Marketing is highly misunderstood, even by people in marketing.
Too often marketing is confused with one of the tools of marketing, notably, promotion. But marketing is not promotions any more than a muffler is a car.
In its simplest form, marketing is giving people what they want. Promotions are how we get the message to them that we have what they are looking for. Or at least that is they way it should be in theory.
Promotion gets so much attention because it often is used to compensate for not having what people really want. This is not marketing; it is selling what we have rather than what our customers want.
There are three steps in marketing. They are:
- Identify the target market
- Determine that market’s needs, wants and desires
- Meet those needs, wants and desires more effectively and efficiently than the competition
Some of the fundemental tools we have as marketers are collectively referred to as the marketing mix. They are: product, price, place (distribution) and promotion.
The step of determining your target market, and then its needs, wants and desires, cannot be over-emphasized. The better you do this the more successful your organization will be. Skimp on these steps, and unnecessary challenges are assured.
Determining their needs, wants and desires is a never-ending process. But the more you understand your market, the more the rest of your organization will work effectively and efficiently.
An independent sales representative for a manufacturer once told his sales manager that he did not sell their products. The manager was perplexed until he heard the next sentence. “I just take orders. Your products meet our customers’ needs so well I don’t need to sell them.”
That is the goal.
Gathering market information can be done in one of two ways: market intimacy, and market research.
Market intimacy occurs when you are one with your market. In other words, you personally are a part of your target market. This is often the case with a new or small company started with a passion for the product or the activity it supports. Little additional effort is needed to understand market needs. Gathering additional information might be as simple as talking to your friends or family.
But any organization would benefit from market research as well, and in some cases, this is the only way understanding the market can be achieved. Market research ranges from the highly informal to the highly formal (and expensive).
We see some of the most effective informal market research when we go to our local grocery store and, at check-out, they ask, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” This super simple approach is easy, quick, and appreciated by your customer.
“Well as a matter of fact, Wes, I’d really like to see your shelled peanuts available in larger bags.”
Similar approaches include:
As a customer buys a chain saw, “What are you going to be using this for?”
As the server at a restaurant delivers the check, they ask, “Did you get enough to eat?”
A doctor asks their patient in the exam room, “How long did you have to wait to see me?
Slightly more formal approaches would include a short survey at the cash register or inviting key customers to chat over a cup of coffee.
Formal market research is expensive and usually restricted to larger companies with the resources and scale sufficient to make the expenditure cost-effective. Examples would include mass-distribution of questionnaires or focus groups.
As helpful and necessary as these formal methods are, they don’t hold a candle to market intimacy.
Knowing the market well is an example of where smaller companies usually have an advantage over larger companies. But in any case, deliberate and ongoing efforts to stay in touch with the market is very important to stay relevant during these times of rapid change.
Dave Bartholomew is retired after a career as a business adviser to leaders around the world. He and his wife Nancy also owned Simply Living Farm, a retailer of goods for a sustainable life. Prior to that he was CEO of several manufacturing companies in the outdoor recreation industry. He has authored three books, written numerous regular columns and taught at many universities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.