social media and free Web tools like Survey Monkey to better understand your customers. Be proactive in your contact with them and actually listen to and record what they are telling you. Then use this information to affect how the product or service is created, serviced and improved upon over time.

Content Really is King
Content is a significant part of your whole product. Relevant content adds to the overall value you provide to the marketplace, and therefore the value of your product and brand. Think about the kinds of information your customers need. Perhaps it’s intelligence as part of the buying cycle, but it also could be something related to the customer’s ultimate use of the product. For example, if you’re selling laptops and you know there are customers who will use your product for desktop publishing, don’t just provide information on how to determine the best laptop for desktop publishing, provide content and/or links to content around desktop publishing itself. Your customers, their friends and colleagues will look to you as the trusted advisor, and the company to buy from.

Every Company is a Media Company
Whether we like it or not, the evolution of media and the powerful media technologies of the Internet has turned every company into a media company. Every company publishes to its customers, its staff, its neighbors and its communities. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to create and publish your own media. So embrace these new capabilities and take advantage of the fact that you can now engage more of your targets directly, with or without the need for an agency.

Develop Customer References
The stated opinions of your customers carry far more weight in the marketplace than your advertising does. Use social media and company-driven feedback to show others how much your customers love you. Place their testimonials prominently on your Web site, leveraging as many different types of media as possible. Do something special for them and then give them the vehicle to talk about you.

Join in on the Conversation
Take advantage of all the different methods that are available to have a conversation with your customers. Check out forums, Facebook fan pages, or LinkedIn Groups and start talking with their members. This is a great way to learn about their needs and their issues. Plus, you can be there ready to answer their questions. The key is not to sell, but to talk, listen, learn and guide.

The beauty and joy of marketing is that it is always changing, always something new, yet it is consistently based on the same core principles: make a great product, be sure the relevant people know how great it is, price it fairly and create an easy (and if appropriate, fun) way to buy it.

So in closing, I’ll mangle Shakespeare this time – I come not to bury marketing, but to praise it. Long live marketing!

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