Requirements of marketing

Now that my career as a marketer has entered its fifth decade, I feel entitled, without being totally presumptuous, to offer a few observations about this vaguely defined profession we endeavor to practice.

Sadly, I must report I have worked with far more marketing managers who struggle to understand the job requirements than ones who do. Many of these strugglers were engineers or technically trained managers who just happened to be in the wrong place the day marketing responsibilities were handed out. The conventional wisdom at companies like that is it’s more important to be knowledgeable about the products than it is to be knowledgeable about marketing.

And I suppose there’s some truth in that, but the best marketing manager clients are ones who at least make some effort to master the finer aspects of marketing. Here are a few tips to move the needle in that direction.

1. Think like a customer

Customers are not sitting there waiting for your advertising messages or marketing promotions to come flying by. Nor are they waiting with eager anticipation for your PowerPoint presentations. They have many other things on their mind, and many other priorities.

It’s really important for you to think about things that will make a difference with them. What can you say that will be compelling or ring true? What can you say that shows you’re someone they need to pay attention to?

If you communicate “difference making” things on a consistent basis, you will create a focused “expectation” that leads to a desire for them to do business with you and your company. It’s the essence of branding.

2. Concentrate on the most important stuff

It’s not necessary to promote all your products, nor is it necessary to list every feature and benefit. In fact, if you do that, the important points get lost.

Good marketing people can screen out superfluous information and emphasize the salient points. This not only applies to what you say, but also what you say it about. You need to be acutely aware of which products and services should carry the marketing banner for maximum revenues and profits. (The non-promoted stuff usually tags along as part of the overall package anyway.)

3. Put it in perspective

The best marketing managers can not only tell customers what they need to know, but they can also tell them how that compares with things they might be hearing from competitors. Remember, customers are busy, hassled and have too many priorities to spend much time putting your information in perspective. They’re just trying to make good decisions.

Anything you can do to expedite that process will be greatly appreciated. That’s why I like side-by-side product feature comparison sheets and white papers that list the “five most important factors” in choosing an XYZ product or service. You’re just trying to be helpful, right?

4. Have a thoughtful budget

Budgeting is pretty much a lost art. Either a company is too lazy to have one, or it’s based on something that has nothing to do with the tasks at hand. The only realistic budget is one that is prepared with a specific list of activities in mind. We’ve decided that these are the things that need to be done, and here’s what it’s going to cost.

You can start out with a budgeting goal, i.e. it needs to fit in this revenue scenario, but you should also be prepared to adjust your budget once an agreed upon list of strategies has been approved.

The worst budgets are ones that try to do too much with too little. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, if you want to look small, do things in a small way. On the other hand, if you want to look like a leader who knows how to do things right, you might have to spend a little more money to do that.

5. Think outside the box

I know this is a cliché, but for many technically oriented marketing managers, thinking outside the box is a real challenge. It makes them extremely uncomfortable. They don’t like it.

And yet, when these managers stop to recall things that really caught their eye or stuck in their brain, it was usually something way beyond the “normal” approach. One easy exercise is to pick up the latest issue of an industry trade publication and analyze the ad messages that are being conveyed. This goes back to my first point about thinking like a customer, but do any of the ad messages strike you as being significant? Does any marketing offer stand out? What about “calls to action”? How much of it is just noise?

Thinking outside the box is not just for creative advertising concepts either. The most creative message might have to do with an innovative pricing scheme. Or a new distribution strategy. Or a product packaging idea.

When you think about it, risk-taking is a common thread in breakthrough marketing. If you’re not taking any risks, maybe you should ask yourself why. And if you really are pushing the envelope, congratulations! You have moved to the head of the marketing class.

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