What is Marketing?



You know what, I’m puzzled at the definition applied by some businesses to the role of marketing professionals in their organisation.  It might be reasonable for some organisations to only view marketing in terms of advertising or promotion.  However, all too often I see advertisements for marketing staff which define the role of the successful applicant as that of a salesman, or a graphic designer, or as a web designer, or as an expert in the technical aspects of social media.  Too often for my liking, employers are completely ignoring the true definition of a marketing professional’s role; as a strategist who takes corporate goals and objectives and develops them into a consumer facing strategic plan.

I saw one advertisement recently for a local wealth management firm which asked for an Executive Assistant/Marketer.  The job description for that role listed all the usual activities of a personal assistant such as minute-taking and diary management.  The last line of that document was the kicker.  The successful applicant would be responsible for developing the business’s marketing strategy and the business could offer a salary “above minimum wage”.

It was absolutely clear that whoever had written that advert was completely unaware of the complexity of the strategic marketing process or the level of knowledge required to prepare professional marketing plans.

In my area, I often see advertisements for jobs critical to the marketing process at salary levels between a third and a half that of similar posts elsewhere in the UK.  It seems many of my local employers are not correctly calculating the importance of that work to their business.

There was another recent advert which asked for a Marketing Assistant/Manager.  This wasn’t an advertisement for two jobs.  It was a single position.  So what did the business want, a marketing assistant who carries out administrative tasks relating to marketing activities or a marketing manager who is responsible for the development and control of the strategy process?

I had a look around that business’s website.  The job was with a recruitment agency which specialised in the retail sector.  Except it didn’t.  The website was full of jobs in catering or in hospitality and hotels.

I suspect the business began life as a retail specialist but as it had grown, it had entered other sectors.  I got the impression that unless a change was made to its generic marketing strategy it could end up in the no man’s land described in Michael Porter’s Generic strategy model.

Porter described three generic marketing strategies:

  1. Differentiation:  This is offering different products and services to different target customer groups.  Volkswagen are an example of a differentiated marketing strategy.  They have an executive car brand, Audi; a discount brand, Skoda; a truck division; a motorcycle brand, Ducati; two super car brands, Lamborghini and Bugatti; and a family car brand, Seat.  Each of these brands is targeted at a different consumer group.
  2. Cost Focus:  Porter later split this strategy in two.  There is a price strategy where the business looks to provide the cheapest offer in the market (e.g. Poundland) or the strategy of pairing down costs to offer the best value in the market (e.g. Asda/Walmart).  The focus is the elimination of all unnecessary cost from the business.  This can be achieved through economies of scale, controlling the market through purchasing power, or limiting the range of products you sell.  For example, Aldi predominantly sells own brand products which offer greater profit margins than prominent brands.  Other firms use vertical integration and control of supply chains to reduce costs.
  3. Niche:  This is where a business focuses on an identifiable market segment exclusively.  The aim is to find a segment which offers specific benefits to the business and which matches the skills and resources of the business.  Porter believes this is the most viable option for the majority of small businesses.  Many small businesses simply do not have the resources or scale to follow a cost focus or differentiation strategy.  It is likely those strategies will draw the attention of larger competitors who are better resourced to defend against the smaller competitor.

Porter adds that a firm that tries to follow all of the above strategies enters a ‘death zone’ where money is wasted on excessive marketing activities and strategic focus is lost.

The recruitment agency clearly started off following the Niche marketing strategy looking at the retail industry but it appears niche focus has been lost.  The attraction of taking on work in other sectors has overtaken the strategic imperative of the niche focus.

Clearly this is a growing business and given the well-known brands the business has worked with, is becoming a major player.  Its marketing strategy needs to be recalibrated to take account of its new status.

Even within the retail sector, there was a wide range of roles on offer, from senior management in retail businesses to Saturday sales assistant roles.  It’s clear that even within the niche some form of segmentation needs to take place.  After all, the process of employing a senior manager is wholly different to employment of a sales assistant.

In my view the firm needs to move to a differentiated marketing strategy.  By describing itself as a specialist retail recruitment agency, it is not properly defining its role as a recruiter in the hospitality and catering sectors (where other sector-specific recruitment firms exist).  I would suggest that the business markets its expertise in the recruitment of executives separately from lower grade roles.  A separate recruitment product should be developed for Executives (as this may include head hunting), professionals, retail, catering and hospitality.  Such a differentiated model allows for the development of recruitment services which meet the specific needs of each of these sectors.

Remember,  There is a difference between strategy and tactics.  Strategy is doing the right things.  Tactics are doing those things right.  An efficient strategy poorly executed will lead to a slow death; an inefficient strategy well executed may mean a business survives; a poor strategy, poorly executed, will lead to a quick death; only an effective strategy, efficiently executed will lead to success.

And please, business owners, properly define the role of marketing in your business.  Don’t expect a marketing professional to be an expert web designer, graphic designer, salesman, copywriter, data analyst, social media expert and photographer simultaneously.