At the start of every semester, I tell each new class in my intro to marketing class that marketing is more than just advertising and sales. Never has that statement been truer than now — with the increasing prominence of social media. Advertising and sales gain their glory from the ability to link them to profitability. But, it’s really the other elements of marketing that really allow advertising and sales to work. So it makes sense to explore how businesses can use the other elements of marketing to grow their business.
Marketing isn’t just advertising and sales
Students who are new to the school of business often think marketing is just advertising and sales because these are the most visible elements of marketing to the public. Unfortunately, shows like Mad Men and plays like Death of a Salesman reinforce the negative opinion most laypeople have of marketing. But, that’s simply not true. In today’s post, I want to introduce you to other elements that make up marketing; elements that add value to consumers rather than try to “trick” them into buying something they don’t need.
So, what is marketing?
According to the American Marketing Association, marketing is:
Marketing is the activity, institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value.
Hence, the underlying notion of marketing is providing value to all the stakeholders; including:
- the organization in the form of revenue
- employees in the form of meaningful work with appropriate compensation
- supply chain partners in the form of sales at an equitable exchange rate
- consumers in terms of valuable products that solve problems they face
- society at large in the form of economic stability, solutions to societal problems, and social responsibility that acts as a good steward of the resources employed in the production of these exchanges
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t organizations out there that don’t provide value or only provide value to some stakeholders but this is the goal for all organizations.
Increasingly, businesses recognize the importance of branding for marketing their products and services. So, what is branding?
Branding involves not just the visible elements that delineate one brand from another; elements such as brand name, logo, and color palette. Sure, visual elements are important as it allows one brand to stand out from another and may contribute to the image consumers develop about the product. For instance, Apple derives isn’t name and logo (one bite out of an apple) in homage to the developer of the modern computer, Alan Turing. Turing developed a working computer that decrypted the German code during WWII and is credited with shortening the war and saving many lives. However, Turing was gay and the British government forced him to take medication that chemically castrated him to “cure” him of his homosexual behavior. He complained the chemicals interfered with his cognitive abilities and killed himself by taking a bite of a poisoned apple. Thus, the Apple brand is both an identifier and a statement of values.
Consumers buy brands that share the values they consider important, as you can see below.
That’s why corporate social responsibility is such an important part of a brand both in terms of providing value to society and in terms of motivating consumers to buy the brand.
We all have this vision of who we are and we buy brands that fit our image of who we are. We aren’t always the same person — even to ourselves and certainly not in every social setting. A big part of branding is giving products a personality that helps consumers decide if the product is “for them” or not. I like to use the analogy of a hologram in describing a brand — it’s the sum of all the beliefs and attitudes about a product or service. These beliefs make a product seem real to consumers just like a good hologram makes an image seem like it’s right there with you. Consumers then buy brands that they see fitting into their vision of who they are.
Think about Starbucks. The coffee isn’t that great so if you think you can overtake their market share by creating better coffee — you’ll lose. Same if you think you can sell a coffee for less than Starbucks — consumers don’t really care that Starbucks is seriously overpriced for a product that objectively isn’t worth the money. In fact, consumers don’t go to Starbucks to buy coffee, even if that’s what sells in the store. They buy Starbucks to reinforce their image of themselves as stylish, hip, urban, successful, and socially responsible (because Starbucks only buys fair trade coffee made by Baristas who receive reasonable wages and benefits). Sure, $5 is a lot for a cup of coffee, but very little to create an image of who you are. It’s also important that you consume Starbucks in public, so you’re not only creating an image for yourself but one you project to those around you. I’ve even heard stories of folks washing out their Starbucks cups to reuse them — allowing them to reinforce the image themselves for minimal cost.
Think all this stuff about a brand’s personality is just new-age crap? Think again. This image diagrams results from research on brand personality that splits them up into 12 archetypes.
Branding may fool consumers into buying a product, but good customer service keeps them coming back. This is the notion of relationship marketing, which the marketing discipline adopted 30 years ago as the proper strategy for every business based on research that shows it costs 5X more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing customer.
The most important part of good customer service is keeping your promises — if you promise consumers your brand will give them a bright smile, it better brighten their smile. As a matter of fact, if you can give consumers a little more than they bargained for, they are thrilled with your products. Thus, advertising and salespeople who overpromise actually hurt a brand. So, marketing involves more than just advertising and sales, it involves communicating realistic benefits.
A couple of years ago I bought a jacket from Chico’s. They didn’t have my size in my local store, so they had it shipped from another store. Imagine how thrilled I was when the jacket arrived (with free shipping) to find a handwritten note from the employee who packed the jacket. Such a little thing, but it made me even more committed to the store.
Providing good customer service is expensive, especially in a global economy where you need to respond to customers quickly. A chatbot is a great tool to help. Built with AI (artificial intelligence) these tools sit on your website to answer routine questions 24/7. Because many consumers now prefer asking questions on social platforms rather than through a phone call, provide hours when your representatives are available to answer questions in real-time and ensure you have sufficient personnel to answer questions quickly outside these hours.
In Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” he chronicles the decline in community — no more block parties, massive community clubs, and even scouting dropped off a lot. Yet, as humans, we need that social connection. As smart marketers, we know this and strive to create community — whether it’s a real community like the HOGs (Harley Owner’s Group) or an online community, such as a Facebook FanPage. Community involves a different, more customer-focused form of communication than that employed in advertising. In fact, the self-serving nature of advertising is the antithesis of community building, which should be about them, not you.
A company doing a good job of community building is California Tortilla. The community manager does this by being authentic, involving customers in business decisions such as new menu items, sharing the latest news, and providing specials to community members. Her conversations on social media look more like real conversations with friends.
And, don’t forget to market to internal customers
What are internal customers, you ask? They are the employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders who help make the business a success. Without the active support of these folks, you see lower returns. So, marketing should keep them happy, informed, engaged, and actively involved in the success of your firm.
Something often forgotten in the notion of marketing as just advertising and sales is that marketing is the driver of innovation. An organization should constantly scan its environment looking for opportunities to solve new problems for consumers or find better ways to solve existing problems. In this respect, social media is like having a seat at the dining room tables of folks making up your target market. Here they express their frustrations to help smart businesses identify unmet needs. By developing products to solve these problems, you provide value to your consumers and, maybe to society.
I’m sure I’m forgetting a few
But, that’s why I have my community. I’m sure some of you will quickly add to my list. Happy to have you folks on board.
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