What is a marketer? For that matter, what is marketing? Every year it seems it becomes more difficult to know the answer to either question—even though you might describe yourself as a marketer and work in the field every day.
According to Peter Drucker, companies do two things: they innovate and they market. Drucker’s definition of marketing was the “creation of a customer” which in itself is quite elegant. Drucker’s definition of innovation, on the other hand, had more to do with the enhancement of organizational performance.
Today “innovation” is on everyone’s lips. Of course this has far less to do with business performance and more to do with product innovation: in short, marketing.
Which brings me around the fact that marketing has become everything and nothing at the same time. The challenge for marketers is to define themselves. Now in the interests of full disclosure, when someone asks me what exactly it is that I do, I usually reply that I am a “marketing strategy consultant”. Not great, I’ll admit but it’s the best I can do in three words. Inevitably folks outside of the marketing discipline (be they financial types or school teachers) usually assume that I work in advertising or PR. The common conception of marketing is wrapped up in a definition that is at least15 years out of date. Not that there is anything wrong with advertising or PR, but to equate either with marketing is obviously wrong: both are disciplines within marketing.
As for root causes of this rootlessness, we can bring out the usual suspect: the Internet, which in many ways continues to confuse everyone in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Fact is, that the digitization of the world has changed the nature of two things which are central to the marketer’s mission: communications and production.
Let’s look first at communications. Digital networks have fragmented communications. Marketers of old (and by old, I am talking about 10 years ago) were comfortable defining themselves in terms of the communications vehicles that they used. You could be an advertising guy, you could be a PR guy, a direct mail guy, etc. With the fragmentation of media types came a series of radical shifts in the marketing profession towards a kind of hyper-specialization. The professionals within the marketing organization began to reflect the different roles that they were being required to play. This led to new job titles such as “Director of Digital Marketing”, “Customer Experience Manager” and “Brand Czar”. (It also required an emphasis on the notion of “integrated marketing” which is a euphemism for getting everyone within the marketing organization to work together.) Today the trend continues and we hear about “search engine marketers” and “blog marketers”, etc. in a sort of hyper-hyper-specialization.
On then to production. In the days of yore, innovation was all about performance metrics because production itself was accepted to be at the core of industry. By innovating you could boost the speed and efficiency with which you produced goods. Sure you had services professionals like physicians, dry cleaners and stock brokers, but these were not people at the core of business. The digital revolution has changed the definition of innovation. With the exception of major industrial companies, most (American) companies are no longer in the manufacturing business. Famously, manufacturing is now, for the most part, outsourced to manufacturing specialists, primarily in Asia. This is a critical shift in the nature of production and in turn the nature of innovation.
Innovation today is really better termed marketing innovation. It’s about using the emerging technologies to create new products and services that help to “create new customers” and drive revenues. The creation of new products is in itself less of an engineering discipline and more of a marketing discipline. Unless you are Sony, you are not really interested in the fellows in the white lab coats who are busily creating and patenting new technologies. Instead you can license those technologies, figure out a clever way to bundle them with a new or existing products and promote the hell out of those products.
Careful readers will say: “Cool, Megalli, you just re-invented the 4 Ps!” Point taken, however if you look at the structure of most organizations today, you will see a product organization, a sales organization and a marketing organization. Each of these three deals variously with one or two of the Ps (product, price, placement and promotion) but none look at the larger picture.
For marketers in these organizations, the situation is critical. The promotional piece of the puzzle—communications—continues to fragment and morph and frankly to lose importance. There is one key reason for this: with the Internet the awareness is rarely the issue. The issue is creating relevance. The problem for marketers in these organizations is that while they should be generating relevance, they are too often stuck messaging against a product that has already been created and needs to be sold.
As marketers, we need to get ourselves out of this little pickle. We are, on the whole, a clever and convincing bunch and I have no doubt that over time a solution will emerge. But for the hundreds of thousands of marketers out there today working within outmoded organizational structures, they don’t really have time. They need to find their places within their organizations and they need to clearly demarcate their turf with some real value. Anything less and you are just a cost center and that’s the last thing you want to be.