What is Marketing?

I recently read an article in Marketing Week referring to a CMO study highlighting what functions marketing departments lead in companies.  It’s a US study, but I would imagine the results would be fairly similar in the UK, and to be honest they shocked me.

Activities I would have considered to lie at the very heart of marketing such as positioning development, market research and even promotion were led by the marketing department in less than 2/3 of cases.

It made me wonder who in earth is leading the branding process in the 10% of companies where it is not led by marketing?

And pricing at only 20%?

This reminded me of the many discussions I have had over the years about what I do, and how this differs from many peoples initial understanding of what marketing involves. Hence this personal view of marketing’s role in a business.

How I see the role of a marketeer

The first misconception I hear from people is a belief that marketing is just about marketing assets (e.g. websites) and promoting to customers. Of course that is part of our role, but it is towards the end of a journey which goes much deeper than that.

Understanding the customer and market

To understand what messages are going to appeal to potential customers, then the place to start is customer and market research. This is always where I begin when working with my clients – and it always produces gems and kernels of knowledge that inspire better ideas, as well as letting clients know where things could be improved.

Customer research shouldn’t just include what customers think of the brand/product itself, but also explore their reasons for purchase and choosing a company or brand, any barriers, views about pricing, competitors and more.

Equally important is market and competitor research to understand where the brand sits within its market and what differentiates you from your competitors.

This type of research over the years has led to many recommendations including to name a few:

  • Changes to a product/service – including recommending a new bottle to a client that ended up leading to over 100% increase in sales.
  • Changes to pricing – I have recommended both increases (yes a price point that is too low can lose you sales!) and decreases.
  • Changes to the target market to focus on a narrower target.
  • Ideas for new products.
  • Not proceeding with the development of a product – this was probably the hardest recommendation I have had to give, but research suggested the market for the product was just not sufficient and the competitors too widespread to make the investment (and borrowing) required to enter that particular market worthwhile.

Defining the target market

Defining the target market for a brand is vital and will be determined both by what you’ve learnt from the research and also what you want to achieve. The most common mistake I come across is companies wanting to target ‘everyone’ as they think this will bring the most sales. 

In fact in the vast majority of cases having a narrower defined target market enables brands to meet those customers’ needs better and communicate to them more relevantly, so driving up likelihood to purchase, while a wider target market often means the messaging doesn’t really appeal to anyone and results in lower sales. It’s worth noting here that a target market can be demographic, behavioural, psychographic (based on beliefs/values) or a mixture of these.

Developing a positioning

A brand’s positioning statement encompasses what that brand is about, who the target market is and why they should buy into the brand in a sentence. It is not used directly with customers, but is an incredibly useful tool that can be used to brief employees and suppliers (e.g. designers, web agencies etc..) and to ensure all activity is on ‘brand’.  This should also include activities that are probably not considered as marketing such as phone answering, customer meetings etc..

Once a positioning statement has been developed it makes the next steps so much easier for all involved as it clarifies what the brand is ‘about’ for teams/suppliers who may not have been involved with the brand before. Back to the original research the fact positioning was only led by the marketing department in 65% of cases was the statistic that astonished me most as my view is that the positioning is the cornerstone of a brand.

Determining messaging

Messaging can be divided into brand messaging and campaign messaging. Every brand should have core messaging which is consistent and will come from the ‘why’ statement in the positioning, but it is likely that different campaigns may have a second level of messaging beyond this.  To take a recent example, the main messaging for Noom (which is consistent through all its communication) is that it is a different way to lose weight based around a psychology based approach – but this particular campaign has secondary messaging that it is easy to fit around your daily life.


Unless you really are first to a market (very unusual sadly), you will be operating within a competitive context. Pricing needs to be a strategic decision rooted in the brand’s positioning and where you want it to sit in the market. Do you want to compete on price with the other brands out there (a common approach for supermarkets for example), or do you want to charge a premium?  If the latter, it needs to be clear to people why they should pay the premium charged or they simply won’t!

Marketing assets/ promotion

Only after all the work done above, should you be considering the best ways to reach the target markets identified with the appropriate messaging.

What marketing assets are required to reach those people effectively – do you need a full ecommerce website for example or actually would a Facebook page meet your needs?  What advertising might you look at running and in what media?

The options for communicating with your target audience are endless – so our job as marketeers is to determine which are likely to have the best short term and long term return on investment depending on what you are trying to achieve.  I always remember sitting with a client in the early days of starting my business who was dismissive of marketing as they had worked with an agency who had suggesting they do scores of product leaflets – but without really thinking about how they might be used and they were just sitting in boxes in the office. Sadly without a defined strategy about who you are targeting, what you are trying to achieve with a particular piece of communication or marketing asset and what the message should be it is all too easy to ‘waste’ money rather than drive engagement with a brand.  This is why a proper, strategic marketing approach will always pay dividends in the long run.

Ongoing management

Marketing should not be a ‘one-off’ – like animals, marketing is for life not just for Christmas. Companies and brands need to remain relevant in the long term if they are going to continue to thrive. The environment changes (never more so than at the moment), peoples’ needs change, competitors change.  If you as a company stand still rather than continuing to invest in marketing and innovation, the very real risk is that your brands become less and less relevant to your target market and eventually fails.

Ongoing insightful, creative marketing gives companies the edge in an every changing world and I believe is at the very core of whether a business survives and thrives.

In conclusion

This is a very personal view of where marketing sits in a company and why it is so vital to the success of every business. It is about so much more than the marketing assets and adverts people see from the outside, and this lack of understanding is probably why some companies don’t see marketing as vital.

If you are not very clear about how/ whether marketing can help your business then I challenge you to take me up on the free 1 hour consultation I offer companies and see if you still feel the same way after that. In these current times, I’m doing this via video conferencing, so just drop me an email or give me a call.

Share this post... 

You might also like... 


Marketing is a Risk – Discuss!

While any marketing activity is a risk, the work done in the background beforehand is what determines whether it is a risk that is likely to succeed or not.

Read More »

Do you need help hitting your marketing sweet spot?

Get in touch for help building your marketing recipe.