From the very first business exchange thousands of years ago, to the online purchase completed a millisecond ago, marketing hasn’t changed. Many people claim that the Internet and, more recently, social media have transformed marketing into something that hardly resembles what it once was. But it’s not true, because marketing never changes.
What is marketing?
Marketing is the essence of a successful business. It involves 3 simple steps:
- Identify a customer need or want.
- Create a product or service to fulfill that need or want.
- Deliver a superior customer experience that serves as the foundation of a long-term relationship.
Author and management expert Peter Drucker held a similar belief:
“Because the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer, the business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”
If not marketing, then what?
Some businesses choose different strategies that little resemble marketing. Production-oriented organizations focus on the physical manufacturing process. They create a quality product and expect customers to buy it. Sales-oriented organizations sell existing products. With little regard for customer needs and wants, they use aggressive sale techniques to push products on customers.
Neither of these strategies is particularly effective over the long term. A production-oriented strategy can only work when demand is high and supply is low. Alternatively, a sales-oriented strategy can only work when demand is low and supply is high. A company cannot survive when it relies on a single supply and demand condition.
Only marketing-oriented organizations consider actual and potential customer needs and wants. This strategy focused on continued customer satisfaction and every touch point in the business/customer relationship.
What has changed?
If you’ve ever taken a class in marketing, you probably learned about the 4 components of marketing—the 4 Ps—product, price, place, and promotion. While technological advances have allowed the 4 Ps to evolve, at the core they remain the same.
Over the years, product production has expanded beyond individual customization to encompass both mass production and new mass customization. Computer technology has revolutionized that we used to think of as a product—a physical entity with some sort of packaging. Now, products such as software, publications, and music don’t require packaging of any kind. Instead, the customer receives an electronic file to be “consumed” on any number of devices.
Despite these changes the product (or service) must still be created to fulfill a customer need or want to be successful over the long term.
Pricing strategies remain essentially unchanged. Techniques such as discounting, variable pricing, and price leadership remain common. Corrupt people continue to attempt to manipulate prices however they can. Pricing has always been a complex component of marketing, but the competitive global marketplace makes it even more so. At the same time, computer technology enables sophisticated, real-time price changes and creates options—such as auctions—formerly limited to certain groups.
In addition to creating products that meet customer needs, organizations must establish a product value that matches that of the customer. This requirement will never change.
Products will always need distribution channels. Physical products will always be dependent upon various modes of transportation to reach customers. But transport time has diminished significantly, and products are commonly transported across oceans, continents, and hemispheres. Moreover, customers have new purchase options: the “place” is now the home or business instead of the traditional store. And, customers can receive a product—such as an electronic book for an eReader—in an instant.
Although advancements in technology and transportation have forever altered the distribution process, “place” remains a critical marketing component.
The final marketing “P” is the one that has changed the most—particularly in the last 10 years. We still need to craft messages that resonate with customers, but now the communication options are endless. Today, promotions are everywhere, and they’re delivered to more platforms than ever. Organizations have more opportunities to promote their products and services because customers are connecting online and sharing information everywhere they go. Technology also makes customized promotions—such as eNewsletters—possible.
Today, promotion means much more than pushing out messages. It’s about establishing and nurturing multi-directional communication channels that connect customers with products and services.
What’s the secret?
To be a successful marketer, you have to accept a single truth: you are no longer in complete control of your marketing efforts. The 4 Ps are now partly controlled by your customers—and their offline and online social circles. Don’t try to take back that control; instead, use it as an opportunity to be even better.
- You create the product, but your customers control how they use it. Don’t be surprised if they use your product in unexpected ways. Example: I’m sure movie makers never imagined that customers would be happy to view their product on a device with a 2-inch screen, but now it’s common. Just be ready to adapt your product to your customers’ needs and wants.
- A flexible price strategy is critical. Your customers have instant access to information. The days of “set it and forget it” pricing are over. Example: Even Apple, always known for establishing firm prices and offering no discounts, has adopted more flexible pricing strategies. Your customers are your new price managers; they will determine the true value of your product for you.
- Your customers will no longer come to your place. You have to make your product available where they want to consume it. Example: If you sell online, you can’t ignore the mobile user. You have to create an optimal sales experience tailored to their needs, or they will find a competitor who already does. You don’t have to be everywhere; you just have to be where your customers want you to be.
- Promotion is no longer a one-way communication channel. Sharing is key. Your customers will serve as your unpaid promotional team, if you let them. Example: Some forward-thinking companies, including Frito-Lay, have asked their customers to create their advertising campaigns. Social media is a powerful promotional tool, but it’s not about making pronouncements. It’s about making connections with real people, starting conversations, and providing immediate assistance when they need it.
Marketing is your business. Marketing has always been about identifying a need, fulfilling that need, and continuing to deliver a superior customer experience. To be successful in business, you must be a great marketer. Your tactics will always need to evolve over time, but the foundation of marketing never changes.