Are you a marketer? In today's world, everyone — from CEO to intern — needs to answer that
question with a resounding "yes!" After all, the definition of marketing is the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to satisfy customers' needs. How could you not fit somewhere within that definition?
These days, marketing is not owned by the marketing department. Instead, everyone in the organization is expected to act like a marketer and ask four questions: "Who are our customers? What do our customers want or need?
How can we satisfy those needs better than our competitors? And finally, how can we satisfy those needs in a way that generates profits for us?" And after asking those questions, everyone is expected to act on the answers.
How can you tell which companies have truly achieved a marketing culture? They are successful, but not complacent. They know that their competitors will become stronger and more innovative with each passing day. They know their markets are fickle and global. Indeed, few offerings that are popular today will be popular tomorrow. And the hot new entry may come from anywhere on the planet.
So, how do you become a true marketer? And how do you foster a marketing culture within your organization?
Here are four guidelines to help you practice and hone your marketing skills. All four share one word
First, focus on your customers
Second, understand why your customers value your offering
Third, as an organization, speak with one voice to customers, and
Fourth, use one-to-one marketing to build strong partnerships with your customers
Let's begin with focusing on your customers. Too often organizations focus on their own capabilities,
their own vision, and their own products or services. These organizations think about profit first, the customer second. But, as many of these companies have been shocked to discover, such a prioritization no longer works in today's marketplace.
Just how do you put customers at the core of everything you do? A marketing orientation can help. As management guru Peter Drucker has said, "Marketing is the whole business seen from the customer's point of view." Marketing is a way of understanding and satisfying customers. It's an exchange between your organization and your customers. To make that exchange work, you must offer something customers genuinely value.
To begin to develop a customer focus, ask yourself, "What are the different types of needs our customers have?" There are the needs customers believe they have, such as "I need a sealant for my window panes before winter." The real need behind this statement is probably a better-insulated house. Customers also have delight needs, such as champagne to drink in front of the fire in that
Another question to ask is, "What are the steps our customers go through as they decide what to buy?" Answering this should be easy because, as a consumer, you have gone through the process yourself many times. Imagine yourself reaching to buy a package of mints. Do you pick up one brand or another? Would a lower promotional price for one of the brands influence your decision? A price discount is an example of a marketing tactic aimed at influencing a specific point in the buying process.
Now let's turn to the second guideline, understanding why your customers value your offering.
Why do your customers currently buy from you instead of from someone else? They do not make purchasing decisions in a vacuum. Indeed, customers continually compare your offering to the alternatives.
Of course, you cannot evaluate every possible competitor you may have in the global marketplace. But you can select a few key competitors, and ask yourself, "How does the competitor meet the customer's needs? What do members of our target audience think about our competitor's offerings?" By asking yourself these questions, you may even identify some competitors in industries you've never thought about. For example, think about a photocopying machine and a photocopying service. Both the product and the service meet the customer's need to copy documents. If the company that makes the machine doesn't think about the company that offers the service, it is ignoring a key competitor.
After you take a hard look at your competitors' offerings, turn to your own. Forget about the fancy new features that everyone in the company is excited about. That is a product-based view. Instead, look at your offerings through your customers' eyes. What do they most value? Why do they buy from you? When you can answer these questions, you know how to differentiate and position your offering to customers.
The third guideline is to speak to your customers with one voice. Look at all the different processes
in your organization that touch customers and be sure everyone is conveying the same message. Think of it this way: You want your customers to see a single face and hear a single voice whenever they interact with your firm.
Ask questions such as these: "Does your Web site convey the same messages as your promotional material? Do your customer support representatives know about promotions being offered by your sales people?"
Using one-to-one marketing to build strong partnerships with customers is the fourth marketing
guideline. With the new technologies available today, companies can reach out directly to each distinct customer. As they conduct these direct exchanges with customers, they gather details about their customers' profiles. This information can then be mined to personalize marketing campaigns to appeal to individuals or small groups of people.
But take care: This sounds like an effective marketing approach — and can be — but it has a huge
potential downside as well. Customers quickly get irritated by constant requests for information. They also are deeply concerned about invasions of privacy. Trying to get too close to customers can result in their running in the opposite direction.
John Abele, founder of Boston Scientific, points to the solution when he says, "Treat your customers as partners." The customers are not simply numbers that contribute to a profit margin. They are partners with whom you work to build a sustainable advantage over your competition. What does it mean to treat customers like partners? There are a myriad of things that you — and every
department in your organization — can do. For example, you can visit consumers and talk to them
face-to-face about their needs. Then spearhead an initiative to get other people in your organization out in the customers' world.
Another idea is to work with your colleagues to be sure new products or services truly fulfill customer needs. What features do your customers most value? What features overwhelm or irritate them — and
could be removed? Yet another idea is to look long and hard at the personal information you and your company gather. Do not collect information "just in case" you may need it. Be honest with customers about why you are requesting information. You want to win their business and loyalty, not alienate them.
Implementing ideas such as these will make you a true marketer. You will then be ready to drive the development of a marketing culture within your organization.
For a more in-depth look at developing your marketing skills, see the Harvard ManageMentor topic Marketing Essentials.