“Yo! G‘morning, John!” Fred called above the din of the construction site. “You’re hard at it already! What’s up with bulldozing these piles of ground around here? And what is that stack of shingles doing over there? Oh, I see you have some nailed to those pieces of plywood. What’s with that coil of PEX pipe with a faucet on the end? And that roll of carpet half buried under that stone pile? How did that concrete mountain get there? Looks like they dumped a whole truckload! What is going on around here!?”
John stared blankly at Fred. “We are building a house, of course,” he said, as if all were normal.
“You are? I don’t see any framing lumber. Where’s the blueprint?”
“Blueprint? What’s that?”
“The big sheets of paper from the architect with blue lines on that show how the house is going to be built.”
“I guess I don’t have any. What is an ark-i-tek, anyway?”
Missing the basics
Please don’t laugh at John. He needs a bigger house for his precious, growing family. He is an honest man and has good intentions. He is working hard, and has good helpers. There is only one problem—John still needs to learn a few things about building a house.
John knows about other houses being built. He knows it takes bulldozing, pipes with faucets on the end, shingles nailed onto plywood, carpet, and lots of concrete. He knows how finished houses look.
But John is missing some basic knowledge. He needs to get a good education on building plans, tools, and materials. He needs to learn the right way to go through the process from start to finish.
John doesn’t realize how much he doesn’t know. Later, when the house isn’t materializing on schedule, he will begin to wonder why things are going wrong.
Are you trying to build your business like John? Do you ever question why your business isn’t shaping up the way you wish it would?
You know what a thriving business looks like on the outside. You even know how it looks on the inside. But your marketing activity seems to result in ugly mountains of hard concrete instead of a level basement floor and straight foundation walls.
No doubt you know more about building a business than poor John knows about building a house. But if you are struggling, you are not alone. You need to learn more about marketing processes, tools, and materials.
In fact, every successful business owner I know needed to learn the basics of marketing. You already know some things about marketing, but it takes more than a spotty knowledge of tools and techniques to build a sustainable business.
What is marketing, anyway?
A newspaper advertisement? A brochure? Exhibiting at a trade show? Answering the phone? Stocking shelves? If you said yes to all of these you might be right and you might be wrong. It depends. None of this contributes much to marketing without a plan, just like all of John’s materials and work didn’t get him much closer to having a house for his family. It takes a plan first; then the materials and processes can be effectively utilized to build your business.
The following definition comes from Investopedia Commentary.
- The act of buying or selling in a market.
- The total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling.
Contrary to popular belief, marketing is more than just about advertising or sales. Marketing is everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them. Even small tasks like writing thank-you letters, trading business cards, returning calls promptly, and meeting with a past client for coffee can be thought of as marketing. The ultimate goal of marketing is to match a company’s products and services to the people who need and want them, thereby ensuring profitability.
You can see, then, that marketing is not the function of one department, but rather the cooperation of all departments to serve customers in the best possible manner. Marketing is as much about inventing a solution-oriented product and delivering it in a pleasing manner as it is about branding, advertising, customer education, and salesmanship.
A business that sells freezers to Eskimos is probably going to struggle even if it has a great marketing program. If your product doesn’t solve a real problem or meet a real need, your business is unlikely to succeed, no matter what you do to promote and sell it. On the other hand, if your product solves a significant problem at a reasonable price, you may enjoy business success even with a mediocre promotion and sales program.
Be sure to resist the allure of perceived shortcuts, as well. Copying your competitor might seem like the easy road, but it’s not. Innovating beyond your competitor or seeking out a different niche are far more rewarding in the long run.
A marketing blueprint
It is the role of marketing to 1) plan, 2) generate, and 3) manage a company’s revenue streams—your company’s lifeblood. Without effective marketing that drives sales, any company will cease. Low sales is a common reason for business failure.
Did you notice that the first of the three roles of marketing is to plan? Just like a blueprint is important for a building a house, a marketing plan is necessary to build a business. This doesn’t mean you need to be a MBA to get started, just like you don’t need a blueprint with an architect’s stamp to build a doghouse.
Likewise, when it comes to marketing, you can start now and keep learning as you go. What you do need to do is think deeply and realistically about your business structure, your products, your customers, and your customers’ needs.
Marketing is about identifying and solving problems. Identifying those problems standing between you and your potential customers takes discipline. Generating a solution takes creativity. Without these skills, your business may not look much better than John’s house.
There are three types of problems to identify and solve in the following order:
- Customer Need: What problems do my customers have that I should solve for them?
- Business Challenge: What problems in my business are preventing me from solving the customers’ problems?
- Marketing Experiment: What problems needs to be solved so people will buy the solution?
In other words, marketing is the process of identifying the customer’s problem, then developing a solution, and finally selling that solution to the customer.
Get started—keep going
Why is it called a Marketing Experiment? Think about an archery hunter going after trophy whitetail buck in his first season. He studies deer activity, spends time in the woods, sets up trail cameras, reads books, handles archery equipment, and swaps stories with other hunters.
But most importantly, he practices. He shoots at a target in his backyard. He practices by scouting out each potential stand location in the pre-season. In his practicing, he develops a plan.
Finally the season opens and the game is on for real. The new hunter can see in his mind exactly how it will all work out. He envisions the direction the buck will come from, where he will first spot him, which tree will block the buck’s view so he can draw, and how he will release the arrow and drop the trophy.
But, somehow, on the opening day it doesn’t happen. The weather is different. He chooses the wrong stand. A twig deflects the arrow. Buck fever sets in. There are 101 things that can go wrong.
The fact is that our hunter friend is still practicing—and he will be practicing the rest of his hunting career. Yes, he will meet with success. And the more he learns about buckology and the more he practices, the more likely it is he will eventually bring home a trophy. But die-hard hunters know there is always more to learn, things are always changing, and every hunt is different. It is always an experiment.
Marketing is a lot like that. There is a lot to learn about people, about communicating, and about motivating and influencing behavior. The more you practice, the better you will become. Don’t be discouraged when your first experiment doesn’t acquire customers, even after a large investment of time and dollars. Remember, “Winners are losers who keep on trying.”
Surround yourself with others who know more about business and marketing than you do. Share your stories and learn from each other.
Next month we will explore three key areas of marketing that are essential for a sustainable business. Until then, set aside some time to identify and solve the first two types of problems: the Customer Need and the Business Challenge that the need creates.