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What Is Marketing's Unique Area of Expertise?

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I was speaking with a friend the other day about a CEO she knows and she said, "He doesn't believe that marketing is a science or a methodology. He thinks it's just a 'gut-feeling' thing."

That statement reminded me of a couple things that Adele Revella told me during this week's episode of Marketing Smarts.

First, she pointed out that, "Marketing is the only group in the company that does not possess what the company perceives to be a unique skill set that makes them uniquely qualified to do the work they are performing."

She then added, "People all throughout the company second guess marketing and wonder what marketing is really doing. Because it seems like writing some copy, writing sentences, you know, building all of this material is something that anyone could do. And this is really distressing!"

No Unique Skill Set?


Everyone accepts that the folks in IT have a unique skill set, and no one assumes that just anyone could troubleshoot network performance issues or swap out servers.

Likewise, everyone accepts that the folks in finance and accounting have a unique skill set, and no one assumes that just anyone in the company could input new benefits into the payroll system or prepare the books for an audit.

What makes marketing different from these other functions?

Well, first of all, it may only be different in the B2B context.

In the B2C world, the marketing function can have revenue responsibility on the product side and can be highly technical on the research and analytics side. There is an assumption that folks in these roles will have an MBA and have, to a greater or lesser degree, undergone some kind of formal training enabling them to develop, price, and launch products.

In the B2B context, on the other hand, marketing often find itself relegated to a sales support role. Responsible for producing sales collateral and tchotchkes ("Back in my day, marketing was the t-shirt department," Adele told me), marketing can be seen as a "nice to have" but not a "need to have," a function that is subordinated to the money-getters in sales and, frequently, just as easily outsourced (with at least one marketer on staff to serve as project manager and check-writer).

So, how can marketing go from t-shirt designer to uniquely qualified and valuable business leader?

Who Represents the Customer?


In Adele's view, this is where buyer personas come in. If marketing is the function responsible for building and maintaining meaningful buyer personas, that changes the game. Why? Because, thanks to the research that goes into the creation of personas, marketers move from being "the people that are worried about the color of the fonts" to "a constant source of current insight about what the buyers are saying."

"When most strategic decisions are made in companies," Adele elaborates, "the people sitting around the table are focused on the impact that that's going to have on their department, on their area of responsibility."

However, she emphasizes, "The buyer is the one who's really going to decide, who's going to vote with their pocketbook about whether that strategy is going to help the company to be more successful, but they are not represented at the meeting."

When marketing focuses on listening to customers and brings what they've heard to the table saying, "We've been talking to the buyers, this is what really matters to them, and so here's the buyer's perspective on that strategy," they become that representative.

This Customer vs. THE Customer



Sales owns specific customer relationships, which is right and proper. Sales can and should represent those customers' needs and priorities within the organization.

Marketing needs to own the customer, developing and sharing insight on what customers in general, and especially the specific customers that the company is not yet doing business with, want and care about.

Sales needs to focus on building specific relationships with specific buyers.

Marketing, on the other hand, is uniquely situated to focus on understanding the buyer and using that understanding to guide company initiatives from product development to go-to-market strategy to, if you need them, the color of the t-shirts.

What do you think?





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My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.

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  • by D. Anthony Miles, PhD Fri Feb 15, 2013 via blog

    Unfortunately, they seems to be the prevailing attitude about marketing. Some of this is our fault as marketers. A lot people that get hired to run these marketing departments are the "artsy" type. I've seen this over and over. They only look at the creative side of marketing but not the quantitative side. Marketing has been and will always be a data driven field of study. Artsy types literally run from statistics! That's why bad marketing decisions get made!

    Any CEO who thinks marketing is a "gut feeling thing" needs to be euthanized! Today DATA is the new gold! With new marketing fields such as data mining, marketing analytics, marketing intelligence and forensic marketing, how can an person say such a thing?

    Gut feelings better be backed up with DATA! He who has the data ALWAYS wins! Ever see "Moneyball?" That movie is a case study that proves gut feelings and intuition will lose to data every time.

    QUOTE: In God we trust. All others must bring data! - W. Edwards Deeming

  • by D. Anthony Miles Fri Feb 15, 2013 via blog

    Unfortunately, they seems to be the prevailing attitude about marketing. Some of this is our fault as marketers. A lot people that get hired to run these marketing departments are the “artsy” types.

    I’ve seen this over and over. They only look at the creative side of marketing but not the quantitative side. Marketing has been and will always be a data driven field of study. Artsy types literally run from statistics! That’s why bad marketing decisions get made!

    Any CEO who thinks marketing is a “gut feeling thing” needs to be euthanized! Today DATA is the new gold! With new marketing fields such as data mining, marketing analytics, marketing intelligence and forensic marketing, how can an person say such a thing?

    Gut feelings better be backed up with DATA! He who has the data ALWAYS wins! Ever see “Moneyball?” That movie is a case study that proves gut feelings and intuition will lose to data every time.

    QUOTE: In God we trust. All others must bring data! – W. Edwards Deeming

  • by Fabiola Fri Feb 15, 2013 via blog

    Yes unfortunately I have also seen this attitude by a large number of people within an organization. As a designer I've worked well with marketing directors and understand the intricate thought processes and strategies involved in creating campaigns. When times are tough the marketing department is often the first to get hit because everyone assumes it's not needed, like the article stated. The people making decisions always have that mentality that marketing is simply "nice to have". Designers also get the exact same attitude. Marketing/design is considered a luxury that's not necessary when in fact it should be seen as an essential must have. Very frustrating!

  • by Michael O'Daniel Fri Feb 15, 2013 via blog

    Both sales and marketing need to own the customer, in different ways.

    Ideally, the salesperson on an account should own the relationship with that customer throughout the entire process, from initial approach through billing. That salesperson should also be in the loop, and be the customer's go-to resource when problems arise, when the customer interacts with other touch points in the organization: e.g., service, support, training, finance, even engineering, manufacturing and QA if you sell customization.

    Marketing represents the voice of the customer to the organization, assuming it has done its job and actually spoken with a representative sample of prospects, or even individual prospects, instead of simply relying on data. Depending on how the lead generation process works within the organization, marketing should then be in a position to tee up prospects for contact by a sales rep, and provide the necessary information and support to facilitate sales.

    Equally important, marketing should provide the necessary branding oversight to make sure the sale is made in a manner consistent with the organization's brand, and that no representations or promises have been made by the sales rep that set up unrealistic expectations or are inconsistent with the organization's brand.

    Marketing should also be gathering information from sales during the process: specific customer needs (which the organization is often unaware of); length of the sales cycle; and other considerations that can help the organization create more realistic customer profiles and a more marketable product.

    Once the sale has been made, both marketing and sales should be involved in soliciting, and persuading the organization to act upon, customer feedback. In a well-designed organization, marketing and sales both have access to and proactively gather information from the same customer touch points.

    Ideally, marketing and sales take a team approach to identifying prospects, closing sales, and working with all other appropriate departments to ensure customer delight. As we all know, in far too many organizations that sort of relationship does not exist. The two functions run on parallel tracks and have no relationship, or even an antagonistic relationship with, each other. They also have little or no interaction with the departments that actually design, build, and service the product.

    If you're in marketing, I submit that it is your responsibility to reach out to sales, to management, and to all the other touch points involved in customer satisfaction, to start the team-building process, because it can only accrue to the benefit of the organization, and to you personally. You may meet resistance at first, or even for an extended period of time, but it's worth the effort.

  • by Michael O'Daniel Fri Feb 15, 2013 via blog

    After I had finished posting, I saw the post from D. Anthony Miles. I'm sorry, but I believe marketing today suffers from an over-reliance on data and analytics and from a dearth of creativity. All the data in the world isn't going to help you if you don't know how to engage customers and build relationships with them, and that takes creativity.

    As a journalist who has covered the world of professional sports for decades, and is in a business partnership with a legendary athlete, I also take a contrarian point of view to the "moneyball" approach. Statistics cannot measure heart, commitment, guts, team chemistry, ability to perform under pressure -- all the intangibles that contribute to winning. Moneyball has more or less run its course in major league baseball. Unfortunately, it has now begun to permeate the NBA and is only going to contribute to a further decline of the on-court "product" there.

  • by Jeff Wilson Fri Feb 15, 2013 via blog

    I'd like to share a different, perhaps contentious, observation about marketing that perhaps we are looking at a form of "gender bias" in the organization. If we look at the organization and functions divided by masculine and feminine roles which attributes would you give to marketing and to sales? Hunter? Nurturer?

    Is marketing the neglected spouse of sales?

    The answer really lies in how we and others look at the world and the perceptions that are built. Have marketing been doing a reasonably effective job of branding itself beyond copy writers and designers? Have the millions of amateur social media ninjas, gurus and bloggers who align themselves squarely with marketing hurt the perception of marketing to the rest of the organization?

    Maybe its marketing lack of accountability to bottom line in many organizations that has contributed to this.

    Good post and lots of good ideas but i think we are just looking at symptoms rather than the illness. I think buyer personas is on the right trail to a proper diagnosis.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Feb 15, 2013 via blog

    Euthanasia seems a little extreme for someone who wants to go with their gut, marketing-wise, but I understand where you are coming from.

    The interesting thing is that people are often very data driven when it comes to making other business decisions - such as major IT or real estate purchases - but can feel that, in the marketing space, either they don't have the data their are looking for, or will settle for making decisions based on data (like site visitors) that is easy to get but not very meaningful without the necessary contextualization or correlation.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Feb 15, 2013 via blog

    I like your detailed description of the ideal working relationship between, and relative responsibilities of, marketing and sales.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Feb 15, 2013 via blog

    Thanks for this second comment, Michael, and the contrarian view, not only on Moneyball, but also the data vs. creative front.

    My feeling is that, despite the current focus on data, big and small, people very easily forget that numbers don't (in fact, can't) speak for themselves and require creativity, insight and reflection in order to tell any story at all.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Feb 15, 2013 via blog

    Thanks for the comment, Jeff, and eager to see how/if people respond to your notion that "marketing is the neglected spouse of sales"!

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Feb 15, 2013 via blog

    Having worked with graphic designers for many years, I'm also aware of, and have saddened by, the attitude you describe, Fabiola.

    I think the issue is that good design, for example, seems like "magic," to people and there is little appreciation for the hard work that goes into strategizing around, and then coming up with, the creative that is necessary to capture the attention of and then engage prospects and buyers.

  • by Amelia Hinds Fri Feb 22, 2013 via blog

    I totally agree with Fabiola and there should be a serious distinction between a Graphics Designer and a Marketer; one deals with research and data, the other deals with pixels right?

    However, too many people now create a flyer or a newsletter and suddenly they are not just designers, but Marketers as well? No wonder people are hard pressed to distinguish what marketing truly is.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Feb 22, 2013 via blog

    And it certainly doesn't help when people propagate a "We're all in marketing!" message.

    Imagine someone saying, "We're all in Finance!"

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